I have been working in the tech industry for 15 years and always felt the need for an LGBTQ+ associate resource group (ARG)—or a group that represents interests of particular segments of employees—in all the organisations I worked in. In 2018, after the Supreme Court lifted a colonial-era ban on gay sex, my current organisation was keen to set up an ARG.
There were two other reasons for this development. Earlier, that year, I got a chance to visit the US office in San Francisco, where I attended the SF Pride March, where Walmart along with other organisations had put up kiosks to show their support. Back home, my organisation was growing, and was keen to invest in people-centric activities like resource groups. This encouraged me to put in a proposal for an LGBTQ+ ARG. Within six months, the group was set up in 2019.
It’s often said that LGBTQ+ people live in the closet. What I have realised is that everyone has their own closet, out of apprehension or the fear of being judged. We have about a dozen members today, most of whom are allies, but one of the big challenges is having a sustainable long-term membership, as this is not part of their deliverables. Also, many employees who are community members are not comfortable revealing their identities or being visible in ARG activities. They feel it might affect their career. That’s understandable and that’s why it is important to have allies as part of the ARG. Community members may feel inhibited to speak out but allies don’t. Allies should know that their activities are silently helping many community members feel secure. Also, allies are great ambassadors of the ARG and can spread the message to make more allies.
Leading the ARG (I am no longer the chair since we have made it a rotating position) has definitely helped me develop soft skills and improve my leadership abilities. In my earlier stint at an insurance company, I was leading a group of 13 people. What leadership skills I acquired there, I believe I have learnt as much in heading the ARG here at Walmart. For instance, using influence without authority, leading people out of their comfort zone and storytelling abilities. My time management skills have also improved, and the best part is you interact with different departments and end up learning from each other.
Over the years, more companies have been talking about diversity and inclusion. But I feel many companies are yet to touch upon all area of inclusion like hiring from the transgender community, same-sex health insurance and gender-neutral prevention of workplace sexual harassment. While the current focus is on employee-diversity organisations, companies should also encourage procuring supplies from businesses run by LGBTQ+ community. It will encourage entrepreneurship.
I also see some companies focusing on external marketing like putting rainbow colours on their logo and such, but their internal policies and employee composition leave much to be desired. Only if they focus on making these internal changes can they create an inclusive work culture. That’s the starting point for the change to happen.
Sudipto Pal is staff data scientist at Walmart IDC, and the founding member of the LGBTQ+ ARG (associate resource group).
As told to Rashmi Menon.