By Sriram Kumaran
Imagine being born gay in India where sex and sexuality are taboo to discuss and homosexuality is a crime. A lot of LGBT people live in the closet and fear persecution every day. For a person with this background to be put on a global stage to talk about the work he does as part of the LGBT Employee Resource Group (ERG) in his country – that is the power of #InclusiveIBM
As I entered my workshop room on the first day of the Out and Equal summit, I was scared and nervous. I am a shy and reserved person, so as a software developer surrounded by vice presidents, managing directors, CFOs, I was intimidated In the forum. I shared my thoughts on whether LGBT Employee Resource Groups are just a US phenomenon (it is not), and how one can start and manage such a group in a country with hostile LGBT laws.
The thing I learned from this day was that each of us have unique stories to share, and it does not matter where you are on the corporate ladder, your views and opinions matter and being associated with a company like IBM, your voice will always be heard. I repeated this session two days later for a larger audience and by then I had developed so much confidence in public speaking that presenting and answering questions were just a piece of cake.
The summit also helped in nurturing the leader inside me. The participants from IBM had “micro-learning” sessions on different aspects of leadership. We went through the combined results of the Transformational Leadership Framework, a self-assessment that we had taken prior to the summit. We discussed our strong and weak leadership qualities and found ways to improve where we lack. We could not get out of our hotel because of Hurricane Matthew, and the leadership development session happened inside the hotel bar! And that, my friends, is the best proof that improvisation, resilience in the face of adversity, and camaraderie are part of every IBMer’s DNA.
IBM and IBMers were rock stars of different workshops. I joined my colleagues from Mexico, Philippines, UK, Canada, and Netherlands to present the stories of LGBT inclusivity inside IBM around the world. My fellow IBMers from New York presented a session on the volunteer work they do in schools by empowering youth against acts of bullying through diversity and inclusion training. We also had a workshop on how to unite businesses, allies and families to promote LGBT awareness. This reinforced what our ERG does in India when we work with the Women’s group and Persons with Disabilities group to understand and help each other. IBM proudly sponsored the Executive Luncheon where the panel included not just Out Executives from other corporations, but also an openly gay member of the British Parliament. Their stories and struggles to come out in their workplace were so relatable and have inspired me to be more vocal about LGBT issues and in changing our offices one cubicle at a time.
As I left Orlando, I was reminded of my visit to the PULSE nightclub and seeing beautiful messages of support pouring from all over the world after the tragedy that had struck us. I was only reassured that there is so much goodness and positivity present in this world. In the end, the Out and Equal summit emphasized the power of connection with such good hearted individuals and working together with them as a team.
Changing the climate for LGBT India may seem a difficult task right now, but with companies like IBM having strong inclusive policies concerning sexual orientation and gender identity, we will slowly and definitely get there. Not even a hurricane can rain on this parade.
Sriram is a staff software developer at IBM India.
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