This episode marks 5 years of Community Signal! If you tune in, you’ll hear Patrick share a thank you for the incredible guests and collaborators that have helped get us here, in addition to the sponsors and Patreon supporters that have generously supported this work. We’re proud to share the stories and learnings of our peers in the community industry and Patrick, Karn, and myself look forward to speaking to more of you! If you ever have feedback on the show or want to suggest a guest, we’d love to hear from you. Please drop us a line, even if it’s just to let us know that you’re listening.
Around this time last year, the burgeoning online community behind the American Society of Safety Professionals was beginning to discuss COVID-19. As the pandemic made its way across the globe, Ashleigh Brookshaw, the manager of community engagement at the ASSP, adapted to make sure that the community was positioned as a core part of the society’s online experience.
In this discussion, Ashleigh talks us through the launch of ASSP’s online community and how leaders within the ASSP were vital to its construction and launch. By leveraging the experience and insight of the safety professionals that were already members of the society, Ashleigh was able to ensure that the community was easy to use and navigate from a technical perspective and also seeded with content and voices that would welcome a diverse membership. This is a common thread throughout the interview – the ASSP empowers its leaders and community members to lead much of the programming, discussion, and community moderation. Ashleigh shares the insights and UX considerations that she has implemented to power this community.
Patrick and Ashleigh also discuss:
- How the ASSP is thinking about the future of the safety profession and why DEI is important to that vision
- Managing a community of safety experts during a pandemic
- The code of conduct and motivations that encourage community members to keep conversations professional
Our Podcast is Made Possible By…
If you enjoy our show, please know that it’s only possible with the generous support of our sponsors: Vanilla, a one-stop shop for online community and Localist, plan, promote, and measure events for your community.
COVID-19 has demonstrated the use-case for the ASSP community (4:15): “As you take a look at the maturation rate of community, that first year, year and a half, two years, is in my opinion, very, very critical in order to build the user adoption and behaviors that you want to see for long-term sustained engagement. The good thing about COVID-19, and I always like to try to pull the positive little nuggets where I can, is that our organization has really stepped up in terms of integrating online community more holistically and strategically at the front end, to service our members.” -Ashleigh Brookshaw
Community segmentation drives the ASSP user experience (18:47): “[Our community is integrated] with our membership database, which [drives our segmentation]. Every single block on [a given community] page is controlled by [that] member segmentation, which can serve dual purposes. If I’m just a regular member and I’m curious about what this group is doing, I can go take a look. If I’m a member of that group, I’m invited deeper into the conversation.” -Ashleigh Brookshaw
But segmentation can sometimes be harmful (22:53): “People sometimes want [online community] segmentation in a way that won’t actually work well. They will segment themselves off into a corner and then wonder why no one sees what they post. … ‘I posted this [with segmentation that allows me to reach] seven people out of a 7,000 member org, why didn’t I get any replies? Why doesn’t anyone care about me?'” –@patrickokeefe
Empowering community-led moderation (35:00): “ASSP, as an organization, has a professional code of conduct. If a member is not acting in accordance with the mission and the vision of [a] particular group and [not] helping [to] advance the society as a whole, there’s going to be [an] ethics review by [the] professional code of conduct committee.” -Ashleigh Brookshaw
About Ashleigh Brookshaw
Ashleigh Brookshaw is an accomplished community strategist, who has worked with both internal and external audiences for a variety of organizations including nonprofits like Chicago Gateway Green, Fortune 500 companies like Allstate Insurance, and professional associations like the American Society of Safety Professionals. She is also the chief innovation officer of C2M Digital, a consulting services firm headquartered in historic downtown Oak Park, IL.
- Sponsor: Localist, plan, promote, and measure events for your community
- Sponsor: Vanilla, a one-stop-shop for online community
- Ashleigh Brookshaw on LinkedIn
- American Society of Safety Professionals
- It’s my (Carol’s) three year anniversary with Community Signal!
- Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (1911)
- Triangle: Remembering The Fire
- The Higher Logic Super Forum
- ASSP’s Common Interest Groups
- ASSP’s Professional Code of Conduct
[00:00:04] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Sponsored by Vanilla, a one-stop-shop for online community and Localist, plan, promote, and measure events for your community. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[00:00:28] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and welcome to Community Signal.
On this, our five-year anniversary episode, we’re talking about Ashleigh Brookshaw from the American Society of Safety Professionals, about what it’s like to manage a community of safety experts when a pandemic strikes, plus how they are tackling diversity, equity, and inclusion through common interest groups. The release date of this episode, December 7th, 2020 will mark five years since the release of the first Community Signal. Here we are 169 episodes and well over 100 hours later.
In appreciation of this milestone, I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone who has supported our show. Thank you to all of our listeners, especially our regular listeners, subscribers, and Patreon supporters, including Heather Champ, Rachel Medanic, and Maggie McGary.
I believe that sometimes people think that I receive way more feedback than I do, whenever you retweet the show, like it, send me a kind word about it, or back it on Patreon, I notice each and every time. Thank you.
Thank you to Karn Broad, the show’s producer and Carol Benovic-Bradley, our editorial lead. Karn makes the show sound better and Carol provides sharp written context to that sound. They are both my creative partners in releasing our finished product.
Thank you to our previous guests. Thank you to our current sponsors, Vanilla and Localist, as well as our past sponsors, Discourse, Higher Logic, Open Social, and The Social Element. I pay Carol, Karn, and our transcription service, and a handful of other services, and sponsorship is what helps make that happen.
I’m grateful to everyone who supports the independence of Community Signal. Thank you.
Also, I wanted to mention that November 25th marked three years that Carol has been our editorial lead. Congrats, Carol on making it to three years, and thank you for all of your contributions too, and support of Community Signal. Now, let’s talk with Ashleigh.
Ashleigh Brookshaw is a community strategist and entrepreneur with expertise in online community engagement, cultural and transformative change management, and strategic digital marketing communications to drive business results. Ashleigh has worked with both internal and external audiences with a variety of organizations, including nonprofits like Chicago Gateway Green, Fortune 500 companies like Allstate Insurance, and professional associations like the American Society of Safety Professionals, where she is currently the manager of community engagement. Ashleigh is also the chief innovation officer of C2M Digital, a consulting services firm in historic downtown Oak Park, Illinois.
Ashleigh, welcome to the show.
[00:02:52] Ashleigh Brookshaw: Hi, Patrick. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
[00:02:55] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s a pleasure to have you. The American Society of Safety Professionals has been around for over a hundred and nine years. According to the about page for the organization, it was founded just months after one of the deadliest workplace disasters in the US, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which killed 146 workers in New York City in 1911. I know about that disaster because my fiancée worked on a documentary about it for HBO, Triangle: Remembering The Fire. It may have been the first project of hers that I watched when we started dating.
[00:03:27] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s a tragic story. That’s to say that this is an org that has been around for a long time. But this year, we faced a unique, massive global safety issue, COVID-19, how has that changed the community this year?
[00:03:43] Ashleigh Brookshaw: Thank you so much for asking. Just to give a little bit of background, our online community for ASSP, launched about a year and a half ago, so we have a very young community. Our community is a membership exclusive benefit for about 38,000 occupational safety and health professionals. I really think that with the advent of COVID-19, how it’s changed our community is it really has elevated its overall awareness as a member benefit for the members of our organization.
As you take a look at the maturation rate of community, that first year, year and a half, two years, is in my opinion, very, very critical in order to build the user adoption and the behaviors that you want to see for long-term sustained engagement. The good thing about COVID-19 -and I always like to try to pull the positive little nuggets where I can – is that our organization has really stepped up in terms of integrating online community more holistically, and strategically at the front end, to service our members.
[00:04:47] Patrick O’Keefe: Being young community, you got it off to a start wherever that was, safety issues, normal safety issues, did COVID-19 dominate the conversation in that community, or might still be dominating now? But did the conversation shift to be very COVID-19 dominant? Or was it just one more issue?
[00:05:07] Ashleigh Brookshaw: It actually dominated the conversation and as a community manager, I noticed that it was dominating the conversation so much that I took it upon myself to create a new discussion category forum specifically for COVID-19, that was then later integrated into the organizational COVID-19 response page for all of our members.
[00:05:27] Patrick O’Keefe: It sounds like it did, and being young, you’re on whatever growth trajectory you’re targeting, but it sounds like the community also grew this year as far as activity and active members, as COVID-19 developed.
[00:05:40] Ashleigh Brookshaw: Yes, it’s definitely been an awareness phase like I said, but with the advent of COVID-19, we’ve seen a lot more increased engagement around just COVID-19 related discussions. Like I said, our organization has been much more intentional from a change perspective and integrating the online community and front end strategy, which has al surfaced its awareness and visibility to other members.
[00:06:04] Patrick O’Keefe: Since you work with safety pros who are paying attention to these issues, did you see COVID pop up on your personal radar through the community earlier than you may have seen it elsewhere?
[00:06:15] Ashleigh Brookshaw: Yes. I would say that’s actually a really great question. I believe I started first seeing just me general chatter around COVID-19, like around this time, last year. Just generally speaking.
[00:06:29] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s November. I’ll just say for context, November of last year. February I was walking around Hollywood trying to find masks, and they were already gone, mid-February and then, really, our government started to take it publicly seriously, in let’s say, March in placing their first bulk order for the n95 masks in March and March 12 was really worth things shut down in a big way. For me, personally, my fiancé’s employer, they closed their office on March 12, I think that was the same day, maybe the NBA closed too, and that was like the day it kicked off. If that’s the case, November, that was four months before that. [laughs]
[00:07:04] Ashleigh Brookshaw: That’s the thing with safety professionals, and even just to provide some context. Like I am an online community manager as you are aware, I’m not a safety professional, so you see things- it’s very interesting in our community because the safety professionals, they’re talking about keeping people safe at a general level, but then they get very, very technical that just completely goes over my head. I saw just general mentions of it, or just some pandemic planning because the great thing about safety professionals in general, is that they are very risk-averse, so there’s always contingency plans.
There’s a safety plan for the plant. There’s one for the business, there’s lots of different elements to this overall profession which has been really rich and rewarding for me as a community manager, to really see the different struggles and triumphs that the safety professionals do and that our members do day in and day out.
[00:08:01] Patrick O’Keefe: Speaking of contingency plans, and witnessing that development on the safety side, is that something that has translated to how you approach community programs? Has your approach shifted at all to be more like a safety pro where you have contingency plans, or other plans in case something doesn’t go the ideal way? I could see examples that could be a launch, it could be some internal pitch, a migration, a product you want to move to. Has that adjusted your perspective a little bit?
[00:08:30] Ashleigh Brookshaw: It has only slightly because what’s interesting is that I’m always just a planner by nature, if there’s an award for over planning– I don’t want to say stressing about something, but just taking a look at different paths, I would win it several times over. What I will say is that with the advent of COVID-19, just seeing all of the different conversations, and really trying to anticipate what our members going to need, the longer that this pandemic occurs, and is the platform technology– is that continuing to deliver on that value?
A couple of elements for community management that I actually take a look up, it’s not only that strategic engagement to meet the business objectives, but it’s really about taking a look at and continuously re-evaluating the technology that we’re currently using to make sure that it’s meeting that need, if that makes sense.
[00:09:24] Patrick O’Keefe: It does, yes. I’m someone who, I think, is written far too many Google Docs that only got read a couple of times, because they were detailed strategic planning, and someone looked at them was like, “Oh, that’s good, Patrick. Yes, cool. I’m glad you have that. ” Then, they got opened a few more times and that was it, so I can appreciate a good planner.
[00:9:44] Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s pause here to talk about one of our great sponsors, Localist.
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Yesterday at the Higher Logic Super Forum, you gave a presentation about how to use online community management to design an equitable user experience. I’d love to talk about that. Where do we start?
[00:10:28] Ashleigh Brookshaw: One of the things that I really enjoy about being an online community manager for ASSP is that I’m responsible for the system, but the other part of my job is really managing our virtual diversity, equity, and inclusion groups for our safety professionals that are members of the organization. During the talk yesterday, and just in my professional experience with this particular community, I’ve been with the organization for about three years, but prior to that, I had done some online community management for a large corporation that was specifically related to employee engagement.
The presentation yesterday was really a culmination of the learnings that I had of how do you really create that equitable user experiences dependent on your organizational culture, and contextualizing it within your specific organizational business case.
As community professionals, we know that the different types of online communities really are manifestations, at least in my opinion, of that organization’s digital culture. For ASSP specifically, what I went through yesterday was a little bit of the discussion on how I and our organization designed our community with our diverse users in mind. That was tied specifically to our organizational governance.
For the previous example that I had shared from a corporate perspective, that was a different type of community. The target audiences within that were employees and contractors. I took the approach from that particular community, is that that particular organization really promoted their employee resource groups. That was actually my first job out of college, working, doing online community management for that particular organization. I was brought in to do a system migration from their previous platform to the current platform.
As a newer employee, right out of school, you’re looking to network, and how do you meet people. These large scale organizations have employee resource groups. What I noticed, though, is that in their online community, there was no place for the employee resource groups. They weren’t easy to find, it just wasn’t an easy user experience from my perspective. What I did was when we were migrating from the previous system to the current system, I placed the employee resource groups very prominently featured in the navigation, because when you’re looking at organizational culture and digital culture holistically, this organization was talking about the great work-life benefits for their employees.
Part of that was the employee resource groups. I’m just like, “Oh, I wonder if anyone else has a problem finding these groups or how do you connect with people?” Those are the two examples that I provided in my presentation yesterday, just talking about when you’re creating that equitable user experience, it really starts with understanding the organizational culture in which your online community is operating in.
[00:13:34] Patrick O’Keefe: For that, first example, you mentioned it ASSP, you designed the community with diverse groups in mind. I’d love to get into that a little bit more granularly, as far as the process and really what you did on the ground tactically to incorporate those groups into the community development process.
[00:13:52] Ashleigh Brookshaw: Yes, absolutely. The great thing about that organization is they had already a very strong business case for community, which started to really empower our leaders to connect with their members. We have volunteer leaders. We have two separate types of member communities that have prominent spaces within the online community. We have our diversity, equity, inclusion groups to which I manage and to which I’ve referenced. We also have our 18 technical communities that are centered specifically around the member professional expertise, whether that is construction, oil and gas, transportation, things of that nature.
In the very beginning stages, as we’re taking a look at online community and really providing the best user experience, again, with the business case in mind, I was thinking to myself, “How do I really make this an inviting space for people to really get those connections with our volunteer leaders and hopefully build their volunteer pipeline, so that they want to become the president or the vice president of this group?” Contextualizing it, in overall, organizational cultural change management. That’s how I like to approach things. ASSP underwent a rebranding, a couple of years ago, which included -which I thought was great- new branding for those virtual communities. Blacks in Safety Excellence got a logo and the Transportation Technical Community got a logo. As I was building the online community spaces with those diverse users in mind, I thought, “Let’s incorporate the specific branding that we just did as an overall organization for the communities to really create that sense of belonging.” If I, as a transportation member visit that page, I see my logo prominently centered right there. That’s one example. Additionally, what I did was utilizing the functionality of the online community, because I just really do believe as a community manager it’s great to get a sense of like, “What are the technical features that I can leverage to really not only deliver the value but really upgrade the user experience?”
We have, as I mentioned, volunteer leaders. What I did was I built the page, the overall landing page, for each of the technical communities and the diverse communities. I prominently feature their leaders right on the page with their profile photos, which I believe will encourage- which it has actually, which has been great. It’s encouraged the members just of those smaller subsets of communities to connect directly with their volunteer leaders. Let’s just say I’m new Ashleigh to ASSP and I just joined Emerging Professionals in Occupational Safety and Health. I’m looking to get more involved. I visit my online community page. I can see very clearly on the left-hand side, I can see who the president is and who the vice-president is. I can click on their profile and send them a direct message right there.
Those are just a couple of ways that we’ve done it with the diverse users in mind. Like I said, it’s all centered around the business case, like for the online community. An additional example for that is since the virtual communities, their value proposition is really centered on that virtual connection, as opposed to our chapter member communities, which are more centered around that local level engagement, leveraging the functionality we provided specific segmentation for those virtual communities on the space, that they can search their users. A specialized member directory per group, if you will. That’s what I believe creating that equitable user experience really manifests itself, because all of the virtual communities and the technical communities were all set up the same way. They all look the same. They all have the same access.
[00:17:42] Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s talk a break so that I can talk about our great, generous long-term sponsor, Vanilla.
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When they hit those landing pages and they see the volunteer leader for the group they’re a part of, or however they are identifying within the larger org, are they being taken then to a part of the community that is dedicated specifically to that group or to the whole org as a whole?
[00:18:30] Ashleigh Brookshaw: That’s a great question. When they visit the landing page for their particular community, if they are a member of that community, a button will show that says “join our discussions.” Just to take a few steps back, our particular system integrates with our membership database, and everything that a user sees in that online community is driven by that segmentation. Really that online community page for a virtual community or a technical community can serve a dual purpose. It can serve as the purpose to meet and connect with your volunteer leaders, if you’re already a member and you want to have specific conversations around transportation or oil and gas, that button will display for you.
If you are a regular ASSP member and you have elected not to join an additional technical community or a DE&I group, it serves as– I don’t want to call it necessarily like a marketing page, but it serves as a potential recruitment because in addition to seeing who the volunteer leaders are on that page, you also get a description of that technical community or that diversity and inclusion community, or you can also see just new members of that particular community as well. Every single block on that page is controlled by member segmentation, which can serve dual purposes. If I’m just a regular member and I’m curious about what this group is doing, I can go take a look. If I’m a member of that group, I’m invited deeper into the conversation.
I should also start by saying that when a member joins ASSP, they’re already a part of a chapter. Those virtual and technical communities that I keep referencing, those are additional fees and an additional structure. Therefore, there’s an additional layer of access if that makes sense.
[00:20:18] Patrick O’Keefe: It does. Is the community itself segmented into those layers as well? Is there an area for discussing only with your chapter on top of only within a group? Or is that not there?
[00:20:29] Ashleigh Brookshaw: I would love to work towards that. Currently, as we talk about organizational culture, the chapter value proposition, like I said, is centered around local-level engagement. As such, the chapters right now do not have a virtual space to engage on that system.
[00:20:44] Patrick O’Keefe: Got it. I’m not arguing for that to be clear.
[00:20:47] Ashleigh Brookshaw: No, of course.
[00:20:47] Patrick O’Keefe: I used to run the Forbes Councils program where we had a city-based chapter and then the Business Journals Leadership Trust program, where we had about 40 cities around the country. I was never a huge fan of segmenting people based upon city except in specific circumstances just because we didn’t have the numbers. That leads into what I was going to ask you about next, which is just, once you get someone into a group and they’re part of discussions with that group that is within the larger organization of members, sometimes they can get really locked into that group and then not participate in the wider more generic conversations that exist. Is that something you’ve seen? If so, is it something to combat? First of all. If so, how do you bring people into the wider association discussions?
[00:21:30] Ashleigh Brookshaw: It’s interesting that you asked that question, it’s actually the reverse. We have global discussion forums. We have a safety technical talk, which is one of the most active discussion forums that we have with the exception of COVID-19, but obviously with the pandemic that’s going to be a hot button right now anyway. We have the customer service function where we have people ask questions about membership, like membership specific questions. Then we have like your regular help and feedback section.
What I do think is very, very interesting is that because of the community is set up in what I would call overly segmented way right now because the DEI communities and the technical communities are part of a separate pay structure, there are people that would be asking questions that could just be specifically for that group in the larger discussion forum.
[00:22:23] Patrick O’Keefe: Exactly. I got you.
[00:22:24] Ashleigh Brookshaw: It’s very interesting that you asked that question because it’s the reverse, right.
[00:22:29] Patrick O’Keefe: What I’ve found sometimes and what I was finding in previous roles where we had localized chapters, either deliberately because you denoted yourself as being part of that chapter when you signed up or by happenstance, e.g. I have a percentage of members who were in the Boston area so they think of themselves as a Boston chapter even if a chapter doesn’t exist. One of the things that I’ve found sometimes is that people sometimes want segmentation in a way that won’t actually work well for the wider organization. They will segment themselves off into a corner and then wonder why no one sees what they post. Because they’ve put themselves in a group where they only want to talk to people in Boston who are starting a business that’s made between $10 and $15 million. Then they wonder, they complain, “I posted this at seven people out of a 7,000 member org, why didn’t I get any replies? Why doesn’t anyone care about me?”
[00:23:24] Ashleigh Brookshaw: That is definitely something that we’re facing in our community, I would say. Like I said, I like to contextualize online community and organizational culture. Those virtual communities, like I said, they’re member-led. We have volunteer leaders that are responsible for delivering the member value through networking opportunities, through educational webinars, through informal mentorship. It’s exactly the same thing where they’re like, “I posted things in this particular place, but there’s nobody there”, or they’re not listening or they’re not answering.
One of the things, and I’d be curious from your perspective or just online community management in general, is the fact that in my opinion online community needs to be properly integrated with the overall digital ecosystem of an organization, including emails, any events or webinars. Community should be built into all of that organically. Because sometimes I think, Patrick, that over-segmentation can be a threat to just overall engagement in the system.
[00:24:30] Patrick O’Keefe: Once upon a time people would launch forums. I sometimes think of this as the first piece of advice ever given about online communities, although it’s definitely up there, is that people would start them, I’m saying in the ’80s, ’90s, and they would add as many forums as they could based upon all the things that they thought people would want to talk about in that thing. It’s like that old old thing is you need to just start with the smallest group of categories you can. Then, as people participate in a way that says that new categories should be added, you should add them. I think that extends from the elders, the online community work, right up until today in every facet. I don’t know where that comes from, I think it’s a natural feeling people have. If I had to pick something out of the air, I think a lot of business people are used to the ad targeting that exists within Google Adwords and Facebook marketing. It’s possible, although maybe not, but it’s possible that that very specific access to people where I can say, “Hey, I want to throw an election.” I’m just kidding. “Hey, I want to put an ad on Facebook and I want to target all the white ladies over 50 in Secaucus, New Jersey who have one time liked the post made by this candidate. I want to hit them with this ad”.
That segmentation is, on most platforms valueless, because there isn’t the scale and the size to reach that many people with that level of segmentation. But in Facebook it makes sense because they sit on the greatest pile of human data ever collected, probably, but for everyone else, it’s like, “Nah, there’s a lot of people who can answer this question, and maybe they don’t even have to be in Boston or in transportation or over the age of 50, they just might know this thing because they did it once or twice. Why don’t you just put it out to the larger group and see what they know?”
[00:26:15] Ashleigh Brookshaw: Absolutely. Like I said, what’s really interesting is we continue to network with each other and meet each other, I hear so many different types of business cases and different types of online communities and how they function. But I do believe, Patrick, that you hit the nail on the head where you don’t have to overly segment in order to still deliver on the value. Because sometimes too many buckets is a bad thing and it’s almost cluttered. People don’t know where to go or, “Should I post it here?” Or, “What about this?” I really do believe and I agree with you, starting out like maybe with those smaller categories just to see. It’s like throwing a stone in the pond or whatever, as the ripples grow, it gets bigger. But that initial one is small.
[00:26:59] Patrick O’Keefe: It is. One more thing on designing an equitable user experience I wanted to ask you about even farther back. Because I think you touched on this stage where the community is here and ready and how do we bring those people in. But since it is a relatively new online community during the development stages and pre-launch, was there anything that you did? I could definitely think about things, throw them out there, I don’t want to limit you. Things like, as you’re developing, what it looks like. As you’re developing user experience or as you’re seeding the community, or as you’re making decisions, if anything, what did you do to make sure that you were incorporating different groups?
It sounds like, for you, that means a lot of different things. It’s definitely an identity characteristic, race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, those sorts of things, but also it’s safety discipline-specific. You mentioned transportation a few times. They might see things differently than- I don’t know another example of safety categories, but you do, than construction. What did you do if anything prelaunch to make sure that all of those different groups were as many as possible were part of the initial pre-launch stages?
[00:27:59] Ashleigh Brookshaw: Absolutely. What we did was we launched a pilot with those volunteer leaders. That included all of the leaders of our member community. That was our chapter leaders, the technical community leaders, the DE&I leaders. We had our regional operating committees. All of the governance leaders of the organization participated in that particular pilot. Since our volunteer leaders are our most engaged members within ASSP really was able to take their feedback on how does this look. I basically gave it to them and said, “Hey, break this”.
Like, “Click on things, let me know what the experience was.” I believe the pilot was for about — I believe it was a couple of months. I think it went from September to December. Then it launched in January, the following year to the overall membership. But we really tasked the volunteer leaders with seeding content for their membership prior to launch. We did a stage launch. I believe we had about four phases to where we were bringing in, we had identified certain segments, like the most engaged communities, virtual communities just by either webinars or on social.
We had a very staged approach, brought them into the community to start seeding content. Like I said, “Just break things and let me know what works, what doesn’t work,” because it was a very collaborative effort between the organization and the leaders prior to the full launch.
[00:29:27] Patrick O’Keefe: Very cool. You mentioned the Common Interest Groups before, and you oversee the strategy operations and management of for diversity and inclusion Common Interest Groups at ASSP. I went and Googled the phrase, “Common interest group”, just researching, looking. Is this different from an ERG? Is it the same? How’s it different? What do people say about it? I did it without quotation marks, and the ASSP page for Common Interest Groups was the third link on my screen, which I thought was pretty funny because that’s what I was prepping for. You rank well for that term, that’s a really good ranking. I’d like to hear a little bit about. You talked about it some, but how these groups work?
The ones on the page, you have Blacks in Safety Excellence, Women in Safety Excellence, Hispanic Safety Professionals, and Emerging Professionals IN OSH. How do these groups function? It’s not like they have their own areas of discussion on the forum. Are there other areas that they’re meeting and conversing? How do you match people to these groups? Like, is it as simple as when they come in, you’re asking like, “You’re a woman, you should check out the Women in Safety Excellence group. You’re Black, you should check out the Blacks in Safety Excellence group.” How do you match people? How do you bring people into those groups? Then, what’s that experience like, say, in the first 30, 60 days,
[00:30:34] Ashleigh Brookshaw: That’s actually a really great question. It brings together a larger vision just of what ASSP as an organization is doing as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We have these groups that you’ve mentioned, and it’s really not just about whether you’re a woman, whether you’re Black, whether you’re Hispanic, what we’re doing is taking a look at diversity, equity, and inclusion as overall strategic value and reinforcing that with our members.
It is, and it is going to continue to be, you are a woman, or you deal with women, or you have a vested interest in this particular group. A couple of the examples that I have with that is for our Women in Safety Excellence group specifically, they do a lot about advocating for women in the safety profession, which during the conversations I’ve had with them or just been on their calls or met some of them at our in-person conference, it is interesting being a woman in such a male-dominated field.
Even things like PPE, Personal Protective Equipment, making sure that their Personal Protective Equipment to fit our different body types, our different hair textures. Making sure that the people that are purchasing the PPE understand the unique needs of this particular subset of individuals. What I think is interesting is that I learned something called pink and shrink. Meaning that just because a women’s PPE– it doesn’t have to be pink. You don’t shrink a male’s PPE, paint it pink and then be like, “Here you go, it’s for a woman” because our bodies are fundamentally different.
Those groups are open to any and everyone that is a regular ASSP member. You either fall into the demographic, or you work with the demographic, or have a vested interest in that demographic. The experience, like I said, it’s completely self-selected, it’s an additional membership fee. Once you join ASSP you’re already put into a chapter, but you can select to join as many Common Interest Groups or Technical Communities as you would like.
Then, the practice specialty in the Common Interest Groups, they have their specific pages on our online forum, as I stated. That’s a unique member benefit that they’re able to utilize. They’re able to utilize attending any one of our webinars that the volunteer leaders put out. They’re the ones that are really responsible for the programming with me, as a staff liaison and providing any strategic support for them to get that programming out. Because first and foremost, Patrick, I am not a safety professional. What’s interesting is I learned about the different things that our members are doing in terms of like OSHA, like Z, three, 55, seven, basically alphabet soup with all these different technical standards. It really is at the discretion of the volunteer leaders to put out programming for their members that is unique and relevant to whatever particular safety issue that they’re managing and facing. Those are a couple of member benefits at our annual conference. Unfortunately, obviously with COVID things completely look different this year, but the DE&I groups had networking receptions where they’re able to really have that in-person face-to-face conversation at least once a year.
Like I said, the chapters are more focused around that local-level engagement, so they get together all the time, but really members of the virtual community really connect at the annual conference, The Safety Conference.
[00:33:57] Patrick O’Keefe: If I’m hearing you right, it sounds like if you’re a man who’s committed to helping tackle the specific workplace and industry challenges that women face, you can join Women in Safety Excellence, I’m understanding right?
[00:34:10] Ashleigh Brookshaw: Absolutely, and you should.
[00:34:11] Patrick O’Keefe: Okay. My question that I have for that is, there are cases where we can all see where that might be a problem as far as how the man behaves in the group, let’s say. I’m sure most are well-intentioned and do good things and are there to support, but I’m sure there are a couple, maybe not, but eventually there will be someone who doesn’t really fit in very well or participates in a way that demonstrates that they’re not committed to that cause.
In those cases, is that something that volunteer leaders step up to address? Can they say like, “This person is causing a problem in this group, they’re not actually committed to this cause”? Is that somewhere you step in? Or how do you empower them? What happens in those cases?
[00:34:47] Ashleigh Brookshaw: Absolutely. It’s interesting. For the Women in Safety Excellence, they actually have a term they’ve coined for the men that have joined that group called their WISE guys, because WISE is their acronym. They call them wise guys, which I think is hilarious.
ASSP as an organization has a professional code of conduct. If a member is a male member, whoever, is not acting in accordance with the mission and the vision of that particular group and helping advance the society as a whole, there’s going to be some sort of ethics review by that professional code of conduct committee.
Yes, the volunteer leaders are empowered to- I don’t want to say check the member, but I will say check the member in an informal way, and if there is a much more formalized misled way of doing things, then we have the professional code of conduct. I hear about things anecdotally, the great thing is I haven’t had to necessarily be involved at that particular level, but the Women in Safety Excellence group is actually one of our most engaged Common Interest Groups, they are the oldest. They are about, I believe, 15 years old. Yes, they’re 15 years old.
It’s the same with any of our other groups as well. If we have in our Blacks in Safety Excellence someone who is not being appropriate or contributing positively to the group or what they’re trying to accomplish, again, the professional code of conduct. What I will say, though, and what I’m very excited about ASSP and what we’re doing is we just created a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Member Task Force to address how this society is going to look at incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion as a long-term strategy, which is huge because, like you said, the organization is about 109 years old. That’s a long time.
From a change management perspective, I am very pleased to see the organization take that step now to be able to really look at what is the safety profession going to look like in a few years from now. Because our member demographic, we have a more mature membership, I would say. I believe our average age of our members is like 45, I want to say, not older than that. Really taking a look at what is the future of safety and how do we engage the upcoming safety professionals now.
[00:37:02] Patrick O’Keefe: I think you mentioned for an ethics review, is that a committee of members that does that review?
[00:37:08] Ashleigh Brookshaw: Yes, that’s a committee of members.
[00:37:10] Patrick O’Keefe: I’m looking at this from a community perspective, bear with me for a second. If I’m in a community, you’re in a community, you do something bad, you get banned. That’s how it often works in an online community. In a community like this where the association has these committees, is that something that– an association in general that tends to happen less just for all number of factors, people pay, people want to be respected in their industry. There tend to be less general community issues that we see in public-facing communities for obvious reasons, but in that case, are you actually banning someone from a community? Or are you flagging them for review to a committee that then makes a decision?
[00:37:43] Ashleigh Brookshaw: I would say, and I’ve had this conversation too internally. Our online community is positioned as an exclusive member benefit, they pay for it. The good thing is I haven’t had to ban anyone. I’ve had to provide some stern warnings, just a light reminder, but I haven’t had to ban anyone from the community. I do think that there’s your online community governance and behaviors, but how that relates to being an exclusive member benefit and that it’s more like the ethics and review and everything, that is more from a larger scale.
Our board is involved with that, senior leadership is involved with that, but I think at the overall community level, I would say that it would just be revoking their access for a limited period of time, but not fully taking it away because, like we said, it’s a position does that exclusive member benefit that they paid for. That’s just a long way to say that is an excellent question that I don’t think I have a fully baked answer to, but rest assured I’m going to go talk to my leadership about that to be like, “Hey, I was on this podcast. Great question. What do you think?” Because I actually don’t know, our community is very new, like I said, I haven’t run into that.
[00:38:55] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, that makes a lot of sense. I think the example I like to draw in those cases is like a video game. I buy the game, I can play the game. I’m not entitled to voice chat necessarily. If I get on the voice chat and I say awful things, you can take away my ability to voice chat while still allowing me to play the game. There’s a whole spectrum of things like, “Hey, you can still be a member. You can still do these things, but if you’re awful in the online community, then hey, you don’t need that.”
[00:39:21] Ashleigh Brookshaw: Well, and the interesting thing too is it’s not just the forums. Our online community, we actually integrated our membership directory, which was on assp.org, that’s in our community now. It’s not just the forums that you would be losing access to, it would be the overall member directory. You bring up an interesting point for discussion that I plan on having after the holiday.
[00:39:45] Patrick O’Keefe: Ashleigh, thanks so much for spending some time with us today. It’s been a great conversation. I’ve enjoyed getting to know more about the ASSP and all the different types of safety that exists in the world. Thanks so much.
[00:39:56] Ashleigh Brookshaw: Thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.
[00:40:00] Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking with Ashleigh Brookshaw, the manager of community engagement for the American Society of Safety Professionals and Chief Innovation Officer at C2M Digital. To connect with Ashleigh, find her on LinkedIn. We’ll link to her profile in the show notes.
For those show notes plus the transcript from this episode, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad, and Carol Benovic-Bradley is our editorial lead. Until next time.
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