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Employee Resource Groups

Inside Diverse-Abilities, Intuitive’s Resource Group for disabled employees, caregivers, and allies

Manny Alfaro Sam Balsubramani Emily Sands

At Intuitive, we believe inclusivity and diversity are the keys to unlocking a better future for our team members, for hospitals, physicians and their patients, and for healthcare equity around the globe. And our employee resource groups (ERGs) are helping to lead the way.

Below, Manny Alfaro (Post-Market Investigation Analyst), Sam Balsubramani (Corporate Patient Marketing Manager), and Emily Sands (Senior Specialist, Global Public Affairs) share why they joined Intuitive and the Diverse-Abilities (D-A) ERG, what the group is doing to make the company more inclusive, and what they’re most excited to see as the ERG grows.

Why did you decide to join Intuitive, and why have you stayed?

Emily: To be honest, I had no idea I’d end up in the medical device world. I majored in economics and political science, and the world of possibilities did not include healthcare or tech, at the time. But like a lot of undergrads, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I decided to embrace the unknown and ended up in this great internship at Intuitive. When a full-time position opened up the next year, I jumped at the chance. I was the most inexperienced person on my team, which was intimidating, but everyone was supportive. They gave me the best hands-on education in public affairs I could have. And you can’t deny the impact of the products we make. I’m proud to be part of that.

Sam: I started as an intern, too, while I was in business school. I’d done some consulting in health care, and when I saw Intuitive’s presentation, I thought it was extremely cool. That may sound simplistic, but I think the same thing today. The technology and innovation are awe-inspiring. And the culture here is one of a kind; Intuitive really walks the talk. Everyone marches toward the same purpose, and people are welcoming and helpful.

When I got the opportunity to come back full-time, I had zero doubts. It was an opportunity to be in a space that’s leading-edge, and to feel like I’m genuinely making a difference. Everything we do is with patients in mind, and I get to see those results every day.

Manny: Before I joined, I didn’t know what Intuitive was. Few people did 17 years ago! But I realized quickly this was an incredibly special place and team—I’ve met people here that I’ll be close with for the rest of my life. After all these years, I still wake up excited to come to work, and I’m thrilled to tell people what I do. Plus, we’re still growing so quickly. Whether you want to advance in what you’re already doing or pivot to something new, the opportunities for growth abound. 

You’re all members of Diverse-Abilities, Intuitive’s employee resource group (ERG) for people with disabilities, caretakers, and allies. Why is it important to you to be part of that group?

Manny: I’m disabled due to a back injury; pain management is a 24/7 part of my life. That can be very difficult, and it helps immensely to talk to people with similar experiences. The ERG has made me feel less alone. I don’t come from a background where we speak openly about disabilities; I felt like as a guy, I was supposed to be tough and macho. But this group is so compassionate, so open. There’s zero judgment. I can share my story honestly. People care enough about me to help me carry that, and I do the same for them. It’s given me a sense of belonging I didn’t even realize I was missing.

Emily: Absolutely. And because disability is such a huge, diverse category, our group is incredibly intersectional and inclusive. Personally, I’ve struggled with mental illness since my early teens, and never used to think of it as a disability. Through D-A I’ve come to understand how disability can mean many different things. Having the freedom to be frank about this part of who I am takes away some of the stress that comes with disability, particularly at work. I don’t have to worry that my teammates will judge me or think I’m lazy. There’s a level of vulnerability you don’t often see in a corporate setting. And that’s understandable; people worry they’re going to say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing. But the whole point of this community is to learn from each other. We’re not going to be perfect. The more perspective we gain, the better allies we can be.

And beyond the experiences of us as individuals, this has institutional impacts, as well. Like anyone else, when we can be ourselves at work, we’re less likely to burn out, we don’t have to worry about what people will think—we can just focus on our jobs, and that makes us more effective and productive. I know I am a better employee and teammate because my colleagues know me and are sensitive to what I’m dealing with.

Sam: I don’t personally identify as having a disability—though of course that could change at any time—but my mom is a special educator, and I learned so much from her experience teaching students who were neurodivergent. She always talked about how smart and empathetic they were, how much she loved working with them. I realized that these individuals—and many who may be undiagnosed—are so much more than societal boxes and stereotypes. And it helped me recognize the value of diversity of ability and thought—so when I came here, I wanted to be part of this community. And I think allies have an important role in education and awareness. There’s still a lot of stigma and bias around disability; as Emily mentioned, when someone feels like they can’t relate to your experience, they often feel uncomfortable speaking to it. But what matters is that we listen and support. As allies, we can help demystify disability and encourage those conversations.

Tell us about some of the work Diverse-Abilities does.

Sam: Education and training is one workstream we’re focused on right now. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach—you can’t read a definition in a textbook to understand what disability means. We’re thinking about ways we can build that awareness, whether it’s via a learning platform or in personal conversations. 

One thing that’s been powerful is an interview series we call Day in the Life, where an employee who identifies as having a disability, or who is a caretaker to someone with a disability, shares their story. It’s a great way to understand someone’s experience and spark conversations.

Manny: We also have a quarterly newsletter sharing what the group is up to, and we do in-person events throughout the year. The next one is our annual cultural moment, and the focus this year is mental health. We’ll have guest speakers and a panel covering not only mental illness itself, but the mental health challenges that come with any disability.

Emily: That’s right—and we host quarterly “Community and Connection” events, which are casual food-and-drink mixers. It’s not just for members of D-A—anyone can come and learn more about the group. We have volunteer opportunities, too; we work with Common Roots Farm, which is a wonderful accessible urban farm in Santa Cruz.

And part of our responsibility as an ERG is advocacy. We’re watching for accessibility gaps and other issues, whether it’s language on an application form or a new manager training. Our chairs and executive sponsors do a great job of consistently elevating those needs to Intuitive’s HR and leadership teams.

As you think about what’s next for Diverse-Abilities, what are you most excited about?

Emily: Right now, I’m looking forward to the open house, which is especially meaningful to me given my personal experience. I took two medical leaves after starting at Intuitive, so I’ve been through the accommodations process firsthand, and I want to keep encouraging discussions around mental health. I think it’s such an unmet need—most companies just aren’t comfortable talking about it, and because of that, we tend to have a narrow understanding of what mental illness can look like, when in fact there are a lot of people who are very high-functioning but still struggle.

Sam: Emily mentioned advocacy to HR and leadership, and one of our goals as an ERG is to not only raise those concerns and suggest solutions, but see changes implemented company-wide, from the top. We can be partners, but ultimately, it’s not something we can do full-time—and as HR resources shift to handle those more foundational elements, D-A will be able to evolve our work, too.

I’m also excited to see more open conversations outside of D-A specifically. I think within the group, we’re all comfortable sharing and listening to people’s stories. But the more that’s true across the company, the deeper people’s perspectives will be. If your colleague has a mobility issue or is neurodivergent, for example, we want you to understand what that means for them and their work.

Manny: This group is so willing to say, “I’m here to help,” and to me, that’s the message. We’re here to help educate, guide, improve processes, change thinking—both for our teammates and ourselves. I’m excited to keep sharing that journey with everyone I can. When someone opens up to me, I want to share what joining D-A can do—what it’s taught me, and what we can accomplish when we work together. We’re always growing and learning as humans. It’s a job for life! And the disability space is no exception.

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Are you interested in joining Emily, Sam, and Manny to prove what's possible in minimally invasive care? Check out open roles here. Or you can join our Talent Community to stay up to date on all things Intuitive. 

 

Manny Alfaro

Manny started with us more than 17 years ago as a field service engineer and then transitioned to Technical Support. "Working with Technical Support for over a decade, I had the privilege of handling thousands of critical intra-operative customer calls. Now I do regulatory post-market analysis. When someone contacts us to report an issue, I provide a structured technical review of that concern."

Sam Balsubramani

Sam works in patient education marketing. "Our team’s goal is to educate patients at the right time and place in their healthcare journey, so that they can make informed decisions about their care."

Emily Sands

Emily has been with the Global Public Affairs team for more than five years. "I focus on government affairs and government relations, which means I design messaging for policy positions and meet with policymakers to help them understand Intuitive."