Lauder Love: An ongoing connection for a global alumni community.

“There’s really nothing like Lauder love,” says Laura Goldenberg, Executive Director of the Lauder Institute Alumni Association (LIAA). She’s describing the unique bond experienced by Lauder Institute graduates who earn an MBA from the Wharton School, or a JD from Penn Carey Law School and an MA in International Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. Laura suspects “Lauder Love” drove 200 Lauder alumni to respond when invited to join Meridians, spearheaded by the Lauder Women’s Group, that provides alumni with an opportunity for ongoing personal and professional connection and growth.

Candidates who have a passion for international business, culture and language can apply to The Wharton School or Penn Carey Law School and the Lauder Institute, a unique joint degree program that prepares them to become global leaders. Students apply to one of six programs of concentration, and travel abroad numerous times during their 2-year program. The experience offers interdisciplinary knowledge, intercultural fluency and language ability.

The international component forms a unique bond, according to Mary Flanagan, founder of the Lauder Women’s Group and an advisor to the Meridians initiative. “You find kindred spirits in the Lauder community. I think that’s why we have such a strong alumni network and look for ways to stay connected.”

The Lauder Women’s Group was formed in 2022, and presents quarterly webinars and other community-building points of connection. Lauder Meridians developed from a Lauder Women’s Group discussion to create small group engagement opportunities. Together with the Circles team, Mary, Laura, Melissa Blohm, and other volunteers designed and launched a pilot program, sorting participants from around the globe into groups based on time zones, while ensuring diversity of cultural background, industry, and experience. Meridians have connected monthly since May 2023 in guided 90-minute groups, discussing everything from relationships to career paths.

Objectives for the program include:

  • Fostering genuine connections with other Lauder women leaders.
  • Sharing stories and overcoming challenges for personal and professional growth.
  • Gaining a community and tools to bolster ongoing leadership journeys.
  • Dedicating time for each participant to clarify a leadership “why.”
  • Not a webinar or subject matter lecture, Meridians offer intentional space in small groups designed to uncover and explore themes common to Lauder women.

Connection Beyond Networking

Emily Tung works in tech and graduated in the Wharton/Lauder Institute Class of 2017; because she lives in Austin, TX, she participates in the Central Time Zone Meridian. Networking did not draw Emily to the program. “There are lots of other opportunities to network with women in small groups, and this is not about that. It’s about women from different generations and industries sharing their stories, discovering work-life balance, and finding happiness.

The first four sessions of the program built trust through vulnerability, followed by several challenge exploration sessions highlighting a particular challenge one member currently faces. Emily appreciated participating in the challenges shared by women further along in their careers. “It’s so valuable for me to hear first-hand experiences like that, describing how complexity increases over your career and how to prepare.”

Her family immigrated to Brazil from Taiwan, and then to the U.S. when she was twelve years old, so Emily grew up hearing Chinese spoken at home; accordingly, she chose the Asia and Mandarin language track at Lauder and spent time studying in both Shanghai and Beijing. “There’s already a natural bond and affinity between Lauder alums. My Meridian has people who have lived all over the world and that openness and curiosity made us immediately like each other and open up.”

She says women in her Meridian discuss everything from fertility and dating in their 30s to returning to work after having children. “The most valuable part of the experience for me was not solving problems, but hearing different perspectives.”

Developing Facilitative Leaders

Circles trained a dozen Lauder women to facilitate Meridian sessions. Sydel Howell of San Diego, California facilitates the Pacific Meridian on the West Coast. She’s currently writing a memoir revealing painful realities from her past, and shared that with her group to model vulnerability.

“As a facilitator, I share things I have struggled with because while some participants are fresh out of grad school, others have had to leave careers for various reasons, and they feel like failures. I know what it’s like to have to redefine success over the course of your career–for me, at one point success meant walking away from a McKinsey career and prioritizing myself and my kids.”

In her work as a Transformation Coach, Sydel teaches classes on creativity and mindfulness. She says Meridians facilitator training helped her grow in her listening skills, and the Meridian sessions developed her ability to keep conversations going. “When people start offering  advice in response to others, I redirect them to save that for later when they’re sharing their own story.” Facilitators are trained to watch conversations and steer them in the right direction, observing individual breakthroughs and choosing what question to ask next.

One session in particular stood out to Sydel. During the initial check-in round, participant Lu Jiang shared that she had recently been in a car accident and could barely walk, and that because she had just moved to Los Angeles, she knew no one and had to fly in her mom to

take care of her. She shared “I feel terrible physically and I’m bedridden, but didn’t want to miss this meeting and connecting with you all.”

Lu and most of the other Meridian participants live in the Los Angeles area. One weekend shortly after her accident, Sydel was heading up to visit her daughter in LA and sent a message to the group, asking if anyone wanted to meet in person. Walking with a cane still recovering from her accident, Lu came to meet Sydel and her daughter for breakfast, along with another LA participant. “We made a connection in Meridian because it was a safe space where Lu could share how she was really doing. This is my purpose; to create safe spaces where women can share in a vulnerable way and realize we’re not alone.”

Global Connection Points

With every major country represented in Meridians, Mary hopes Lauder can continue offering the program. As executives in international roles, Lauder women move frequently and the Meridians program, Mary observes, can provide a point of connection in any time zone.

That’s exactly what Meridians offered for Karine Alyanakian of PepsiCo, a 2014 Lauder alum who joined a NYC Meridian when she relocated back to New York after six years away. “I wanted to reconnect with classmates and rebuild community, and Meridians was the perfect way to do that.” Like Emily, she appreciated the wide range of life stages represented by the grads in her group.

Elevate Your Team With Powerful Conversations

Ready to manage less and lead more? We’ve got you covered. Get ready to elevate your team by unlocking powerful conversations in The Team Table.

As a modern manager, you work hard to navigate new hybrid work modes, societal anxieties, and the ever-increasing need for team speed. Has your team lost the magical feeling from the last offsite? Does work feel more siloed than ever? Teams need a new way to quickly build trust and grow together, addressing issues before they fester.

The Team Table virtual experience enables managers like you to instantly host conversations that strengthen teams. Perhaps you’ve experienced something like it: a small, connected, trusting group of people pushing to be their best.

Rather than another training, tool, or video conference platform, The Team Table enables the big, breakthrough conversations we often avoid, conversations that, over time, move teams into a high-value zone where they open up, count on each other, and develop a clear, shared purpose.

We worked with and distilled best practices from management thought leaders and social learning experts like Harvard Business School, The Aspen Institute, and Young Presidents’ Organization. The result is an interface that creates a refreshing experience but also has the transformative capability to elevate team conversations to the next level.

Initially, we facilitate and demonstrate The Team Table, using our most popular “Conversations.” Once you’ve seen how it works, we leave and you take over.

The Team Table includes:

  • Interactive Agendas structured to support your most important team discussions
  • Conversation Tools built to facilitate equitable talk time and the flow of dialogue
  • An Automatic Process created to capture key challenges, takeaways and actions
  • Sparks and Prompts included to help connect and build the kind of trust your team needs to perform at their peak

In short: The Team Table builds trust through openness, accountability, and shared purpose.  Ready to try something different designed with your people in mind? Here’s how to experience our proven recipe:

Step 1: Reserve your Team Table for a 60- minute session with your team

Step 2: Watch for your invitation and Circles Guide introduction

Step 3: Answer a few easy questions via email or phone, depending on your preference

Step 4: Add your team to the invitation to experience The Team Table together

That’s it. We can’t wait to host you at The Team Table.

We’re, a distributed team that believes that people live, work and learn better in circles instead of rows. That indeed, a small group of dedicated people is the only thing that changes the world. That if you want to change behavior, you don’t teach but give people a tool that changes them. That sometimes the best interface is a human face. That we’ve all got too many one-liners, and too few people actually apply this wisdom. Which is why more teams need The Team Table.

Team & Leadership Development in Circles: 2023 Recap

In the last year, hundreds of leaders have gathered in CircleSpace to engage in powerful conversations that elevate teams. The Circles framework and conversation library have improved team health and productivity, while developing dozens of participants into facilitative leaders.

Whether it’s leadership or team development, here are four use cases highlighting the best of CircleSpace 2023.

Developing Teams at

When Janan Knust, CEO of logistics company KLog, suggested that a facilitated program be incorporated into his executive team’s offsite, KLog CFO and Chief Strategist Igal Meirovich knew it was the right move. “In professional dynamic environments, getting personal can look weak. So you have to be intentional about opening up with each other. That’s when you realize authenticity is a strength, not a weakness.”

Together with the Circles team, Igal put a plan in place for the executives to step away from the grind and go deep, using Circles’ Foundations program. Foundations teaches teams how to listen to each other, through equitable conversations honoring each person. Using a three pillar framework of openness, accountability and shared purpose, a facilitator guides teams to establish norms while prompting deeper questions, both of which invite teams to open up in ways they typically haven’t before.

KLog’s executive team experienced significant breakthroughs over the course of the sessions.

After completing Foundations, CTO Alvaro Serrano says Circles will scale their core company values and give them a competitive edge in the field of logistics. “I think what differentiates us in the logistics industry is our empathy, authenticity and transparency. We want those values to be reflected in sales, operations, and customer service and success. We need to translate the Circles experience to the rest of KLog.”

Changing the Culture at Lloyd’s Register

While the homogenous white male maritime industry of the late 18th century has evolved, Lloyd’s Register continues to pursue gender equality for their globally dispersed workforce consisting of 70% men and 30% women. Through a partnership with Circles, LR recently created and implemented Safe Harbor Circles to help bridge the gender gap.

Safe Harbor reached people who don’t always feel comfortable sharing in other spaces, and they often reported feeling less lonely. For example: two female naval architects who had both been with LR for over ten years never crossed paths until they met in a Safe Harbor Circle. One reflected, “It would have been so helpful to know each other when we were starting our careers at LR.”

Another participant appreciated the space to recognize commonalities with global colleagues. “I’m in Japan, and I never knew I could reflect like this with someone across the world in the UK.” The sessions raised her awareness of global gender gap realities while providing a community with a shared sense of purpose

Developing Facilitative Leaders at Merakey

Ali Bolick leads Merakey’s enterprise-wide learning team, and was the first at Merakey to discover CircleSpace. In the midst of rolling out a new manager training program, she joined a one-off session, immediately noticing the psychological safety. “People can be themselves in CircleSpace–they are not afraid to share.” Captivated by her experience, she shifted the remaining new manager program sessions into CircleSpace. The completely redesigned Merakey New Manager Training now incorporates peer circles, providing space to practice, apply and sustain concepts and behaviors.

Merakey sent five of their own team members through a three-session facilitation training. One of them, Kristen Smith, is now a Certified Guide, empowered to design and deliver Circles sessions independently. Kristen felt the main takeaways of her CircleLeader training included personal growth, enhanced leadership abilities, and empowerment to help build healthy communities. “I walked away from my cohort having experienced firsthand that truly authentic human connection is achievable in a virtual hybrid workplace.”

Connecting ERG Leaders in CircleSpace

Dumebi Egbuna and Toby Egbuna co-founded Chezie, a diversity, equity, and inclusion company that helps people find belonging in the workplace. They host an online community of 700 ERG leaders who collaborate on events and ideas, share best practices, and access valuable resources. To create inclusive spaces for the community’s monthly small group connections, Chezie began developing a partnership with Circles early this year.

When they turned to Circles to host a Black History Month round table in February, 25 black ERG leaders joined the Heritage Month Circle. Participants scored it 9.7 out of 10 and came away praising the intimacy of the session, provided by breakout rooms and other unique platform features. Dumebi reflected on the session’s success: “Circles’ unique design provides a space for people to share their voice and be celebrated for their inputs to a conversation.”

The Chezie team went on to host monthly ERG round tables in Circles all year, allowing leaders across organizations to collaborate and lean on each other. “I can’t even tell you how many people come to us, asking to be connected to other ERG leaders so they can learn from others.” CirclesSpace’s unique, inclusive design is helping Chezie unite and develop a community of 6000-7000 ERG leaders.


CircleSpace is paving the way for high-performing, healthy team culture that scales. Together with our partners, we’ve designed an interface that creates a refreshing experience and offers the transformative capability to take team conversations to another level.

We’ve built Foundations right into our latest product The Team Table as a result of the KLog case study. The Team Table offers continuous, powerful conversation templates for managers to use with their teams.

Ready to elevate your team? Experience CircleSpace for yourself: book your complimentary session in The Team Table here!

Playing by Heart: Powerful Conversations That Build Team Trust

Janan Knust of Santiago, Chile spent the last decade building his logistics company KLog. Thanks to rapid growth, he recently shifted his focus to preparing for investors. As KLog expands into Mexico and Peru–with team members spanning countries–Janan sees the value in establishing a scalable, trusting culture that will ultimately provide a strategic business advantage. Because even the most talented teams get stuck in ruts, he knew he had to start by fine-tuning his executive team’s working relationships.

While discussing how to create a powerful offsite experience for his team with Endeavor President and Circles partner Adrian Garcia, Janan learned that Endeavor relies on Circles for virtual & in-person peer circles. Rather than relying on a traditional team offsite, Adrian suggested Janan also gather his executive team in CircleSpace sessions. Recalling the power of his previous Circles experience through his Harvard OPM network forum, Janan put a plan in place for a CircleSpace executive team offsite. Janan tells us that “Learning is great, but the real value of ideas is when they are put into action. At HBS, I learned that culture eats strategy for breakfast. Discovering Circles, I saw the potential for real transformation. It offers a unique opportunity to put this theory into practice and change any organization’s culture.”

With the widespread adoption of hybrid and dispersed work, companies need spaces to elevate their teams through powerful, high-value conversations. Here’s KLog’s story of building team trust in Circles.

Laying Foundations of Trust

Almost ten years ago, the KLog executive team began as startups do: a core group of leaders, small enough to function hands-on, operating without a framework that scaled beyond themselves. Over time they added digital SaaS execs to their team, grew rapidly, and dispersed across Latin America. This growth coupled with the need to prepare for investors presented the opportunity to quickly build trust as an executive team, while simultaneously putting a plan in place to scale that culture.

When Janan suggested that a facilitated program be incorporated into his team offsite, KLog CFO and Chief Strategist Igal Meirovich knew it was the right move. “In professional dynamic environments, getting personal can look weak. So you have to be intentional about opening up with each other. That’s when you realize authenticity is a strength, not a weakness.”

Together with the Circles team, Igal put a plan in place for the executives to step away from the grind and go deep, using Circles’ Foundations of Trust (FOT) program. FOT teaches teams how to listen to each other, through equitable conversations honoring each person. Using a three pillar framework of openness, accountability and shared purpose, a facilitator guides teams to establish norms while prompting deeper questions, both of which invite teams to open up in ways they typically haven’t before.

KLog’s exec team gathered for their initial session in CircleSpace, with a facilitated agenda framed around openness.  That session introduced strong small group norms that set the stage for powerful in-person sessions discussing accountability and shared purpose, guided by Circles Certified Guide, Jami.  Each conversation made space for reflection, honesty and problem solving – necessary components to building trust on their team.

These intentional spaces allowed the KLog executive team to talk about the hard stuff, resulting in significant breakthroughs.

Playing by Heart

Igal knows you can’t build a high-performing team without openness, accountability, and shared purpose. He likens it to a successful soccer team. “Down here in Chile, we play soccer. If you pass the ball, you need to be able to trust the teammate you’re playing with, like when you throw a pass, he’ll be there 100% to receive the ball and execute the next move. We call that kind of trust playing by heart.”

He says playing by heart is also like a dance: you can’t build trust without getting personal, yet you can’t get personal without building trust.

Foundations of Trust makes room for that dance, and gave Igal’s team the tools to have tough conversations. “In one session, my teammate brought up a monthly report I’m responsible for that is never on time. He reminded me that he relies on that report for his team to function.” That conversation prompted Igal to grow in team accountability.

Jami guided them through the process, identifying and drilling down on significant discussions that naturally arose. Igal says she was key to the process. “We’re a busy, demanding, intense team, and she crossed cultures with us, helping us have those tough conversations.

Igal sees the importance of continuing their CircleSpace journey. “We must meet regularly in CircleSpace to continue that dance between getting personal and building trust. That’s how we can go deeper as a team and play by heart.”

Keeping Promises: A Team Breakthrough

KLog’s very first Foundations of Trust session showcased the power of the experience to CTO Alvaro Serrano. “We could not have had the same dynamic in person, or using a different platform. Circles is a strategically designed space with a moderator that guides the whole conversation.” He noticed how the design and features allow everyone to engage equitably. “In Circles, the CEO is one of us, and that is a highlight. There weren’t differences based on competencies or experience or organizational level.” The session icebreakers also stood out to Alvaro, who commented “They are not fluff: they give way to real vulnerability.”

That vulnerability quickly built the trust that allowed KLog’s executive team to engage in hard conversations–which in turn built more trust, like the dance Igal described. Those difficult but necessary conversations opened the door to accountability; Alvaro mentioned one session where the first ten minutes covered keeping promises, a subject he realized applied to him. He says Jami expertly facilitated important conversations. “She helped identify my case as a discussion point, and everyone asked questions and really got me going into an introspection.

Since becoming KLog’s CTO six years ago, Alvaro built a team of 25 engineers from scratch. Over time, he delegated writing code to the team, yet his passion for the craft kept him writing code instead of managing his team better. “The decision I made during Foundations of Trust was to stop writing code. I can’t do that and manage 25 engineers at the same time. I came away with two priorities: keeping promises, and managing my team.”

After completing Foundations of Trust, Alvaro says the executive team made a commitment to each other: “If nothing carries forward to our teams from this offsite, then we will have failed. We must effectively communicate out what we’ve learned, scale it, and share it with our teams throughout the organization.” He says Circles will scale their core company values and give them a competitive edge in the field of logistics. “I think what differentiates us in the logistics industry is our empathy, authenticity and transparency. We want those values to be reflected in sales, operations, and customer service and success. We need to translate the Circles experience to the rest of KLog.”

Scaling Powerful Teams’s Executive Leadership Team strengthened the way they operate with a high level of trust, improving the quality of their strategic decisions and acting as a model for the rest of the organization. Ultimately, scaling that culture will allow them to continue serving their customers and reaching their goals in a way that’s true to their values of empathy, authenticity and transparency. In phase two, the Circles team will customize the off-the-shelf program, translate it into Spanish, and train KLog leaders & HR business partners to deliver it to their next layer of teams.


CircleSpace is paving the way for high-performing, trusting team culture that scales. We’ve worked with and distilled best practices from management, thought leaders, and social learning experts like Harvard Business School, The Aspen Institute, and Young Presidents Organization. Together with our partners, we’ve designed an interface that creates a refreshing experience and offers the transformative capability to take team conversations to another level.

Foundations of Trust is the perfect way to begin a Team Table experience of ongoing high-value conversations–in fact, we’ve built Foundations of Trust right into Team Table as a result of the KLog case study. Going forward, Team Table offers continuous, high-impact conversation templates for KLog managers to use with their teams.

Stuck in a rut with your own team? Experience CircleSpace for yourself: book your complimentary session in The Team Table here!

Transparency and Trust: Scaling a People-First Culture in a Hybrid World

We’re taking the pulse on the modern leader’s workplace experience; as we strive to promote a culture of learning at Circles, we periodically interview leaders in our sphere regarding their priorities, challenges, and best practices. Those we spoke with this round cover a range of industries, including medicine, trucking, technology, and more. Representing a multitude of locations and backgrounds, they’re looking for intersectionalities as they cross cultures; in order to create people-first cultures, they’re resourcing managers, improving transparency, and building trust.

Meet the leaders we’re connecting with in Circles.

Resourcing Managers

A VP of talent & culture, Mandy Kutschied was an aspiring actress working as a temp when she discovered an affinity for the corporate world . “The training and development aspect of human resources appealed to me, I think because it is similar to performance: you’re up in front of folks and it’s really engaging.” The company she worked for at the time saw her potential, which might explain why she’s cultivated potential in others ever since. “I had a wonderful vice president who became a good mentor. She said ‘you’re good at this; let’s talk about it.’”

Mandy recognizes that resourcing managers is key to scaling culture; After moving into a leadership role, she built an emerging leaders program for middle managers. “We have to empower our leaders to build community, to ensure it’s a part of the entire tapestry of the company.” Mandy says part of each manager’s bi-annual assessment involves determining how they’re showing up for their teams, creating capability and competencies to hold them accountable for attraction, retention, and development.

At fintech startup Ness, Katy Zorich works in People Strategy & Operations; like Mandy, she prioritizes training managers, specifically in culture and values. “Managers are the ones in all the one-on-ones and team specific meetings, so my job is really making sure they understand our core values and how to talk about them with their teams.” Likewise, Lisa Nguyen, an L&D leader at Pliancy, says her number one priority is helping managers level up. “We talk about performance management and what continuous feedback looks like.”

Radha Nandagopal, MD, caters leadership development for the medical community. As Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs & Continuing Professional Development, she identifies skills gaps, connecting faculty in peer circles to grow. “What’s challenging is that many of us who are physicians or in academic medicine don’t have a lot of leadership training, and haven’t been in the corporate world. Sometimes in terms of actual physician leadership, people make a lot of assumptions about who good leaders are based on how many papers they’ve published or how long they’ve been practicing medicine.”
The need to develop managers also extends to the nonprofit sector. Nadra Dennis works as a Learning & Development Facilitator at The Center for Employment Opportunities, which helps previously incarcerated people in twelve states get back on their feet. Part of her role involves creating spaces for managers to develop in small groups. ”I’m responsible for ensuring that our justice-impacted managers have quality leadership opportunities that prepare them for higher levels of leadership.”

Intersectionality Across Cultures & Time Zones

Today’s managers and team leaders must master crossing cultures and time zones while helping their teams do the same. Omani national, Maria Sarfaraz met people from a variety of backgrounds when she attended school in the U.S; now a People Partner at Ericsson, she leads teams across Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar. “Not everyone I work with has had the same cross-cultural exposure I’ve had, and sometimes you have to meet them where they are. You have to find a way to adapt to all cultures.”

Taylor Mirkarimi works in Talent Acquisition at Amazon, resourcing teams in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East to receive diverse hires. “We’re recruiting people from all types of backgrounds, including women, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+, ethnic minorities, and military. We want to make everybody feel like they belong.” She said she celebrates each group by acknowledging various global calendar dates, including Black History Month, Lgbtq+ History Month, Christmas, Orthodox Easter and more. “When my associates experience togetherness, it fuels my passion for this work.”

A People Development Manager at Abax, Damla Cetin lives in Norway and virtually commutes across time zones and cultures every day. “We have people in nine different countries helping me implement processes across three different time zones and cultures. It affects our communication, making it difficult to standardize everything from the way we understand things to the way we design systems.” As they digitize more and more, she’s looking for technologies to make their training and team connections more interactive.

Like Damla, Strategic Account Manager Matt Lozada supports SimilarWeb offices all over the world. ”We’re a global company spanning 6 countries. Domestically, we have offices in Burlington, MA and New York, NY, and I currently sit remotely out of the Washington DC metro area.” He says he builds trust and community at scale by identifying intersectionalities, pursuing cross-cultural commonalities, and addressing challenges unique to different people groups. “For example: leaders in Tel Aviv will have a fundamentally different set of experiences and struggles than what we experience in the U.S.”

Matt also serves as co-chair of the Asian @ Similarweb Employee Resource Group (ERG), whose mission is fostering an open space & forum, with a focus on talent development and retention for the Asian American Pacific Islander community. “We want to make sure, for instance, that when layoffs happen, we know who it impacts and how. We don’t want to be tone deaf to the needs of the people in our communities.” Each SimilarWeb ERG has a small stipend to drive core functions and events, as well as local businesses they want to support. “For example: during AAPI month, we organized a speaker series to drive awareness and speak about some of the intersectionalities of shared struggle that women in the workplace, members of the AAPI community, as well as those with a disability have faced to get an equal seat at the table.” 

Many leaders we interviewed mentioned how their identity as working parents influences their work. Matt sees his role as father as an asset. “While some companies might see children as a distraction from the hustle and grind culture, many of the core communication and soft skills required for leadership roles–for instance: negotiation, empathy, and deep listening–are crucial to hone and develop.” Similarly, Sharleen Clarke, Talent Manager at Bahia Principe, recognizes how her roles at home benefit her as a leader at work. “I believe my experiences as a wife and a mother have shaped me to be more tolerant and understanding of people’s circumstances. No two people are alike, and you need to be flexible and willing to compromise.”

As a single parent, Maria says working in a fully remote regional role gives her the opportunity she always wanted: to work in a regional role she can execute from anywhere in the world. “As long as I get my job done, that’s enough. I know a lot of companies have gone back to full-time office work, but I think that’s the old way of working.” In some cases, expectant mothers face particular workplace challenges: 20 years ago when Colleen Moen went looking for a career change, Starbucks Coffee Company hired her, not knowing she was five months pregnant. She says it was the first time she worked for a company that actually lived out the values they had written on the wall. “Starbucks treated me like a human who mattered more than my work. Ever since then, what has sustained me in my career is finding organizations that align with my values.” 

Often, putting people first starts with listening to and learning from employees. Myriam Del Angel, new VP of HR for North America at Randstad Sourceright, says that often the automatic response to low employee engagement is focus groups. “In previous roles, when I would talk to direct reports they would cringe, because they felt like we always did focus groups, yet nothing changed.” She started taking a different approach and tried one-on-ones instead. During her conversations with employees, she asked for their recommendations and suggestions. “I went to leadership with some of the ideas, and they implemented them. I’m proud to say that after the very next employee engagement survey, they got out of the red for the first time.”

In her previous role, Myriam led the Latino ERG education pillar. She says that when she first took the role, instead of coming up with what she thought people might want, she asked them directly what they wanted. “Three things came from that: professional development, community and culture. So we started thinking about how we could do that and align it with our company’s overarching value of bringing your best self to work. The point is to really make people feel  heard–that there’s someone who really listens to them.” 

Transparency & trust

Ellen Voie works to create a more gender diverse culture in the transportation industry. As an executive for the Women in Trucking Association, she focuses on maintaining a culture of trust. “Trust is important because when you work in a virtual environment, you can’t be looking over someone’s shoulder. I trust my team to be productive by putting in the time it takes to get their work done. If work isn’t getting done, we have a conversation about it.”

Sometimes trust means lifting off and letting teams work on their own. Vinutha Kinni manages in L&D at Thermo Fisher Scientific, and has seen multiple benefits of simply deciding to trust her people. ”One thing that’s really worked for me is letting things go and trusting people. For a large part of my career, I felt that only if I do something will it be right; if I let someone else do it, then they’re gonna mess it up. Now I let people come to me when I’m absolutely needed.”

Abigail Church, HR business partner at GrowthLab finance, thinks a culture of trust is built through a combination of transparency and timely communication. “The thing that can really destroy trust fast is giving the impression something is being swept under the rug or hidden, or people feeling like they don’t get the information they need to adequately do their jobs in a timely fashion.” Relationship Strategist Elizabeth Overstreet agrees and says that remote work requires more intentional culture building. “The key is transparency from leadership, so people feel safe; in the end, you’ll get more honesty from everyone.” Director at Practifi, Sandy Hopwood also feels leadership should embrace transparency with people as much as possible. “That includes being open and honest about company goals and challenges as an organization.” Learning Lead Diego Herrera suggests building culture from corporate down and leading by example, so everyone understands what each core value means. “That will build engagement, trust, retention, and collaboration, because then we are all pulling North to the same goal. It also builds a sense of belonging.”


These talented leaders inspire us every day as they resource their managers, listen to their teams, and build human-centered cultures. We’ll continue listening and learning as we design inclusive spaces where teams connect and grow; to experience our newest product designed to help managers lead healthy, productive teams, schedule a complimentary session in The Team Table today!

Manager Enablement in a Virtual World

Merakey works to empower communities with innovative care and education solutions. Like many organizations, they weathered pandemic realities like high turnover and virtually onboarding new recruits. Alex Markey, who’s worked in Merakey operations since 2012, has noticed how easily today’s hybrid and remote teams become disjointed and siloed. In an effort to fight workplace disconnection, she and other managers stepped away from their day-to-day responsibilities and joined a four-session Women’s Leadership CircleSpace program. Her response: “I trust that group of leaders now. I learned more about them as people through the sessions, and I feel like in the future, when a workplace issue comes up, we can pick up the phone and talk it through.”

Manager Enablement in Circles

Ali Bolick leads Merakey’s enterprise-wide learning team, and was the first at Merakey to discover CircleSpace. In the midst of rolling out a new manager training program, she joined a one-off session, immediately noticing the psychological safety. “People can be themselves in CircleSpace–they are not afraid to share.” Captivated by her experience, she shifted the remaining new manager program sessions into CircleSpace. The completely redesigned Merakey New Manager Training now incorporates peer circles, providing space to practice, apply and sustain concepts and behaviors. “We’re providing safe spaces for people to be themselves.”

By design, CircleSpace creates unique, trusting team spaces. Ali enjoyed how structured elements like sparks kept meaningful conversations flowing. Betty Boyd, another Merakey leader and participant, described the experience as a unique place to let down one’s guard. “My personality is a bit hesitant and shy–in circles, the small size of the group feels safe, and the features give me time to think before responding.” Alex says she felt calmed by the experience. “Guided by the music and the thinking time, there’s less pressure and more space to think.” 

Facilitation also enhanced the group’s experience. Merakey opted for pro-facilitation provided by Certified Guide Katy Becker. Participants raved about her, sharing “Katy helped us feel comfortable. She led by example and modeled vulnerability, leaving space for us without rushing us.”

Developing Merakey CircleLeaders

Merakey also sent five of their own team members through a three-session CircleLeader training. One of them, Kristen Smith, is now a Merakey CircleLeader, empowered to design and deliver circles sessions independently. Kristen felt the main takeaways of her CircleLeader training included personal growth, enhanced leadership abilities, and empowerment to help build healthy communities. “I walked away from my cohort having experienced firsthand that truly authentic human connection is achievable in a virtual hybrid workplace.”

Every participant gave the Women’s Leadership Circles glowing feedback. Betty has been with Merakey for 35 years in different capacities, and reflected: “I’ve worked with some of these women for many years, and never had a chance to know them on this level. I have a whole new appreciation of who they are and would like to stay connected and check in.” She also said the group encouraged her to start a book she’s been wanting to write. Alex felt inspired by the group to focus on self-care, vowing to make more time for herself. Participants were quick to point out that any actionable items arose gently and organically. As Alex shared: “When it came to accountability, there was no pressure to report out or meet goals. Yet the experience still created a desire for taking steps towards growth.” The women left strategizing how to stay connected with one another–even Katy, the Certified Guide. “By the last session, we were so deeply connected that I wish we could keep meeting. I miss you all already.”

Scaling Trusting Teams at Merakey

Ali’s team began brainstorming how to scale circles throughout Merakey. “In the end, we want to deliver our mission and values internally and externally, and Circles helps us do that.” She’s working with the Circles team to identify where else to apply the Circles magic, asking questions like: What’s not being said? What’s being swept under the rug? How can we create safe spaces for accountability? Ideas for next steps include:

  • Manager Enablement: Fully customizing a program for new managers that will involve team building, DEI, recruiting, and e-learning on a variety of other topics.
  • Executive Sponsorship: Working with the executive team to decide what Merakey teams need, then curating a program.
  • Cross-functional team trust: Gathering peers across departments in circles to foster team trust, bust silos and build relationships.

Today’s companies must solve problems they didn’t have before the pandemic, replacing the mortar between the bricks, the (human) connective tissue that bonds their organization. The solution involves carving out intentional time to come together and attend to relational team dynamics. Circles helps dispersed teams create a cadence of building trust in safe, unique safe spaces. As Ali summarizes so well: “Authentic connection is lacking in the virtual world. Circles recreates the water cooler.”

Are you interested in trying Circles yourself, or with your team? Check out our newest experience, The Team Table. The first session is on us!

Four Key Elements to Building Team Trust

20 years ago, Colleen Moen was looking for a career change, and Starbucks Coffee Company hired her–not knowing she was five months pregnant. She says it was the first time she worked for a company that actually lived out the values they had written on the wall.

“Starbucks treated me like a human who mattered more than my work. Ever since then, what has sustained me in my career is finding organizations that align with my values.”

After Starbucks, she invested her Learning & Development career at some of Washington State’s leading companies, including Nordstrom and REI. Colleen recently connected with us through a women’s leadership circle, where we discovered our shared interest in supporting thriving teams. We wanted to shine a spotlight on Colleen and her best practices for building trust on teams throughout her career.

Four Ways to Build Trust on Teams

Structured groups foster team trust. In Colleen’s experience: “Sometimes, we hesitate to put structure in place, but it’s essential for building trust in safe environments.” She recommends focusing on four key elements: group size, norms, icebreakers and facilitation.

  1. Keep Teams Small.

Based on a cohort learning approach, Colleen suggests aiming for no more than 6-8 group members per team. “As a learning professional, I know that keeping teams small is best.” A group needs just enough members for diversity and to account for absentees, and if a team is too large it loses a sense of intimacy and connection. She also realizes the tension between theory and practice, recalling times she’s settled for groups of ten. But as a general rule, when it comes to team size, she’s found capping groups at 8 people produces the best results.

  1. Normalize Group Behaviors, for Safety.

Creating and agreeing to group norms helps participants safely collaborate. One of Colleen’s best practices involves allowing teams to create their own norms, guiding the process and providing examples when needed. She emphasizes norms as especially important for tough conversations predicated on trust, and frames up those conversations strategically: “Today, we’re going to discuss a difficult topic…and here are norms for how we’re going to behave together.” Suggested norms include listening, asking questions without making assumptions, not talking over each other, and raising hands to take turns speaking. Norms act as guardrails, helping ensure a safer environment for deeper conversations.

  1. Take Baby Steps Towards Trust: Use Icebreakers.

Team members feel safer taking vulnerable risks in small groups with established norms, and icebreakers allow them to share snippets of themselves, building trust with each share. As Colleen says, “We don’t want to try and force trust–because you can’t–but even simply asking ‘how are you feeling today?’ and staying fully present for the answer can go a long way towards building team trust.” By taking small risks in a safe environment each session, team trust grows over time.

  1. Train Facilitators–for Their Sake & the Team’s.

As a trained facilitator, Colleen values facilitation as a skill, not only because it contributes to small group trust, but because it doubles as a leadership development tool.

When she built and supported BIPOC mentoring at Nordstrom from the ground up, she ensured each cohort of 6-8 had two BIPOC leaders trained to guide their group. “We gave those leaders facilitation training, because that’s a huge skill: being able to hold space, ask questions, pull out a challenge, and feel comfortable asking ‘what are we NOT saying right now.’” A facilitator modeling and inviting vulnerability can unlock transparency for others in the group. Colleen uses verbiage like this: “I noticed you haven’t shared–would you like to share anything? It’s fine if not, I just wanted to make space for you.” A trained facilitator pulls the other key elements of group size, norms & icebreakers together, creating the ideal environment for maximizing team trust. 

Vulnerability Scales Culture

With the right structure in place, facilitators invite teams into vulnerability and trust session by session. How can leaders scale that trust throughout an organization, transforming culture? 

Ultimately, top-down vulnerability forms a company’s culture–leaders have to see transparency modeled at the very top. In Colleen’s experience, “That’s often the missing piece. You can offer the best program around culture, but if I leave my team and it’s not reinforced in the greater company environment, then it won’t stick.”

She suggests beginning with onboarding, especially with the move to hybrid work. “My own most recent onboarding experience was virtual, and a very difficult experience. But what if you had new hires in circles with an executive leader present from day one? If you can get leaders to open up with recruits, that changes the culture.”

In the end, everyone wants to work and lead in a trusting organizational culture where humans come first, like Colleen’s initial experience at Starbucks. Modern managers need innovative solutions to keep their hybrid teams connected. We’re working on it! 

High-Performing Hybrid Teams: How to build trust to Drive Performance

With many workplaces settling into hybrid work environments, it’s become increasingly difficult for colleagues to connect. This could negatively affect performance: research shows high-performing teams are 25% more likely to connect with teammates over non-work topics.  “The best teams aren’t more effective because they work all the time. On the contrary: they invest time connecting in genuine ways, which yields closer friendships and better teamwork later on.” Outside of meetings, where will authentic conversations happen, in the absence of the lunchroom and the watercooler?

Modern leaders must scale culture across time zones, balancing human-centered core values with performance metrics. They cannot rely on old ways of connection while team trust and effectiveness hangs in the balance. Today’s virtual, distributed workplace needs innovative spaces where teams can build trust through openness, accountability, and shared purpose, while ensuring results.

High Trust Equals High Performance

Experts agree: a trusting company culture characterized by human connection ensures high-performing teams and a thriving business. According to Professor Paul J. Zak, compared with people at low-trust companies, at high-trust companies, employees experience: 

  • 29% more satisfaction with their lives
  • 40% less burnout
  • 74% less stress
  • 106% more energy at work

In addition to enhancing employee well-being, a trusting workplace culture also increases the bottom line, through:

  • 50% higher productivity
  • 76% more engagement

Connected employees build trust and improve in collaboration, communication & innovation, and a baseline of trust also affects retention. MITSloan research shows that in trusting workplace cultures, not only are employees a whopping 260% more motivated to work, but also 50% less likely to look for another job. Another famous Zappos study reported that company cultures that value employee connections “generate 4 times more revenue than those with substandard company cultures.”

In other words, thriving people build thriving companies. Because trust is proven to affect everything from employee well-being to revenues and retention, leaders must seek out spaces where hybrid teams can connect in authentic ways.

Essential Elements for Team Trust

Human beings have always gathered in circles, and returning to this ancient practice introduces a new way for virtual teams to connect and build trust. We’ve looked to the work of some of our favorite gurus to help us understand exactly how circles magic works, and synthesized multiple theories into our own “3-Dimensional Trust Framework.” The three essential elements include:

  1. X Openness: Vulnerability, psychological safety, sincerity
  2. Y Accountability: Competence, reliability, honoring promises
  3. Z Shared Purpose: Empathy, care, shared values & intentions

We’ve found that facilitated small group circles operate like little trust microwaves, promoting inclusive conversations as participants quickly build relational trust with each other. Although all three elements aren’t necessarily present in each session, openness, accountability and shared purpose teach and reinforce the elements of trust.


Authentic human connection is crucial to building trust. After decades of writing NYT best-sellers on vulnerabililty, research professor Brene Brown concludes “We need to trust to be vulnerable, and we need to be vulnerable in order to build trust.”

Safe by Design: The very shape of a circle levels the playing field, and keeping a group’s size between 5-10 people promotes safety. Participants also feel safer to open up when they agree to confidentiality norms. Random order rounds with timers helps ensure that everyone listens and feels heard.

Guidance: The best circles are guided. During the session flow, facilitators invite openness by drawing out participation. Carefully crafted agendas that include questions breed conversation. Before answering, it’s best to give participants time to pause for reflection, as it results in better listening and deeper shares. 

With the right structure in place, facilitated circles invite openness and set the stage for accountability.


Structure: To layer accountability into a circle, gather small groups in recurring sessions, strongly encouraging regular attendance. Starting and ending sessions on time is another simple way to build trust. Finally, reviewing group data and metrics reinforces a group’s track record together.

The Learning Zone: In psychologically safe circles, participants feel comfortable with both openness and accountability. Harvard Business School’s Amy Edumundson, author of The Fearless Organization, postulates a terrific theory about the “learning zone,” which describes striking a powerful balance between openness and accountability. This ‘learning zone’ is the perfect environment for teams to discover shared purpose in a circle. 

Shared Purpose

As teams become accustomed to openness and accountability, they grow in listening to and caring for each other, developing a shared purpose. Sharing struggles often leads to a sense of common challenge, reinforced by dialogue and exchange of help during exploration exercises. Lastly, trusting teams set intentions to follow up and highlight how they fit into the group’s purpose.

A guided, structured small group gathering in a circle inevitably experiences openness, accountability and shared purpose.

CircleSpace: a Safe Space for Hybrid Teams to Build Trust

Our 3D trust model formed as we worked with partners to develop and test CircleSpace over many years, to ensure the openness, accountability, and shared purpose that builds effective teams. CircleSpace includes all the elements for success: facilitators, build-in timers and random order generators, and off-the-shelf agendas and programs designed to build trust. It’s the solution today’s hybrid workers need to stay connected and reach their goals.

Don’t sacrifice the magic of gathering your teams; implement CircleSpace to maximize your investment in an upcoming offsite, or to help you cut costs and go completely virtual. Click here to experience a Circle for yourself!

Navigating Change: A Circles Case Study about Scaling Resilience in an Enterprise Organization

Embarking on a journey of culture change at scale is no easy feat, but one DuPont division offers an inspiring tale of grassroots transformation. Despite daunting societal forces and internal disruptions, they embraced inclusive Circles experiences, fostering trust and resilience even throughout a merger and acquisition. Leaders emerged and were transformed into cultural ambassadors as they learned facilitation skills. What began as a single program promoting belonging multiplied into a lifeline of programs that profoundly humanized the way DuPonters connect and relate to one another.

In total, five Circles programs developed in partnership with DuPont:

  • Community of Belonging—Inclusion sessions
  • Navigating Change Together—Initial M&A processing
  • Forging the Path Forward—Community focused
  • Connection Circles—Merging teams 
  • Leader Connect—Peer Circles

Phase One: Community of Belonging

DuPont first discovered while searching for ways employees could bring their full selves to work. Initially, they implemented Leadership Circles: A Community of Belonging (COB), a program created by The Aspen Institute in partnership with Circles Learning Labs. The program allows virtual space for leaders at all organizational levels to self-facilitate powerful dialogue–and DuPont employees who engaged the process celebrated differences while discovering commonalities. 

Connecting New Hires and Senior Leaders

“Deliberately dedicating time to honest discussions with colleagues was some of the most beneficial time I’ve spent in the last couple of months.” DuPont Pilot Participant

70 employees took part in the COB pilot. A new hire who participated came away praising the experience as a safe, welcoming place: “Beginning my career with this experience has been incredibly valuable to me. It showed me that DuPont has a deep caring for people, and reinforced my decision to come to work here.”

Circles were deliberately sorted to group staff across organizational levels. One participant described feeling surprised by the vulnerable manner in which a senior leader in his group engaged. “It actually helps to have the company leader listening in on the hot issues and experiencing how people might be feeling.” What struck another employee was a specific, caring interaction during a rough day at work. “My boss came to me and said ‘I’m really wondering how I can show you kindness’–he had already been through two of the three Circle sessions. It was so nice to hear that type of comment from the leader of the entire organization.” Circles participants reported that Community of Belonging left them better equipped to have tough conversations with a manager or colleague.

Today’s workforce expects and appreciates avenues to cultivate workplace transparency. In fact, over 90% polled indicated that it’s DuPont’s responsibility as their employer to facilitate conversations. What truly transforms corporate culture is when senior leaders lead the way, engaging in the belonging process.

“My circle was a group of people across the organization, so it was a broad experience of my company rather than an experience with my direct co-workers.”

A New Type of Inclusive Experience

At DuPont, we understand that we can only truly fulfill our purpose with the full commitment, participation, creativity, energy, and cooperative spirit of a diverse workforce.” Excerpt From DuPont’s Core Values

Although DuPont had run DEIB programs before, employees responded differently to the conversational format of the Leadership Circles sessions. Some indicated that beforehand, they had never considered the importance of inclusive work environments; after completing three 90-minute sessions, however, a stunning 100% agreed or strongly agreed with prioritizing inclusivity. They shared sentiments like “It’s a very open place to interact with colleagues and discuss the tough topics we don’t always talk about.”

Because personal conversations in safe spaces rarely occur at work, listening to others’

experiences revealed some startling realities. For example: previously unheard stories of workplace discrimination surfaced. As a result, the percentage of staff indicating they strongly valued conversations inviting diverse perspectives skyrocketed from 53%-76%.

One woman shared that her group gave her the courage to bring her most authentic, unique self to the space, also noting that “It gives DuPont a competitive edge. This is a win-win.” Human connection in small groups sets Circles programs apart from other belonging experiences.

“The readings, poems, and art were amazing conversation starters!”

Sparking a Movement

DuPont leaders knew they were on the path to culture change when three out of four participants they polled said they would recommend Community of Belonging to their colleagues. Ideas flowed, and opportunities to scale the circles throughout DuPont emerged. Meanwhile, following a long stretch of remote work, DuPont headed into 2022 facing significant change: competitor Celanese was acquiring their Mobility and Materials (M&M) division.

Phase Two: Navigating Change Together

Helping Teams Thrive Through Mergers & Acquisitions

Responding to the merger announcement, a small team of M&M leaders brainstormed how to apply the COB experience to the imminent acquisition. Forming a core team that included Circles team members, they created a customized Circles program Navigating Change Together (NCT) consisting of three new curated, facilitated, 90-minute sessions. After testing with pilot groups, they launched open enrollment over a period of months, inviting team members across regions & functions to process in virtual small groups together.

Participants shared personal motivations for joining:

  • “We’ve had a lot of change in DuPont in the last five years, and it’s difficult to cope with constant change.”
  • “Our team keeps getting smaller, so each one of us is more and more critical. We must support each other!”
  • “I’m looking forward to this unique opportunity to learn and share, from head and heart!”
  • “It is now more important than ever that we respectfully communicate, trust and support each other.”

NCT gave employees a safe space to share how they felt about the merger. Many processed their fears and insecurities. Their discussions forged strong connections and helped DuPonters build trust and harvest their collective strength. By connecting employees on a deeper level, the program acted as a lifeline buoying them through the organizational changes.

“I think the program is making me more resilient through adversity, and giving me more understanding of others. I heard surprising perspectives I couldn’t have even imagined. Professionally, this type of enrichment is of great benefit, and ultimately beneficial for results at work.”

Building a new Bench of Leaders

“I enjoyed my COB experience and the platform so much that I wanted to facilitate a Navigating Change Together circle; I’ve also contributed as a core planning team member. Circles allowed me to get back to supporting employees in the moment.”

Trained Circle Leaders have an enormous impact on the quality of a session. They’re equipped to allow uncomfortable ambiguity and uncertainty, holding space for discomfort and hard topics, asking challenging questions, and enabling meaningful discussions.

Here’s what participants have shared, praising their Circle Leaders:

  • “They allowed us to participate without pressing anyone to talk. They just let the conversation flow and helped us build on each other’s thoughts.”
  • “Our facilitator made a point of including everyone without putting people on the spot”
  • “Encouraged open sharing and kept the discussion moving; created a welcoming environment for the conversation”

When Paula Tewksbury encountered Circles at DuPont, she recognized its unique potential to connect and grow employees. Her first role at DuPont was as a manufacturing professional in a plant, and evolved over time into a career as a Learning and Development leader. She’d been with DuPont for 30 years when, compelled by her experience as a COB participant, she volunteered as a NCT Circle Leader.

As a long time facilitator who had trained others for years, Paula noticed how Circles makes it easy for anyone to grow in facilitation skills. “By design, the Circles experience helps build skill sets like facilitation that sometimes get overlooked.” 

Many COB participants besides Paula volunteered to facilitate a NCT circle, and notably, every single Circle Leader who facilitated in COB went on to lead a NCT circle. As one repeat facilitator shared, “The proudest moment for me was seeing two team members who I had invited into circles decide they wanted to facilitate circles going forward.” According to weekly reports, repeat Circle Leaders were instrumental in the program’s success.

By training over forty employees to become Circle Leaders, DuPont inherited a whole new bench of culture carriers prepared to help guide future organizational change.

Phase Three: Forging the Path Forward

The division continued preparing for the shift to Celanese. Aware of the mixed emotions employees would experience throughout the process, they designed and implemented a third phase of Circles called Forging the Path Forward. Together, participants reflected and prepared for the move: they set objectives to check in, assess M&M culture, and embrace the opportunity to move forward together.

Growing Pool of Seasoned Facilitators

The guidance of the experienced Circle Leaders–many of whom had led sessions since the very first phase–helped preserve the feeling of community and connection among their peers. 68% of NCT Circle Leaders guided circles again, allowing them to draw from prior experience and create meaningful sessions. A record-high facilitation score of 9.67 proved the importance of this seasoned throughline of leaders.


Programs Beyond the M&A

After moving from participant to facilitator, Paula continued seeing new leadership development opportunities for Circles. She and her continuous improvement colleague Lyle designed a Leader Connect program so leaders at the manufacturing level could address common challenges with peers in the same role at different sites. Together with Circles, they developed a program focused on leading with humility, developing people, engaging and asking the right questions, and providing a safe sharing environment. “Manufacturing Plant leaders and middle managers at sites don’t have peers to bounce ideas off of–there’s no one to connect and network with. Circles is a way to bring them together.”

Paula felt she watched culture change happening right before her eyes: accountability between the plant leaders increased, and they performed at a higher level as a result of connecting and growing through Leader Connect. Many participating leaders–some who had been with DuPont for decades–expressed that they had never experienced anything like it in their career.

Another product that emerged out of the M&A was Connection Circles, a program enabling initial employee connections across newly merged teams, beginning with Product Stewardship. One participant said functioning after a merger “feels like a high schoolS dance where boys are on one side and girls on another, and someone has to reach out and start communications between sides.” Circles helped ease the pain of two cultures merging.

Measurable Growth

The growing pool of Circle Leaders resulting from multiple phases of DuPont programs inspired us at Circles to continue refining our Facilitator Onboarding Journey, in an effort to translate the Circle Leaders experience into other organizations.

The Heart of the Matter

When leaders engage and hold space for human connection, culture changes one session at a time. Many of today’s most pressing workplace challenges factored into DuPont’s Circles journey, and the beating heart of each developed program is the belief that dialogue can build trusting relationships. The results at DuPont revealed the tremendous potential in employees connected with one another through significant organizational change.

Unlocking Substantial Returns Through Employee Resource Groups

90% of Fortune 500 Companies have employee resource groups. ERGs surged in the last two years, but now cost-conscious execs are slashing budgets and staffing.  Many of us sense the importance of these spaces, but in times of economic uncertainty, how do you justify the time and money? Fortunately, recent research has bolstered the case that they can yield a strong return on investment.

ERGs Need Funding

The research is in: companies must allocate more funding for ERGs. When Researchers asked respondents what improvements they would like to see in ERG programs, the top answer was more funding (61% percent).

ERG Funding Case Study

Funda Kalemci works in DEI for NielsenIQ, overseeing 30,000 associates in 80 countries.

She says funding ERGs begins with embedding them into a holistic DEI strategy. Her team sits in Human Resources, and relies on metrics to make the case for funding requests. “You have to clarify what problem your initiative solves. Numbers talk: if you have data supporting your request, that will build your case. Utilize yearly data to prove trends.”

For instance: when NielsenIQ HR noticed significant attrition numbers for one particular demographic, Funda’s team brainstormed planning an in-person forum for the representative ERG. “From a retention perspective, the need for that event was dire. I presented the story supported with numbers and secured the forum budget.” In the end, for that one event her team negotiated a forum budget twice the size of their overall DEI budget.

Multiple factors caused them to push the forum event back to 2024, but after the announcement of the program attrition numbers seemed to slow. Funda attributes it to collaboration, and the hope of human connection. Planning the event alongside the ERG communicated respect, care and concern to employees, and they had an in-person offsite to look forward to.

Having worked in DEI for ten years, Funda says budgeting will always be a concern, and cautions against funding ERG strategies like speakers, webinars and seminars. She thinks it’s smart to stay focused on connecting employees together. “What Circles brings to the table is a multifaceted, layered solution.”

ERG Benefits

Benefiting Employees by Boosting Company Culture

91% of businesses indicated that effective ERGs boost company culture. Here are seven ways employees benefit from ERGs:

  • DEI initiatives championed.
  • Employee wellbeing and mental health strengthened.
  • Improved physical work conditions (think ERGs advocating for gender-neutral restrooms).
  • Higher visibility of underrepresented groups.
  • Employees connected with mentors.
  • High-trust relationships formed as employees flourish in safe spaces.
  • Leaders identified and developed.
  • Collaboration solving company-wide challenges.
  • Avenue for everyone’s voice to be heard.

There’s no doubt about it: ERGs benefit employees by enhancing workplace culture. What’s compelling is that research shows they’re good for business, too. 

Benefiting Business by Impacting the Bottom Line

ERGs benefit more than just employees: studies also show they have commercial impact. Salesforce research concluded: “The vast majority of participating businesses found that ERGs support employee retention efforts” and as Funda from our NielsenIQ case study pointed out, “we all know how much it costs to find, hire and keep talent.”

As a company, NielsenIQ provides insights into consumer purchasing trends, and some of their ERGs’ thought leadership pieces have become revenue generating projects. In partnership with a client, their Pride ERG produced an LGBTQ consumer behavior series, a staple thought leadership piece now available for client purchase. Allowing ERGs to lead out on revenue-producing affinity-based projects not only communicates value to underrepresented people groups–it’s good for the bottom line.

Circles partner Chezie resources ERGs, and makes a compelling business case for them. They’ve found that not only do they improve retention and recruiting, they also increase productivity. “More productivity means having a sales team that surpasses its quota or an engineering team that fixes bugs at a faster rate.” They say ERGs also promote equitable product development, citing multiple examples including a company that worked with its Disabilities ERG to make its smart speaker device accessible to those who are deaf or have speech impediments. ERGs are good for business.

Virtual Best Practices

An added complexity today is connecting hybrid and remote workers in ERGs. Camila Ramos Vilchese had a long history of DEI work under her belt before working at Lloyd’s Register, but the recent shift to virtual work left her searching for new ways to connect the Gender Equality Network ERG she sponsors. She launched Safe Harbor Circles to connect global ERG participants, and found the sessions to have an amazing impact connecting female employees and their male allies across the globe.

One Safe Harbor Circles participant commented: “I never knew I could reflect like this with someone across the world. It’s so impressive that I am in Japan, and I can discuss shared struggles with someone in the UK.” Virtual ERGs provide a low-cost, accessible way for global ERGs to connect and grow.


Employees have become key company stakeholders, and providing for their well-being contributes to a company’s long-term success. With innovative funding, virtual tools and attention to best practices, ERGs will continue boosting corporate belonging and inclusion efforts.