Included in GovExec’s goals is to create a “culture of inclusion and to raise the bar on diversity and equity,” Travis Wolfe, director, event operations & business development, and a 2022 SIIA IMPACT Award winner, told me recently. (He’s pictured right among the winners.) “When I first joined, we were much smaller, and… I think we had one ERG, our African American Resource Group, and maybe a Women’s Resource Group.” Wolfe went on to start PRIDE, other ERGs followed, and the rest is history.
At that time, when Wolfe joined GovExec, there was no playbook on how to start an ERG. There is now, thanks to him.
“I took the initiative, met with a few leaders to hear how they got their ERGs up and running, and then went from there,” he recalled. Wolfe approached the GovExec HR team and proposed PRIDE—the chosen name for the LGBTQ+ ERG he was building. After gaining HR’s support, he got the IT department to establish email handles, and the group began to grow organically through one-on-one conversations.
He announced PRIDE in a live town hall and now regularly meets with group members, in addition to the company’s Equity Team and DEI Council. “I wanted to be that safety net for other folks in the company,” he said. “I didn’t have a particularly easy experience [at my old job], and I want to protect others from going through some of the same trials and tribulations.”
For his efforts, Wolfe was named a winner of a 2022 SIIA IMPACT Award for Individual Contribution.
“I think we’re up to like 6 or 7 ERGs now, and it’s constantly growing,” he said. “We’ve even taken it a step further with the Equity Council.”
Oh, one other thing: One of GovExec’s marquis editorial brands, Defense One, holds an annual series of events called “State of Defense” where they interview some of the nation’s top military officials. Heading the content side, Wolfe secured a speaking commitment from all five service chiefs—the top enlisted officials for the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, and Space Force—and interviewed them at the Pentagon.
Here are some excerpts from our Q&A:
AMPLIFY: Initially, did you have to make a business case for PRIDE or just talk about how it’s the right thing to do?
Travis Wolfe: This is a big part of our company values [so] there was a real big push from the C suite to get diversity and inclusion at the top of everyone’s mind. Once it was pitched, they saw in our town hall there was definitely an appetite for it. Then it was, “Let’s see how we can get this done.” [So it became a] let’s build the plan as we fly it kind of thing, and that’s what we did. Since then, we have budgets allocated for each of the ERGs now, so they’re able to bring in programming, start developing resources for their members, and get higher bar speakers.
As you said, other groups are a little more obvious to identify. What kind of outreach did you do?
TW: When it comes to sexual orientation, it’s a little bit of a toss-up… It was a lot more of self-identification, which is hard. You’re trying to develop a safe space where [everyone] could participate in and have access to those resources, but not be known by their fellows… It was definitely a balance that I was dancing around a little bit, and honestly, just trying to get numbers. There’s always going to be those few hands that go up immediately that are, “Yes, let’s go. Let’s get this job done.” But you definitely plateau at some point. So being in the digital space is very hard to come up with creative and safe ways for us all to come together.
But you did it. And I read that PRIDE now acts as a sounding board for leadership, meets with the other ERGs and advocates for more diverse speakers.
TW: Yes. I’ve been at multiple media organizations in the D.C. area, and when it came to equity and inclusion, it wasn’t [there]. When I joined [it was during] African American History Month… and I saw all these emails come through, and I’m like, “Wow, that’s awesome, they have a community; they’re talking amongst themselves.” I had never had that. That is honestly so smart to learn from others in your space. So I saw what holes were missing—and then started Pride [thinking] if I have these questions, others do as well.
And now that other ERGs have started must make you proud.
TW: It’s awesome, and it’s cool to see that—before it was just a vision. I’ve created a guidebook to walk people through [the process]… Every time I look, it’s growing. I’ve stepped back a little bit in my new role, and even now I still see it growing. Across the GovExec space it’s being included in our onboarding and with our new acquisitions. So [new employees] are not learning about it after the fact, which is something that we struggled with in the past, and it’s great to see how it’s come to fruition today.
Let’s talk about your new role.
TW: Previously I was associate director of our Content Arm, where I led and oversaw the content side of our events—for all our federal and defense focus events which is a couple of 100 programs a year. I left for a short period, came back here in the beginning of February and stepped into a new role. I am the director of business development and operations on the event side of the house. I still manage the content piece. But this time for our more client specific programming vs. our editorial content. And I program manage and lead content on a lot of our larger user conference, client-focused programming. These [may attract] 350-plus people. As we grow out the team, I will sit more on the live events side of the house.
And tell me about interviewing all five service chiefs!
TW: I just love content. I will talk your ear off about public sector any day of the week. A lot of our defense programming [people] had left, and I stepped into that role and led both our federal and defense programming. One of our big programs is our state of defense. Each week [during that period] we look at a new service branch… So I went to the Pentagon many times, met all of them in person… They’ll shake your hand. They’ll talk to you about anything if cameras aren’t rolling. It’s honestly a very cool moment to see. And their taking 30 minutes out of their day to have a conversation with me was very humbling.
Are you going into the office much?
TW: We are fully remote, and I think we’re going to be that way for the foreseeable future. We do have an office space in D.C. And a few teams do go into it… But my second bedroom is now my office, and I’ve come to love it dearly. I didn’t realize until after we stopped [commuting] how much more I get done. I can never go back to it.
TW: Just that DEI has gotten so much bigger these past couple years, and it’s definitely still a growing space. So any colleagues and mentors that I can find in it is definitely super helpful. We love sharing.
Thank you and again, congratulations!