What sort of person spends two decades in the same organization and yet appears content, excited, seasoned, and blindingly optimistic all at once? This was our immediate thought when we first met Venkat, the HR Lead for Accenture in India and Sri Lanka. Before our meeting, all his colleagues spoke of him with tremendous respect and fondness. They set the stage for a kindhearted conversationalist with disarming charm and candor. Throughout our interview, what echoed in sentiments was his drive towards holding communication as a constant necessity.
Venkat also displayed an exemplary sense of wanting to learn. Primarily from Delhi, he had to move around a lot in his formative years. However, this did not prevent him from pursuing his passion for athleticism. His accomplishments ranged from being a Delhi State Yoga Champion to being ranked nationally in Lawn Tennis in the Under 12 and Under 16 categories. He then went on to complete his Masters in Human Resources from Symbiosis and racked up certifications as a fitness coach, nutrition specialist, and even a yoga instructor.
Venkat, in his storied tenure at Accenture, has emerged as a thought leader and a sponsor for the LGBTQ community. Although he proclaims he does not attend Pride marches or engages in activism, he has made a tangible difference by becoming a Pride sponsor at work. Small acts in a large corporation go a long way in ensuring that marginalized communities feel adequately represented. This is why Venkat has found himself at the heart of many such changes at Accenture. All changes are important, whether they are structural reforms like gender-neutral washrooms and policies to subtle shifts that hold their own space in the larger context. One such small victory pointed out by Venkat was changing the opening line of company emails to "to the people in Accenture" from "to the men and women of Accenture."
Venkat has also been hailed for revolutionizing the mental health journey of employees at Accenture. Attributing the start of the mental wellness journey to 'humble origins,' Venkat now proudly claims a multi-pronged initiative by his institution, which aims to mainstream conversations surrounding mental health and educate and raise awareness about recognizing the signs of deteriorating mental health.
When you have been a leader for as long as Venkat has, one is bound to recognize the key factors which bring individuals together, build consensus, and inspire them to work towards a shared purpose. For him, this core has always been his sense of fairness, acting as the driving force of his life. Over time, Venkat has realized the importance of moving beyond hierarchical notions and knows that true collaboration and innovation is sparked when each person feels seen and heard at an individual level.
It empowers me to be a better leader because then you won't take anybody for granted.
All three major inflection points in his personal life are deeply connected to the company he has devoted almost half his life to. According to him, the first turning point in his life was when he got the opportunity to be a part of Accenture's employee resource group in the US in 2008. His second turning point was when he worked with a counselor and realized the imminent need to fight the stigma. This breakthrough convinced him that "even if you have no agenda, one must be in touch with a counselor."
The third and most pivotal moment in his life was his coming out story. Usually, a very private person, Venkat, was excited about sharing this personal life story with us. He animatedly told us about the incident in which an employee from the North American resource group came to India and, in a room full of Venkat's colleagues, declared Venkat an "exemplary spokesperson for the LBTQI community." Venkat still vividly remembers, "the thought that went off in my head was - Thank God. Someone finally said it". This experience has had several powerful implications for Venkat. He hopes this moment encourages other members of the LGBT community not to be restricted by their fear of acceptance in the corporate space. Venkat's experience impressed on him the respect and privacy his colleagues had always afforded him. It taught Venkat the power of self-acceptance in a very matter of fact way.
Before and after that incident, nothing changed. I was the person I always was, and I was celebrated for who I was, and that didn't shift.
However, Venkat does point out very importantly that although he was relieved by his accidental outing, it might not be the case for everybody. Venkat also candidly shared with us his ability to recognize and understand various forms of abuse because of his own lived experiences. As a seasoned leader with decades of professional success, Venkat did not shy away at all from recognizing his acquired privilege. He considers his coming out story, his role as a senior leader, and his training with Stonewall as milestones of his privilege. However, privilege carries with it the responsibility to pay it forward. It was his transformative leadership experience at Stonewall to which Venkat entirely attributes his need for advocacy and visible queer role models.
In the spirit of being a visible role model, he is comfortable speaking out when fairness is due and telling others that he is a proud gay man who is very happy and content with his sexuality. However, his foundation for feeling safe enough to say it with a clear conscience is because he has felt accepted at his workplace and has seen and experienced meritocracy being valued.
Venkat considers himself as someone with a spiritual bent of mind, coupled with a deep-seated belief in the karmic circle of life. He is a person who has shown dedication and love to not only his near and dear ones but has also strived to create a safe and welcome space for his peers. Venkat's integrity and sense of compassion shone through in our inspiring conversation with him as he appeared for this interview with a plaque bearing his late father's name in Japanese calligraphy, a remarkable symbol of his familial love and the values he holds dear.