In 2017, Out & Equal launched its inaugural Global Fellowship, a six-week intensive program designed to empower advocates for LGBTQ workplace equality around the world. Fellows spent the majority of this time at the Out & Equal offices in San Francisco, developing projects to advance workplace equality in their home countries and gaining exposure to the organization’s knowledge base and partnerships. The program culminated with Fellows attending the 2017 Workplace Summit in Philadelphia, where they participated in panels and workshops and expanded their networks while immersing themselves in the magic of the Out & Equal community.
As its first Global Fellows, Out & Equal welcomed Kaspars Zalitis and Levis Nderitu from Riga, Latvia, and Nairobi, Kenya, respectively, both of whom have founded non-governmental organizations that advocate for professional LGBTQ inclusion. These NGO representatives were joined by Suresh Ramdas from HP India, a Global Training Lead who founded HP’s Pride Team in Bangalore and has since become a champion for LGBTQ visibility within the company.
Each Fellow came with a specific project in mind on which they quickly set to work. Kaspars planned to develop a Diversity Index for all Latvian companies to rate how inclusive their business practices are for the LGBTQ community, while Levis wanted to secure commitments from ten Kenyan companies to embrace LGBTQ inclusion in a context where same-sex relations are still punishable with imprisonment. Suresh–realizing that, like in many places, transgender rights in India often lag behind the “LGB”–was determined to develop a plan to make HP’s policies and practices more inclusive for Transgender and gender non-conforming employees, hoping that the plan might even become a template for other Indian companies.
Fellows were able to take away lessons from the program that best suited their needs. “It’s important to understand that we as NGO leaders may be thinking in different ways about diversity than companies do, but that this difference isn’t wrong,” Kaspars noted. “You will find common ground to work together.”
Through various one-on-one and group interactions with other diversity and inclusion professionals from around the world, Suresh was able to trade tips and best practices for obtaining company support for LGBTQ inclusion that he could use at HP India, especially when working to obtain upper management’s support. And by meeting with top-level diversity and inclusion professionals from the around the world, each Fellow also learned how to better distill their projects into concrete steps that corporations find most accessible, helping to turn their visions into real changes in the workplace.
Each Fellow also commented that just living for five weeks in San Francisco, one of the most LGBTQ-friendly cities in the world, had a hugely positive influence on their respective visions.
Since completing the Fellowship in October, each of the Fellows has begun implementing their projects back home. Suresh has developed and launched a series of Transgender Awareness Sessions at HP India, while Kaspars has begun partnering with major companies in Latvia to update their D&I policies. Levis has already hosted a major event in Nairobi focused on improving LGBTQ-inclusive policies at local companies, featuring speakers from many of the same companies and organizations he connected with at Summit.
With applications now open for the 2018 Fellowship, this past year’s Fellows unanimously expressed one message: the Fellowship is the perfect experience for NGO and corporate leaders fighting for workplace inclusion in their countries, and who want support in taking the next step.
“For anyone who is passionate and wants to bring change to their country’s workplaces,” Suresh commented, “this is a brilliant opportunity to live and work in an LGBTQ-friendly space, learn concrete steps to implement your vision, and form global connections that help you further your efforts. And best of all, you’ll be a part of the Out & Equal family for the rest of your life.”
The deadline to apply to the 2018 Out & Equal Global Fellowship is Friday, April 20th. Applications and more information on the Fellowship can be found here.