Anyone who grew up in India will be familiar with the phrase “Unity in Diversity”. Diversity has never been an alien concept, and the tremendous diversity in India is out there for everyone to see. How we consume and express our understanding of diversity, however, varies from individual to individual.
Growing up as a gay kid always alienated me from the "mainstream". I was bullied and harassed constantly, but what always made me most anxious and lonely was being unable to relate to anyone. I never felt like I had any role models to look up to, and there was no positive representation of gay people in media to inspire me. In India, one's sense of success has always been deeply tied to one's family structure, which is firmly heterocentric. Needless to say, I never fit into the family structure that allowed me to realize that success model.
For years I tried to fit in. But after a while I began to understand that no matter how much I tried to fit in, I would always be the ‘other’ – the one who does not belong. It’s then that I landed on a very important realization: I am my own role model and I don’t have to fit into any box to achieve my goals. Now that I have equipped myself with this limitless, free canvas, I am constantly motivated to think out of the box.
I landed on a very important realization: I am my own role model and I don’t have to fit into any box to achieve my goals.
But being part of a bigger system means that I have to work hard to circumvent the normative culture values, and find creative ways to get things done. For example, while it is true that as an adult I am free to live with my partner, it is also true that my partner and I are not always seen as a unit. We are seen as two 'single' men living together, which means that our options for renting a house are limited because single men aren't always the preferred tenants. This is just one example of how we end up spending more time, money, and energy navigating round-about ways to achieve simple mundane tasks that most people take for granted. The constant anxiety of the consequences of our landlord finding out about our situation is an everyday reality. Opening a bank account together or opting for a loan as a unit are not easy either. Furthermore, if I wasn't already out at work, I would not be able to freely talk about my relationship or bring my partner to social functions.
Because I am actively involved in the queer movement in India, and I am out to family and friends, it is difficult for me to hide my identity at work. Most of the time, the workplace is a refined, respectful environment, and everyone is expected to behave in an ‘acceptable’ way. But, in my experience, that is not always the case, as I have had bad experiences in my previous job and even at Symantec. Usually, though, discrimination – and the isolation that comes with it – isn’t always easily observable. Rather, it's more subtle and nuanced, and part of a larger systemic norm that you can't always prove by pinpointing a specific incident.
It's a constant dilemma for me to figure out how I should handle situations in my workplace.
It's a constant dilemma for me to figure out how I should handle situations in my workplace. As a man, I find that I am in the men’s clique until my sexuality becomes known, and then I’ll suddenly become the ‘lesser’ man. This has made me realize that I am in an unique position. I've never experienced gender bias at work because socially and culturally my gender provides me with access to many opportunities that women in India do not have. At the same time, I am constantly reminded that as an out gay man my opportunities are limited.
Fortunately, I am privileged enough to have been on a team that was sensitive, and I worked under a manager, Rosh Ravindran, who was inclusive. This experience encouraged me to start discussions about Symantec’s stand on LGBTQ equality, and thus I began my personal journey to fight for inclusion within Symantec. I learned a lot by leading the PRIDE ERG, and I kept our members engaged by bringing ideas from my experience outside of Symantec.
In my new role as the Principal DEI Specialist at Symantec, I have the opportunity to pursue something in my career that I care deeply about. Not everyone gets an opportunity to match their passion with their work. It is important for me to consciously acknowledge my privilege when I speak about diversity. The thing is, most of the time we are not aware of our privileges, and listening and learning from our colleagues only helps us expand our knowledge. If I were not willing to talk about the privileges I have that have led me to these opportunities, then am I really working towards an equitable workplace?
Moving away from everything you know can be scary. Ian K. shares his experience of moving from his lifelong hometown to a new city, being welcomed by the locals, and the lessons we can all learn to create inclusive cultures.
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