ERGs are employee-led groups within a company that are united by a common goal or community, and at Handshake, they are a vital part of the company culture and a support network for our employees. One of our ERGs in particular, Mental Health Allies, is dedicated to providing an empathetic space for Handshake team members to communicate challenges and triumphs when it comes to their individual mental health journeys.
Ramin Rezvani is one of the founding members of the Mental Health Allies ERG at Handshake. His career has been filled with firsts. After receiving his MBA from San Diego State University, he was one of the first 100 employees at Lyft and helped launch the very first sales team there. In the fall of 2017, he was the first sales hire for Handshake’s rocketship employer business unit and is now a Senior Strategic Account Executive.
Ramin was familiar with ERGs from his time at Lyft, but he had never had the opportunity to join one. As a straight, cis-gender man, he didn’t fit into any of the ERGs there. But as someone of Persian and Middle Eastern descent and as a child of immigrants, he knew it would be beneficial to have a community of people who shared his life experiences.
Ramin was immediately drawn in when a coworker mentioned they wanted to start a mental health group at Handshake. In mid-2018, he had started his own mental health journey, going to therapy for the first time and confronting some of his long-standing issues from childhood and young adulthood.
The Mental Health Allies ERG is a space where people can show up as their full selves. No one is viewed as broken or in need of fixing. While members are connected by shared experiences, it’s also acknowledged that everyone is different, and a fundamental principle of the group is to never be judgmental. The rules of the group are very simple.
- Always be kind.
- Don’t offer advice unless asked.
- And everything is confidential.
“Typically, it’s been taboo to talk about your mental health and personal struggles at work,” said Ramin. “One of our goals with Mental Health Allies is to combat that.”
Mental Health Allies has helped Ramin feel more comfortable at work and has made the workplace feel like a more inclusive space. In fact, employees having conversations about mental health in the workplace and seeing businesses adapt and prioritize inclusive mental health and wellness practices have helped lift the shame and stigma off this topic.
The rise of hybrid and remote work has changed how the members of Mental Health Allies support each other too. Hosting meetings and events in a virtual space allows the group to be accessible to the entire company.
“Being virtual hasn’t affected our ability to be effective as an ERG,” said Molly McKnight, a co-lead of Mental Health allies. “It might even be better. It feels a lot more collaborative than having some attendees in person and others on a screen.”
Molly came to Handshake after a career in music education, and her passion for students and education has been a perfect fit for her role as an Executive Assistant.
When Molly attended her first meeting of Mental Health Allies, she couldn’t believe such a group existed. She describes it as a space where everyone can be human, a place where it’s okay to be honest about your struggles and ask for support.
During meetings, the floor is open to anyone who wants to share. Giving people time and space to come forward can sometimes lead to several minutes of silence, but it’s all part of the impactful work the group is doing for their fellow members.
The third co-lead of the group found herself at Handshake while looking for something more meaningful in her career. Brinton Botkin studied English at UC Davis with a minor in Textiles & Clothing Studies and planned to work as a fashion writer. She joined Handshake after a few stints and a bit of freelancing. She is one of the founding members of the student marketing team, responsible for getting the company’s social channels off the ground and establishing the student blog. Now the Editorial and Content Marketing Manager at Handshake, Brinton’s job is to tell student stories.
Brinton has an anxiety disorder, and she was looking for a community that would understand her struggles and that could provide some guidance. Just like her other co-leads, Brinton knew from the first meeting she attended that Mental Health Allies is an extraordinary community.
Brinton knows that making meaningful connections can be challenging in a virtual environment. There are now over 200 members in the Mental Health Allies group, with no signs of slowing down anytime soon. So maintaining an empathetic space where everyone can be their true, authentic selves has become a top priority as the group has grown.
The Mental Health Allies ERG meets once a month and holds programs and events throughout the year. There is also a public and private Slack Channel for members to provide additional support to one another.
Last year, during Mental Health Awareness Month, Mental Health Allies hosted a company-wide class on mental health and nutrition, and from this program, a Slack Channel for “nutrition nerds,” as Molly calls them, was started.
This May, to recognize Mental Health Awareness, the group hosted a wellness workshop in partnership with HAPISA, an ERG for those who identify as Asian, Pacific Islander, or South Asian. This event featured a yoga practice led by trauma-informed instructor Sarah Naomi Jones of the Satya Yoga Cooperative, the first-ever POC (People of Color) member-owned yoga cooperative.
Mental health impacts all communities and people, so allyship and partnership with other Handshake ERGS is incredibly important. Earlier this year, Mental Health Allies co-led an educational Inclusive Language program with Wakanda, Handshake’s ERG, for employees of African descent to help employees learn how to explain emotions and expand their emotional vocabulary inclusively. Later this week, Mental Health Allies will partner with the LGBTQAI+ ERG to kick off Pride Month featuring performances by drag queens and a (surprise) special guest.
Having multiple co-leads allows Ramin, Molly, and Brinton to share the logistical and emotional responsibilities of hosting events and managing a group that can sometimes be heavy. Events are fun and safe spaces to learn, yet there are also times during community meetings when folks may share serious subjects or issues they are struggling with.
When we asked Brinton what motivates her to co-lead the ERG, she said, “As a co-lead, I feel deeply invested in the community,” said Brinton. “I feel a sense of personal responsibility for every member of Mental Health Allies, and I feel proud when I go to the meetings and see the positive impact this group has on others.”
Molly added, “If you really want to experience Handshake,” said Molly, “you should be participating in ERGs. They are basically the heart and soul of Handshake and a way to get outside of your everyday routine to do something that feels personal and meaningful to you.”