Prakash, a Consultant with Clarkston Consulting, shares his career experience building and leading the PRIDE network, an employee resource group that provides support and a sense of community to queer stewards and allies.
I’m an Associate Consultant that is currently focused in the life sciences space based out of Chicago, IL. I’m the creator and lead for the PRIDE Network at Clarkston Consulting. I’m incredibly passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion, especially queer rights in the workplace, and love being a part of the team that is developing the Diversity Services section of the firm. I found Clarkston by an incredible stroke of luck when I met a now-close coworker at a football game watch party. She introduced me to the firm, I applied the next week, and the rest is history. I wanted to make sure that I worked for a firm that had a supportive company culture, and especially one that focused on diversity and inclusion. I wanted to be able to be 100% authentically myself at Clarkston and at the client site without fear of professional repercussions for being openly queer. There has not been a day that has gone by where I don’t feel welcomed and celebrated for living my truth in the workplace and that’s how I know Clarkston was a great choice for me.
Clarkston’s PRIDE Network is an employee resource group that provides support and a sense of community to queer stewards and allies. I felt the need for a structure like the PRIDE Network my third week of joining Clarkston, when I started wondering who the other queer stewards were, if there were any, and how I could connect with them to ask questions about being queer in consulting and the corporate world. Luckily, I had a great relationship with my partner advisor (PA), and she connected me with two openly queer stewards. They quickly became my friends and mentors, but I realized if I hadn’t been open with my PA, it might have taken me a long time to find them, if ever. I wanted to change that and make a visible space for queer stewards to connect, so I had the idea of the PRIDE Network. Then, I decided that I wanted to take the network to the next level. Not only would it provide a structure for queer stewards and allies to exist, but it could also be a space that educates and facilitates change on a larger scale. So with the help of a partner sponsor and a few friends at Clarkston, I came up with projects and deliverables that the PRIDE Network could work on to help Clarkston as a whole grow and also give back to the community.
Bringing Personal Experiences into Your Professional Environment
I think that everyone’s personal experiences are a valuable tool that can and should be leveraged professionally. oSTEM is an organization that I volunteer with that focuses on queer students and professionals with a STEM background. Without my work in oSTEM, I would not have as many of the ideas for the PRIDE Network as I do. Without having attended Pride marches regularly or being involved with Pride events, I don’t think I would have nearly the courage I have now to bring my authentic, queer self to the professional environment or the compassion for others that meeting so many people through Pride events has taught me. These personal experiences are such an integral part of who I am, that without being able to bring these experiences to the workplace, I don’t think I would be able to be my authentic self or be able to perform at the level that I do on client sites. I’m a firm believer that every experience teaches you something even if it’s a small lesson that you might only get to use once.
The PRIDE Network and Internal Mentorship
Launching the PRIDE Network was at the same time, one of the most challenging parts of my career and fairly painless. Challenging in the sense that for the first time in my professional career I was spearheading an initiative – one that I was so passionate about. I had to take on more professional responsibility than I ever had before and represent the queer community in a way and in a space that was still fairly foreign to me. The process was met with absolutely no resistance. I was actually encouraged the first time I voiced the idea to another steward and then encouraged again and again at every single level of leadership that I proposed the idea to, from Associates to Managers to Partners to the CEO. I received so much support from the Diversity Council during the creation of the PRIDE Network charter, which got the ball rolling. Even our CEO, Tom, and Managing Partner of HR, Mike, have had a few conversations with me about the PRIDE Network initiatives and projects and have provided their insights and views. Within a few months of the proposed idea of the PRIDE Network, the network charter was created, a budget was formed, and Clarkston even sponsored and marched in its first Pride parade in Durham, NC.
PRIDE Network and Firm Support
I think the aspect of the PRIDE Network that shows how much support it has received from the firm is that almost 75% of the members of the PRIDE Network are allies to the queer community. Even the first time that the PRIDE Network was announced at a company meeting, so many stewards came up to me and told me how excited they were to join the PRIDE Network and get involved. Three months after I first proposed the idea of the PRIDE Network, Clarkston sponsored and marched in the Durham Pride parade. I had planned and organized it and thought only a few people from the Durham office would show up since it was on a weekend. We had around 25 stewards, including Partners, the CEO and CFO, show up with their family members. We marched the entire route and then explored the festival.
From a professional support side, stewards have volunteered to help me plan activities for the PRIDE Network, such as developing training, reviewing our benefits and recruiting processes, and more. I was even able to bring the topic of queer diversity into our Peer Network book club discussion. We read a queer young adult novel in which everyone enjoyed and fully engaged in discussion on what this meant for the corporate world.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion within a Professional Environment: Hopes for the Future
My hope for the short-term future in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion within the professional environment is to see more firms focusing on authentically representing and supporting their employees. I want to see more firms lift up the voices of the marginalized groups that have been looked over in the professional world for too long. I hope that we see more Black and brown executives, more openly queer employees, and more women in the boardroom.
My hopes for the long-term future for diversity, equity, and inclusion? I hope that eventually these discussions, these fights for equality no longer need to happen. That diversity, equity, and inclusion is simply an innate and all-present idea that everyone embodies at all levels of a company.
Starting an Internal Initiative
When you find something you’re passionate about and want to start an internal initiative, stick with it and remember that it’s not going to be perfect or exactly the way you thought it would be on the timeline you thought. Your productivity levels and accomplishment levels for the internal initiatives will ebb and flow and that’s totally fine! It’s all about the long-term goals. The best thing you can do is not let those periods of inactivity dishearten you from your long-term goal of achieving what you need with the internal initiative.