This post is a part of our series, Culture Champions — Spotlighting the actionable advice, tips, tricks and learnings from top ERG leaders who are making a difference in their workplaces and communities.
Lilia is a Senior Interaction Designer at IDEO San Francisco, where she’s been working for the past 3 years. In 2021, Lilia was a founding co-lead of Horizon, an Employee Resource Group (ERG) at IDEO, focused on visa holders and immigrants.
During her time at IDEO, Lilia has been using her technical skills in addition to her design expertise to design products and services that meet people's needs and help boost their quality of life. She’s worked on several projects in a variety of industries, like education, mobility, healthcare, entertainment, food equity, etc. She's fascinated by people's stories, and the power of technology to leverage up the human experience.
Prior to IDEO, Lilia pursued a BFA in Graphic Design from the American University of Beirut, and an MDes in Interaction Design from California College of the Arts. She worked as a brand designer for startups in the healthcare and education space. She also served as a consultant for non-profit organizations, helping them define their mission while enhancing their service design.
When she's not at her desk brainstorming new projects, Lilia can be found outdoors (camping, hiking, biking…), or indoors working on her illustrations and embroidery.
Working at IDEO has been my dream job since I first heard about it in undergrad when I was studying graphic design in Beirut. I was drawn by the commitment to social impact, and the process of designing with the users, prototyping and iterating again and again. Since joining IDEO, I have worked on such a diverse range of projects in different industries, which helped me gain experience, develop my craft as well as grow my business knowledge and leadership skills. I find it so rewarding to work on projects that have an impact on healthcare, education, food equity, entertainment, transportation and mobility among other domains.
In 2020, IDEO launched a new change management leadership team focused on equity and belonging and to steward IDEO’s external commitments to DEI. This team is led by two Black women, Lauren Collins and Ariana Allensworth. This leadership team launched and still manages IDEO’s Employee Resource Group program. In March 2021, they sent out a company-wide call for applications and I, along with my co-lead Nazlican Goksu, raised our hand to launch an ERG focused on immigrants and visa holders at IDEO. That’s how Horizon was born. Horizon is a multicultural community that spans across different countries, time zones, cultures, races, and native languages, and while we might be going through different immigration journeys, Horizon is our constant, it’s what we’ll always have in common. It’s where our ideas meet to dream and create a better future for immigrants and visa holders at IDEO.
Immigration processes in the US can be very daunting, often confusing, and overall frustrating. Our American coworkers who have never been through the immigration process often struggle to relate and understand what their visa-holder coworkers are going through, and how an immigration process can affect much more than a person’s job, but more often than not their family, their mental health, and their whole life overall. While working at IDEO, we have heard many horror stories over the years from several coworkers going through the immigration process, and we’ve decided it was time to take action and do something about it internally.
Within Horizon, we have activated the community to lead 4 different action groups, leading to 4 goals. In Dawn, we create rituals to celebrate “firsts” - like getting a new visa, getting a green card, moving to the US… But we also celebrate our community’s members and their achievements. In Golden Hour, it’s the “magic hour” where we meet together to collectively create beauty at the intersection of our cultures. We host a speaker series where we get inspired by external artists and designers who are part of different cultures and use their identity to create at the intersection of their cultures. In Twilight, we learn from external expertise. We host external speakers to educate our community about a variety of technical topics – 401K, Social Security, US healthcare system, taxes and international taxes, US Real Estate, Judiciary system, etc. In Sunrise, we find opportunities for change inside IDEO and work collectively to better support and improve the experience of visa holders and immigrants. We work with several stakeholders, from legal, to finance, to talent and recruiting, in order to change policies internally.
When we first launched Horizon, we started with a group of 30 people. Over the course of the year, our ERG has grown to having 52 members today. Our soft measure of success is the growth of our community, the feedback that we constantly hear from members, and the presence of a safe space where members are not afraid to ask questions and share about what the current struggles they’re going through. Our more tangible measure of success is the launch of 4 different initiatives within the action group called Sunrise, where we have successfully improved operational systems, redesigned a few policies, and added a few benefits.
Each ERG at IDEO has been matched with an ERG Advocate, a senior leader who advises us, represents us, and connects us with the leadership team. Nazlican and I selected our advocate based on a similar lived experience, where they understand what it means to be a visa holder and immigrant in the US. We have weekly meetings with our advocate where we report back with updates and progress about the action groups, but they also help us set a strategic plan of action and support us in achieving Horizon’s goals.
ERG leaders at IDEO have a protected amount of time to dedicate to their respective ERGs, and they receive a bi-annual bonus as a thank you for their efforts and commitment to the work being done in the community.
Change is community-driven. If you’re hoping to start a new ERG, talk to other employees in your organization who have a similar identity or lived experience. You might be surprised by how many employees relate to your experience and will join your efforts to make change happen. When you first start, it’s important to have a plan. Brainstorm some goals you would like to see happen in the next year, craft a plan of how you’ll get there with the help of people you’ve recruited, and come up with actionable items that you can follow through. Once launched, spread the word about your ERG on all the company’s communication channels, invite people from all seniority levels and all disciplines to join, because the range of experiences will bring in a much richer perspective. As an ERG leader, it’s important to make the experience personable to each member. Reaching out to individuals personally, addressing them on a first-name basis, and asking them how they are doing and how you can serve them better is such a powerful tool to build trust and help them feel safe to open up, and eventually volunteer to lead action groups.