How Google’s Muslim employee resource group helped make Ramadan better for everyone

The holy month of Ramadan began on Wednesday.
Ahmad Gharabli—AFP/Getty Images

Happy Friday and Ramadan Kareem, everyone.

Ramadan, one of the holiest months of the Islamic calendar, began Wednesday evening. It is a time of fasting, prayer, community, and service for the 1.9 billion Muslims worldwide.

For anyone who wants to better enjoy the holiday, understand its significance, or learn how to support their Muslim colleagues, Google is an excellent resource. (Check out Ramadan Day and Eid Day, for example.) But the tech giant is also a case study on leveraging employee resource groups to create better products and a more inclusive world.

Yesterday I caught up with Alaa Aissi, who works on YouTube’s Trust & Safety team. She’s also the global co-lead for Google’s Muslims@ ERG, a subset of the company’s Inter Belief Network (IBN). A political science and legal studies major at U.C. Berkely, Aissi joined the company five years ago at the height of tensions caused by the Trump administration’s “Muslim ban.” While she didn’t experience “othering” at the company, she says she knew assimilation wasn’t an option. “As someone new to Google and the corporate tech space, I knew that I wouldn’t fit. And I will always be that first-generation Arab Muslim girl wearing a hijab. So, I knew I was going to do my own thing and own my truth.”

It turned out to be a galvanizing time that helped crystallize the power of employees and resource groups to shape Google’s culture and business. “I think a lot of it started coming to life after 2016…The Trump era was really important for us because it brought together a lot of communities that were targeted in his campaign.”

Aissi began contributing to a series of initiatives around Ramadan, which helped the company improve both the employee experience and its core product. The company now offers a comprehensive Ramadan guide that helps non-Muslim Googlers understand how to support their colleagues. And learnings from plenty of small changes—like a new holiday-themed Google Meet background (cocreated with the Google Workplace Meets team) or advice on how to connect with Muslim consumers around the joy of the season—have been baked into a renewed Ramadan search experience that better reflects the needs of Muslims and allies around the world.

“If you look at Ramadan searches from 2016, the page was very stale, but also full of the bigotry that was being perpetuated in the media,” she says. “It was almost in your face that the world saw Muslims that way and didn’t share the sentiment of what Ramadan is.” The shift seen today required Muslim representation in the company. “Instead of perpetuating the bigotry, let’s showcase and highlight what a wonderful time it is for people through color, design, and interactive experiences. And that’s exactly what we’ve been able to do throughout the years.”

Internal cross-pollination yields innovation that includes and delights others, and that’s the bottom line, she says. “If you could put a smile on one person’s face, but also 250,000 people’s faces in one day, why wouldn’t you do that?”

If you celebrate, may your Ramadan be as bright as ever.

Next week, I’ll be sharing a story about how an individual contributor and ERG and diversity leaders were able to help transform the Ramadan experience for Muslim employees at SAP. Any other examples of ERGs changing the business? Send them my way, subject line: ERGs

Ellen McGirt

This edition of raceAhead was edited by Ruth Umoh.

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Parting Words

“Blessed with another month of Ramadan. A time to get closer to our true nature as mindful beings…time to reconnect.”

Yusuf Islam, the artist also known as Cat Stevens

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