Fabrice Houdart, Out Leadership’s Managing Director of Global Equality Initiatives, spoke with Anjali Rimi, Business Development Executive at Constellation Brands, DEI Coach, and President of Parivar Bay Area.
Tell us a little more about yourself.
I am a proud South Asian, Canadian, and American woman of trans experience based in the San Francisco Bay Area of the U.S. I was born in India and blossomed in Canada, but I belong in America. I currently work as a business development executive for Constellation Brands, a Fortune 500 company with a portfolio of iconic, high-end beer, wine, and spirits brands. After earning my MBA, I also help companies cultivate Trans and LGB inclusive workplaces as a DEI coach. I work with leaders at every level from large corporations to nonprofit foundations. I am the president of America’s only Trans-led, Trans-centering South Asian Queer organization — called Parivar Bay Area. Parivar Bay Area focuses on centering Trans equity and economic justice within South Asian Diaspora. Our current initiative, SITAL, is the largest pan-India grassroots initiative and is saving Trans Hijra lives across 26 states, with over 1 crore, equivalent to $250,000 USD, of funds dispensed. Check out our site www.parivarbayarea.org for more details.
How did you hear about the position you currently occupy?
I learned of my current position through my LGBTQ+ community. Fabrice Houdart was instrumental in helping me find opportunities within the private sector where I could belong.
What is it like to work here? How did the company welcome you? Did they have to change anything in their policy and procedures when you joined?
Constellation Brands is a great place to work. It’s a place where I can bring my full self as a Trans woman of color. This is my first workplace where I have openly been Transgender since my first day with the company. Constellation supports LGBTQ+ folks in many ways, including through benefits that ensure an equitable experience, and by fostering a truly inclusive culture. There was already a practice in place by many Constellation employees of using pronouns in their signature and the company continues to improve all systems to be more reflective of non-binary identifying individuals.
How is your relationship with colleagues? Did you feel welcomed/valued?
For the first time in my 20-plus years of working in the private sector, I feel truly welcomed, valued, and seen at my workplace. My supervisor is extremely inclusive, and my team has been supportive and open to having conversations with me to better understand my experience.
Does the company have an employee resource group? Do you participate? How does it work?
We call them Business Resource Groups, or BRGs. Our nine BRGs work hard to be drivers and amplifiers of our company DEI strategy to develop a best-in-class, diverse and equitable workforce reflective of our consumers and communities while fostering a winning inclusive culture that enables enhanced business decisions and elevates Constellation’s capabilities to achieve our ESG goals and initiatives.
I am a leader in Stellar Pride, our LGBTQ+ focused BRG, leading the community and business engagement pillar. The Stellar Pride group focuses on bringing inclusive workplace policies and programs.
What does it mean for you, from your history, to have this opportunity? Were you the first trans person in the company? If so, what does it represent for you?
This is the opportunity of a lifetime. One that I have dreamt of all my life, of bringing my true identity as a Trans woman to my workplace and not let that cloud the perceptions of those at the workplace, to question my competency. I am the second trans person, first trans woman, first trans person of color who is openly out at Constellation. This represents equity for Trans people in the workplace and is a reflection of Constellation’s commitment to further Trans inclusion and LGBTQ+ visibility. It is trailblazing to bring this diversity and inclusion lens to be a factor in business decisions and workings.
How do you see your contribution to the company?
As an openly Trans employee, I bring perspective and proximity from a lived experience along with community connections that allow my company to be further vested in the LGBTQ+ community. As I enter any meeting, I identify myself with my pronouns – She/They – and it has been game-changing and a conversation starter for the group to either express their solidarity to LGBTQ+ lives and/or bring about a true recognition of my identity.
Tell us how your company engaged in promoting the human rights of LGBTI/transgender people. What motivated this engagement? How might hiring transgender people have contributed to the development of your company?
Constellation is very focused and dedicated to providing inclusion and support to the LGBTQ+ workforce and community. This engagement really begins with our leadership across the business. For example, Robert Hanson, Executive Vice President of Constellation’s Wine & Spirits division, has really been driving decisions that are focused on doing the greater good in the community, especially for the LGBTQ+ community and customers. There are countless examples of leaders who play an active role in helping to drive and advance our inclusive culture. Continuing to hire Transgender folks will breakdown the gender binary constraints and cultures that exist vastly in the Wine and Spirits industry and will continue to further Constellation’s commitment to build inclusive workplaces and career paths, including for the LGBTQ+ community.
Do you believe that the interpersonal relationships among the employees have improved? Can you tell me an experience that demonstrates this improvement?
Interpersonal relationships have always been healthy at Constellation. One of the most indelible conversations has been with my supervisor who takes a keen interest and genuine effort to learn about my work as a community leader within the Trans Queer communities, at our weekly meetings. Another event that comes to mind is the event we held during Trans Day of Visibility last year. We had a panel discussion featuring trans speakers, myself included, open to all employees. During the event, several employees shared that they are parenting trans or non-binary children, and how meaningful it was for them to hear these conversations at Constellation Brands. They know they have support here and it is powerful to think about them bringing an expectation home to the next generation of workers that you can be your full self at work and there will be people there to support you.
What actions does your company take to promote the rights of transgender persons among suppliers/production chain? Could you give examples?
One of our major initiatives over the past two years has been to stand up a supplier diversity program. The program is a proactive strategy that seeks out and welcomes diverse suppliers – defined as businesses that are at least 51% owned, operated, and managed by an individual or group that is part of a traditionally underrepresented or underserved group. LGBTQ+ owned enterprises are included as a priority in the program.
Diversity within our supplier network has many benefits to our company and the communities in which we operate. We are committed to promoting, developing, and nourishing relationships with a diverse group of suppliers across our supply chain. Through our supplier diversity program, our Procurement organization will have access to the best goods and services while contributing to the long-term economic sustainability of the communities in which we live and work.
What actions does your company take to promote the rights of transgender persons among your clients? Could you give examples? (e.g. campaigns/messages to customers)
Constellation prides itself on being a “consumer obsessed” company, and that means understanding and having empathy toward all the diverse consumers we serve and ensuring we’re showing up in the marketplace in a truly authentic way. SVEDKA’s “Bring Your Own Spirit” campaign is one good example, as it’s all about celebrating your personal individuality – whatever that may be.
Constellation also partners with HRC, a partnership we are hoping to activate more on the local level with the help of the Stellar Pride BRG in the coming year. Additionally, we have a very generous employee match program and have elevated trans-serving organizations through giving campaigns. Given Constellation’s commitment to social equity, I expect we will see increased efforts in the coming years.
What did the company need to perform these actions? What has been the impact of these actions? Can you describe if you felt any difference in productivity/creativity in your company after these actions? How did the market react? How does the company benefit from this type of action?
Constellation really understands that to continue to connect with all the diverse consumers we serve, it’s important that we have an employee base that is truly representative of our consumers, and their perspectives and experiences. While work certainly remains, it’s energizing to watch the company’s commitment to fostering a truly diverse and inclusive culture continue to take shape. It’s both the right thing to do, and the right thing to do for the business.
Does the company have something to lose by doing this kind of action?
The company only has something to gain by living its vision of a more inclusive culture. We have seen time and time again that consumers expect companies, especially CPG companies, to “walk the talk” and live their values. Employees reward them with increased engagement and retention; consumers reward them with loyalty.
What would you say to companies that have not yet taken action to better support trans employees?
Companies and workplaces need to be intentional in LGBTQ+ hiring and powerfully uplift trans candidates within their diversity hiring strategies, increase focus on inclusive health care insurance plans, and ensure dedicated mentorships for career growth of trans employees.