Companies are increasingly turning to employee resource groups (ERGs) to engage workers and boost morale. These groups cater to women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, veterans, and more.

At face value, ERGs are a great way for workers of privilege to learn about how underrepresented communities maneuver throughout a company, but the issues of these groups often go unheard. 

Jasmine Shells, co-founder and CEO of Five to Nine, is helping companies utilize their ERGs to the best of their abilities through data and consulting. 

Five to Nine is a Chicago-based software company that helps organizations streamline event planning and workflow integration. The company focuses on attracting and retaining employees for its clients with software that provides companies with data analytics to track which events employees attend, how other online office tools are utilized, and more.  

Five to Nine currently works with clients that have as little as 60 employees and as many as 12,000. Although the size of these companies presents different needs, Shells said that the company gets to the root of employee engagement issues. 

“One of our customers had an employee engagement survey,” Shells said. “Their employees did not know other people outside of their immediate team. They took our tool to create more transparency in the team.”

Shells is so confident in her product that her own team of five uses it to plan happy hours, group workouts, and meetings. 

“The mission is to help build companies where everyone belongs. We want to know how our customers use it,” Shells said. “We want to understand what this is like for the employees.”

Shells got the idea for her company after a grant from the National Science Foundation led her to help human resources leaders develop ERGs for their respective organizations. 

“Folks were hacking together 4-5 tools to make things happen. People were using outdated newsletters, slack, and emails,” Shells said. “They had a very fragmented way of putting together events.”

Shells had her own experience with leading an employee resource group. She said that some of her biggest hurdles came not from getting people to attend, but from getting her company to see the importance of maintaining the group and providing more funding. 

“When I ran a Black resource group, it was hard to just manage that group, so imagine what it’s like for a major company,” Shells said. “It gets even more complex from a management standpoint. It can be hard to justify a budget for something you can’t visualize its impact.”

Shells said that startups need to be more intentional about building diversity into their foundations. 

“It can’t be something you lay on top of your foundation,” Shells said. “You can have success and diversity, but you have to be intentional about that and have investors that support that.”

Five to Nine just completed a $1.1 million seed round with investors including Morgan Stanley and the Kapor Center.