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Leading the Charge with Stephanie Forbes, Americas Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leader at commercetools

August 24, 2023
5 min. read

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Stephanie Forbes, Americas Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leader at commercetools. Stephanie shares the challenges of ERG leadership, strategies to garner leadership support, techniques for boosting engagement, and practical tips for ERG leaders operating with constrained budgets.

Company: commercetools

Company Size: 680 FTEs

Number of ERGs: 6 - Engage the Change, Black Leaders, Planet Earth Alliance, Women in Tech, Open Minds, and Generation 2 Generation

Chezie: How long have you had ERGs?

Stephanie: We've only had ERGs for about a year now. Those very beginning stages.

Chezie: What's your biggest goal for the ERGs at commercetools?

Stephanie: My goal for the ERGs is to foster increased engagement among employees consistently. While significant holidays and special events naturally draw a high level of engagement, it's crucial for us to maintain relevance and provide consistent information through the Employee Resource Group (ERG) throughout the entire year.

Chezie: What's been the most successful ERG event or initiative so far, and why?

Stephanie: I'd like to mention two distinct instances. Firstly, our Women in Tech Employee Resource Group (ERG) demonstrated an exceptional launch, garnering an impressive response and heightened engagement. Witnessing the genuine need for this platform among women in our organization was truly gratifying. The ERG facilitated more open discussions and the sharing of ideas, specifically addressing the challenges and inequalities that women face within the tech industry.

Secondly, our Black Leaders ERG also achieved noteworthy success. We were able to spotlight black individuals who have made significant contributions to the tech field. Through a live interactive session on LinkedIn, rather than a mere post, we engaged in meaningful discussions with industry peers. This platform served as a valuable resource, offering insights on navigating the tech industry as a black professional. The collaborative effort of our marketing team played a pivotal role in shaping this initiative.

Chezie: For someone looking to launch an ERG, what best practices would you suggest?

Stephanie: Certainly, thorough planning is essential. It involves exploring diverse avenues to engage employees effectively. This could encompass hosting webinars, inviting guest speakers for talks, or even sharing concise and impactful tips through the ERG channel. We found that creating an engaging video was particularly effective—a visually appealing and brief presentation that generated excitement and interest among participants.

Chezie: What's the biggest challenge you face leading the ERG program?

Stephanie: The primary obstacle revolves around individuals finding the time to take on leadership roles within the ERG, particularly given recent tech industry layoffs. Many are inclined to maintain a low profile due to uncertainty, and while they might be enthusiastic about leading or contributing more, they often prioritize their existing job commitments. It's valid to acknowledge the significance of their roles, but it's equally important to recognize that ERGs carry substantial importance too.

Chezie: How are you working to overcome that challenge?

Stephanie: My primary goal is to act as an advocate for them, especially within the C-Suite, and ensure that the significance of their efforts is well-understood. I'm committed to offering my assistance in various ways—whether it's supporting the execution or planning of specific events, or even securing additional funds from our DEI Department to bolster their budget. However, it's worth acknowledging that this endeavor has also posed another significant challenge.

Chezie: How do you advocate for ERGs and gain support from company leadership?

Stephanie: Initially, the strategy involved arranging a major meeting involving the C-suite executives. The purpose was to articulate the significance of ERGs, outline their objectives, and highlight the positive impact they can have on both the organization and its employees. Subsequently, I engage in one-on-one interactions as well. Through these individual conversations, my aim is to establish personal connections with the C-suite leaders, engaging in meaningful discussions where I can express my commitment to the success of ERGs and communicate my genuine aspirations for their effectiveness.

Chezie: What's next for the ERGs at commercetools in terms of growth?

Stephanie: My focus is on nurturing the growth of ERG leaders. My intention is to provide them with enhanced knowledge and additional resources. I'm contemplating the possibility of organizing a conference dedicated to them or facilitating their participation in a relevant conference. I firmly believe that interacting with peers who are actively engaged in similar roles or have accomplished comparable initiatives is an invaluable training experience. I found the recent session hosted by Chezie, was incredibly beneficial as it condensed a wealth of information into a short amount of time.

Chezie: Any advice for ERGs operating with limited budgets or resources?

Stephanie: Embrace maximum creativity and leverage your network to its fullest extent. Often, we tend to default to hiring consultants, but it's important to recognize that your network might hold individuals who can contribute meaningfully as speakers or resources. We tend to underutilize our existing connections. Capitalizing on your network can be a strategic way to avoid hefty expenses. It's a skill we need to develop further and incorporate into our approach.

Chezie: How do you foster engagement among ERG members and leaders?

Stephanie: I engage in individualized conversations with them, aiming to connect on a personal level. While I haven't yet convened all the ERG leaders collectively, given their recent establishment, I'm curious about the potential mutual benefits of such interactions. My objective is to provide them with comprehensive training. This training will equip them with the tools to enhance the sustainability and engagement of their respective ERGs, ensuring they're well-prepared for success.

Chezie: How do you recognize or incentivize ERG leaders?

Stephanie: I aim to present it in a way that highlights the value it adds to your resume. Participating showcases your leadership, strategy, planning, guidance, and engagement skills. My emphasis is on conveying that this endeavor isn't without purpose. I'm invested in ensuring you gain meaningful experience and knowledge, which can be applied in various contexts down the line. It's more than just bolstering your resume; it's about fostering a supportive community as well.

Chezie: Are you having a conversation with company leadership about professional development opportunities for ERGs?

Stephanie: I'm confident that change is on the horizon. The recent inception of our ERGs has already demonstrated their magnetic pull and the substantial advantages they offer to our employees. These initiatives signify our commitment to diversity and inclusivity, sending a message that our company values a broader spectrum of applicants, transcending the traditional mold of a white male candidate. The impact of these changes is profound and life-changing. With nearly a year having passed since their launch, I believe it's a suitable juncture to engage in this conversation.

Chezie: What is one piece of advice that you have for other people in your position?

Stephanie: Maintain your resilience. It's important not to let negative comments deter you, as your efforts do create an impact. Remember that even if your work positively affects just one person's life, you've fulfilled your purpose. Don't allow budget limitations or low engagement rates to dishearten you. The key is to persistently experiment with different approaches. This is something I've learned through my experiences with our initiatives!

[End of interview]

With a focus on advocating for ERGs with the C-suite of her organization, under Stephanie’s guidance, the ERGs at commercetools have become valuable and necessary tools of inclusion. Stephanie’s methods of 1:1 meetings, planning and budget support, and the tactful use of her network, resulted in the growth and success of ERGs at commercetools. Stephanie’s transparency with the challenges of ERG leadership offers a valuable lesson for others on effectively engaging and incentivizing ERGs. If you’d like to learn more about commercetools, and their commitment to DE&I, click here.

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