We’re back this week with another installment in our Pride Month series—and this time we’re shining the spotlight on how Michelin, whose North American Headquarters is located here in Greenville, has supported the development and evolution of an LGBT business resource group (BRG). We sat down with Rodney Tow, Services Operations Manager, Michelin Fleet Solutions, who has played a pivotal role in the formation & growth of the group, to hear about his experience and advice to other companies considering establishing LGBT-focused BRGs.
Before 2014, there was no such thing as an LGBT Business Resource Group at Michelin North America, which has over 23,000 employees in the US & Canada. There were other groups, but no one had ever come forward to propose establishing an LGBT network. That changed in 2014 when Rodney took the lead in establishing an LGBT BRG. With assistance from the Diversity & Inclusion department, Michelin’s first-ever LGBT & Allies BRG worldwide was officially established in the summer of 2014. With a mission to strengthen professional relationships and understanding within the company, increase productivity and nourish a work environment that encourages employees to bring their whole selves to work, the LGBT & Allies Network provides a forum for employees to share their stories, advocate for others, learn, ask questions, share perspectives, address issues, and network in a safe and supportive environment.
Once the group was founded, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Some employees felt the group was too controversial. Thankfully, Michelin as a company has been unfailingly supportive and reiterates that the existence of the group is in line with Michelin’s core value of respect for all people.
Several years after its founding, the LGBT & Allies BRG sought to grow the “allies” membership, and so in 2017, they launched a campaign called “You Can Call Me Al” (as in Ally) that quickly became popular at Michelin North America HQ. By the end of the year, they had 500 signatures from allies and provided LGBT ally swag employees could display in their workspaces. The campaign was so successful that Michelin’s Headquarters in Mexico caught wind and requested to participate.
Around that time, the group gained major traction and experienced significant interest in its events. They have successfully hosted Lunch & Learns featuring both outside speakers and member panels, providing a platform for sharing personal stories and experiences—a powerful tool for connecting people and teaching through different perspectives. They also offer support with Michelin’s Employee Assistance Program, at one point even facilitating an LGBT-focused discussion panel and helping to create a safe, inclusive space for discussion. Michelin’s LGBT & Allies BRG also prioritizes connecting with the local community, including participation in service projects as part of Hands on Greenville Day and working with SC PRIDE and Upstate Pride, the latter of which has steadily gained momentum in recent years. Rodney himself has been actively engaged with Michelin’s Hiring & Recruiting Team, accompanying them on visits to universities to develop relationships with university LGBT groups with the goal of attracting more top talent to Michelin by highlighting the company’s commitment to creating a welcoming, supportive environment for LGBT employees.
In 2020, many employees became remote workers overnight, which presented new challenges for participation in BRGs, LGBT & Allies included. With 150 active members on their roster, the group has adapted to the added challenge, even creating a “safe space” Microsoft Teams channel. They’re looking toward expanding membership by reaching out to Michelin’s tire manufacturing plants. Some of these sites have expressed strong interest in forming their own chapters of LGBT & Allies, and Rodney hopes the group will be able to offer the support to make that happen.
His advice for companies looking to start their own LGBT BRGs is to start small by focusing on allies, and then LGBT employees will feel comfortable coming forward as they see their colleagues supporting the group, thus creating an accepting and encouraging environment.
Rodney, who was born and bred in the Upstate and also lived in France and Luxembourg for 11 years prior to returning in 2009, believes groups like Michelin’s LGBT & Allies BRG are critically important safe and supportive spaces for individuals who have faced adversity simply because of who they are. Living authentically and being true to himself is non-negotiable for Rodney, and he celebrates all efforts to help others do the same by bridging gaps and bringing people together in acceptance and understanding. And Michelin, he believes, has made great strides toward that goal.
This article is intended to feature a Greenville-area business and some of its best practices. Opinions reflected in this article do not represent an endorsement on the part of Michelin North America.