Driving Innovation Through Design Thinking: Transforming Employee/Business Resource Groups

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and Business Resource Groups (BRGs) are integral to fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace, and are a focus of SVLG’s Inclusion and Belonging Center of Expertise, whose mission is to make Silicon Valley a leading destination for diverse talent.

Done well, these internal communities provide platforms for employees from various backgrounds to integrate their experiences and insights into the workplace. This advances an inclusive, diverse culture that leads to increased innovation, market share, and revenue, as diverse teams positively impact the bottom line.

Despite their proven value, however, companies struggle to build ERGs effectively – that is, in ways that align both with employee expectations and business priorities. Paradoxically, this is because these community-building efforts are nearly always siloed. The landscape is replete with wheel rebuilding: lone business-unit professionals researching “affinity-group charters” online, DEI leads scouting for data and language to convince executives that their ERGs merit funding, and executives searching for structural solutions to increase retention.

In December 2023, SVLG launched the Employee Resource Group/Business Resource Group Consortium to usher in a new era of ERG/BRG collaboration. Bringing together professionals from ERGs/BRGs across the SVLG network of companies, Consortium members now co-build ERG/BRG community and organizational power together, sharing best practices and providing resources to improve underrepresented employees’ experiences throughout Silicon Valley. 

Consortium member SAP has been a vital partner on this effort to build capacity and community. This March, SVLG and SAP co-hosted a design thinking session for members of the Consortium. The session, facilitated by SAP AppHaus, aimed to foster creativity, explore diverse perspectives, and produce innovative solutions for the complex issues faced by ERGs/BRGs.

As participants proceeded through the process of design thinking, they narrowed down to two critical challenges to focus on in the session: 

  1. ERG/BRG Membership Engagement 
    • Encouraging members to actively participate in community-building activities
    • Increasing attendance for in-person events other than major events/celebrations, as effective membership needs to be more than showing up 1-2 times per year
    • Maintaining a sense of community 
    • Recruiting members, with a focus on attracting new members, knowing that certain groups are hard to recruit
  2. Executive and Management Support
    • Garnering support from executive/higher management 
    • Solving the disconnect between the value of ERG/BRG to the overall company
    • Engaging the right stakeholders: professional development often happens for those aware of the need for change rather than those with the real power to make the change
    • Increasing recognition for partnerships and activities

Participants engaged in dynamic discussions, brainstorming sessions, and collaborative activities as a plenary and in three small groups to delve deep into these challenges and unlock potential solutions. 

The groups dedicated their efforts to crafting compelling storyboards, envisioning the ideal state for membership engagement and executive/management support. These storyboards not only captured innovative ideas, they highlighted practical strategies to address the identified challenges effectively.

The session concluded with actionable insights and concrete action items (see below the specific list of items) that participants could implement within their respective organizations. These action items serve as a roadmap for driving positive change and transformation within ERGs/BRGs. 

As we look ahead, Consortium members’ commitment to innovation and collaboration remains unwavering. Participants eagerly anticipate regrouping in May to assess progress, refine strategies, and continue the journey toward creating vibrant and impactful employee groups. No longer siloed, SVLG’s ERG/BRG Consortium and SAP are positioning these groups to leverage their collective expertise to evolve, adapt, and thrive in today’s dynamic organizational landscape. 

Action items:

  1. Provide new ERG/BRG recruits with intentional onboarding/orientation 
  2. Stage an annual ERG/BRG Fair to recruit employees
  3. Develop a resource toolbox of ideas and directions for employees and leadership
  4. Stress to management the importance of recognition and allocation of time for the ERG/BRG
  5. Train ERG/BRG leads
  6. Incentivize participation in ERG/BRG through a rewards program
  7. Earn “cultural credits” such as volunteer hours for participating in DEI activities
  8. Build ERG/BRG participation into performance reviews