Ubisoft's commitment to creating a more inclusive workplace includes UbiProud, a global employee resource group (ERG) dedicated to supporting LGBTQIA+ employees and allies. Gav Sarafian and Antoine Gay are two of the global co-leads for UbiProud, and each is highly involved in their local communities as well. In conversation with Ubisoft News, Sarafian and Gay talk about how the global ERG got started, the importance of setting a good example in the industry, and why they listen to the needs of their members before planning initiatives.
How did UbiProud get started? How did each of you get involved?
Gav Sarafian: I've been running Ubisoft Toronto's local LGBTQIA+ ERG for three years now, so that's something I've already had experience with. Then, at some point last year, the global initiatives got started, and I was one of the people tapped to participate. Things started to get going in earnest late last year and early this year, and have progressed nicely. We've also been developing our ERG alongside our sibling ERGs.
It's been an interesting journey so far - we've had some guidance from the company, and some learning sessions from a DEI expert on ERGs in the industry, on how to conduct ourselves, but we've been given a broad latitude on how we wish to structure ourselves, which is quite nice. Honestly, things are just starting to get going, and we're figuring out how we want to make ourselves more visible, and what we want to do on a global scale.
Antoine Gay: Originally, I think the LGBTQIA+ ERGs were created in local sites as support groups, where we would gather to talk about the issues that gender and sexual minorities would face, and at some point, we wanted a kind of recognition. With Montreal's local chapter, called UbiLove, some people suggested we create a formal structure, so we went from a chat group to being recognized as an ERG in 2020.
What has it been like going from local chapters to a global organization? Why did you want to take on the additional responsibility of leading an ERG?
GS: Speaking for myself, I'm still running my local ERG, and am considering my options with being on the global team in the same capacity. It's a lot of work, and having a hand in both is even more so. It's been okay so far, but as we scale up our efforts, I'll be taking a more critical eye to see what my capacity is.
AG: For me, I was involved in UbiLove, but in a minor role. When I saw they were looking for leaders at UbiLove, I decided not to go for it. I felt that it was an occasion to step down and give a chance for those voices we rarely hear to take on a leadership role. I'm a French cis-white man in a French company; I'm typically the kind of voice you hear all the time. But we were lacking people who wanted to get involved in UbiLove, so I did. Then, when the spot was available at the global level, my colleagues suggested that I try for it.
One thing I find important is that we see the global ERG as a place to gather the local initiatives; really, what's driving the ERG is the local ones. What they want to do, what they want to achieve - we don't see the global UbiProud ERG as a place for suggestions on initiatives, it's more to be the voice of the different chapters to top management and the Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DIA) team.
What's your mission statement?
GS: The unofficial mission statement for Rainbow 6ix - Rainbow 6ix being Toronto's local ERG - which I think works for the global ERG as well, is to advocate for representation, equality, and opportunities for the LGBTQIA+ folks at Ubisoft, and, broadly speaking, the industry at large. We want to act as a good example.
AG: I think a mission statement is a bigger word for an ERG, which originates from and embodies its community - an ERG should be what its members want it to be, and it can focus on multiple aspects at once. So at the moment, what people have expressed is exactly the type of mission that Gav described. It's about representation and the well-being of our community more than the career aspects that a lot of people focus on. It's perfectly possible that at some point our ERG will focus on career progression and leadership roles within the company if members want us to, but that's not what people have expressed. I don't think we should have a strong, generic mission statement, but focus instead on what our community tells us they need.
What kind of programming have you put on? What has the community asked for?
GS: We're still figuring out our structure - even our leadership wasn't voted in, we volunteered, so we don't speak for literally everyone in the group. I'm not a spokesperson for the group. We're not a monolith. There are many different kinds of queer folks, so there's a lot for us to figure out, including how we want to navigate things.
At the local level, we've had a number of initiatives. One of the first ones was advocating to have all-gender washrooms installed in the studio, which we were successful with. We also led an effort to update orientation materials to use more inclusive wording, and had a bake sale where we raised $1,700 for a member's transition fund - it was amazing. We also participated in Toronto Pride in 2019, which involved a lot of work with the studio. They followed our guidance, which was very refreshing, and the event went really well. This year, we're also running a speaker session and a cabaret. We did something similar the past two years; in 2020, instead of participating in Pride because of COVID, we donated all those funds. Then, in 2021, we had our first speaker session during Pride.
AG: Agreed - I think that's a specificity of the LGBTQIA+ community. I think diversity is a defining characteristic of the LGBTQIA+ community. Even if someone belongs to a gender or sexual minority group, they are inherently ignorant of the realities of some other parts of the community. We all have a duty to educate ourselves because we might, unwillingly, be one of the oppressing voices for another part of the community. I'll take misgendering as an example, where being gay, lesbian, bi or asexual does not make it less hurtful. That's why I think our approach of always listening to what people want and asking what they need is the best way to do it. We can also put people in contact with each other - currently, there are only four people on the UbiProud global team, but by connecting local chapters with one another, they can share their knowledge and best practices with one another as opposed to us being the voice of the correct way to do something.
I can give a specific example of something we've done at a local level. There was a person in Toronto who raised the flag that the private health insurance we have in Canada wasn't covering gender affirmation surgery, so we helped them build a case for our studio to negotiate with our health-insurance provider. Again, what we do will depend on what people express about what they want to see. It's a very local example, but reflects the type of issues we tackle.
Additionally, one of the main topics we'd like to delve into is mental health, and the specific mental health needs of the community we serve. It's difficult to live in a society and a world where you can't always feel comfortable or even safe being who you are, and we would like to have resources like queer mental health first responders who can provide support to community members who are dealing with these types of issues.
How has Ubisoft supported your ERG?
GS: When it comes down to it, we've had excellent liaisons with our communications team. We've had the support of our leadership in the initiatives we wanted to do, and they've also given us financial support. Speakers aren't free, and we wanted to make sure we put those funds into queer people's hands, and they worked really well with us. I'm actually quite thankful for all the hard work, especially from the communications team, that my local studio has done to help us achieve everything so far.
Something I've been constantly impressed by is the passion of my colleagues to work towards better things, and it's very heartening to see how much care and devotion my colleagues have towards one another. Yeah, we make games; yeah, we work at a company; but on a personal level, it's always nice to look around, so to speak, and see how many people care about the issues we face as a community, and in the industry.
AG: I think it's important to recognize how much the communications teams really help on all those aspects. They give us the space to say what we want to say - they will correct a bit if the tone isn't right, but usually we send the message as we want to send it; they just make sure we communicate it well at all levels (locally and globally). To be honest, a lot of people in the communications teams are allies, and it helps a lot.
Locally, in Montreal, we have the full support of the events team and the DIA team to organize activities. During Pride week, which is in August for us, I was really surprised by the fact that they literally took on our ideas and helped make them a reality. We had brainstormed those ideas, and we thought we would have to organize everything all by ourselves, but they decided to take them on, which really impressed me.
At the global level, we see a genuine concern and a genuine will to cater to gender minorities and sexual minorities among our colleagues. This work is led by the DIA team, but other team members, like those in our Content Review group, contribute as well. Management and team members are listening to us, and I don't think it's just for show. I know that if something we suggest has not been acted on yet, it's only because everyone is putting in the time to make sure we're doing it right.
What role do you see an ERG like UbiProud having at a company like Ubisoft? Why do you think they're important?
GS: As we've seen over the past few years in this industry, there are issues with inequality, representation and inclusivity. That's why we have a dedicated DIA team now, people whose full-time jobs are dedicated to this stuff. So clearly there's a need. It's incumbent on us as people who wish to lead or represent communities to strive and push for these changes, and call them out where we can with the power being a Ubisoft ERG comes with. But within that power, in the framework we've established for ourselves, I think the importance lies in how we can make things better for our community, to speak very broadly, both for people who work at our company and the industry at large.
A visual example I've been working with is that our efforts are like a tiny gear that we try to push, and we push it a lot. Then, this tiny wheel pushes a larger gear, which represents progress and inclusion at our studio, which moves - you see where this is going - a larger wheel, which is our games. These wheels affect the company, the industry, and ultimately, our games and society at large. As an art medium and entertainment platform, there's a lot of possibilities for us to effect change on a global and cultural scale. I think we have a social responsibility that doesn't end with the games we produce; in the end, I we can achieve far more than that and do great things.
AG: You can also see debates happening in our society that do not extend to businesses. For example, the queer community has a theoretical background called queer theory, where we have been forced to question a lot of things that everybody else takes for granted, and come up with original solutions. And I use the passive voice on purpose - it wasn't our choice to do this, it's because people marginalized us, something that's true for other groups as well. We can translate that into games and be the voice of that idea in the company, and have a bit of discourse that's different than what we usually hear in this business.
Where do you hope to see the ERG go in the future, as it grows out of its infancy and into the next stages?
GS: That's a big question, but I can give you some bullet points. We want to expand our membership, but not fill a quota. We want to be able to reach out to everyone who is part of the community and offer them support, especially if they're not aware that such a thing can - and does - exist. We're going to have to redefine how we operate and our leadership structure, so I'm not sure how it will go, but I'm keenly interested in seeing how we will conduct events on global and local scales.
AG: On my side, we're really focusing on being the interface with the colleagues who are part of the community and the business, and get to a place where people can come to us if they have questions related to the community we serve. There is much more we can do in that regard. In the training for the ERGs, they focused on that aspect, and it's really what I would like to see. I'd also like to see us become an internal reference for our production teams; we're not in just any kind of industry, we're a cultural industry, which means we tell stories and those stories inspire the imaginations of a lot of people, which holds a lot of influence. This is where I think we need to focus on representation in our games and the stories we tell, and let productions know that they can come to us to ask questions or for resources.
What advice do you have for someone looking to start their own ERG?
GS: It depends on context - does their company already have an ERG structure, or are they starting from zero? If they have nothing, then it is going to be a lot of work. If there's no structure, you have to approach and onboard your company , and that's a whole other conversation because you're asking the company to give you a measure of influence. So that's its own thing.
If you're at the point where your company has an ERG or is open to it, you're already past those hurdles. I'd say the first thing in that situation is to gather the strongest voices you know of within your community. You will need people who will help push. It's good to have an idea of people who would be interested in being members, but it's even more important to have an idea and some kind of commitment from people who want to do work, because leading an ERG is work. ERG leaders at Ubisoft can allocate 10% of their time to that work, but it's community oriented, and if you can find people who vibe with that, you'll start to have good structure.
From there, you need to look at examples of other ERGs in whatever industry you're in, see how they do things, and pull from there. It's also important to remember it doesn't have to be perfect from the start - it's a lot of work, people come and go, but you don't need to overwork yourself doing this stuff. It's important not to burn yourself out doing this work; you need to take care of yourself as well.
AG: I'll talk about the example where there's no actual structure in the company. I think a critique that a lot of people make about ERGs is that by focusing on the identities of certain groups, you could hinder collaboration between them on larger issues that affect everyone at the company. But I don't think that's true. If you make sure your ERG is communicating with other ERGs and you are open to allies, and make sure you represent the community, you'll succeed. As I've said, we are a group from the community for the community, and at the end of the day, that's what it's all about.
Is there anything else you'd like to say to Ubisoft News readers?
GS: Happy Pride!