Large multinationals that operate out of India do not replicate their LGBT-friendly policies and practices that they have been recognized for globally.
On 12 December 2013, a judgment by the Supreme Court of India overturned a decision by the High Court of Delhi to decriminalize homosexuality. The move caught companies off guard, especially multi-national companies that broke the ‘pervasive culture of silence’ that characterized issues concerning LGBT employees. The verdict had stalled any progress made on the issue. Despite the fact that companies around the world have introduced conducive HR policies as progressive measures, Indian employers have largely remained silent.
It is in this context, that a new report by MINGLE (Mission for Indian Gay & Lesbian Empowerment), a think tank and advocacy group, sheds light on the state of Indian workplace climate. The report found that “homophobia is rampant and discrimination is commonplace”. The survey looked at three sectors: Information Technology, Banking and Finance and FMCG & Manufacturing and collected data from employees who identified as LGBT.
Acceptance and awareness:
In terms of acceptance, India still has a long way to go as traditional attitudes are still deep rooted. Only a few employees are willing to ‘Come out’ - a term that is used to describe an individual’s acknowledgment about their sexual orientation to the people around them. The percentage of employees who were ‘out’ to their colleagues was 25 percent, those who were out to their managers stood at 28 percent and 44 percent of employees were out to their families. Although the number of employees out to their families was higher than their co-workers, most employees found greater acceptance amongst their colleagues (85 percent) when compared to their families (69 percent). However, as the report highlights, there is a lot that needs to be done even if there is greater acceptance in the workplace. About 40 percent of the respondents noted that they are often or sometimes subject to harassment in the workplace for being LGBT. 2/3 rds. of them report hearing homophobic comments in the workplace and 1/5th of them report facing discrimination from their own line managers or from HR.
Employees who were ‘out’ to their colleagues reported a greater trust (at 55 percent) in their employers compared to those who were closeted (13 percent). They were also 22 percent more satisfied with the rate of promotions and felt that their performance is judged fairly. And they also had lower stress levels and were more likely to continue working in the same organization.
A total of 65 percent of the respondents considered HR or diversity policies as a major factor for their decision making to join an organization. A total of 48 percent of the respondents noted that they work for a company that does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. 22 percent of the participants said that such non-discrimination policies were although applicable globally were not replicated in India. Almost 30 percent did not have anti-discriminatory policies in place. As for same-sex partnership benefits, 70 percent of the respondents said they did not have any, while 26 percent noted that such benefits are available globally but not in India. And only 4 percent said that they are covered by same-sex benefits. The report highlights that several large multinationals that operate out of India do not replicate their LGBT-friendly policies and practices that they have been recognized for globally.
Employee resource groups or similar networks are known to play a critical role among LGBT employees – they provide leadership opportunities and play the role of a safe space. But most Indian organizations do not provide such groups. A total of 13 percent of the respondents said that they have Employee Resource Groups for LGBT employees. And 64 percent of those who are a part of the group said that they benefitted from the employee resource group.
The biggest roadblock to any meaningful engagement with the community continues to be Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which penalizes homosexual acts. A later judgment on transgender rights (NALSA vs the Union of India) has been largely ignored and has been the cause of some confusion among Indian employers. However, MINGLE and allies of the LGBT community believe that much can be done to address discrimination including – sensitization training for people managers and team members, visible sponsorship, Employee Resource Groups and even measures such as having HR forms and HRIS that is inclusive of LGBT employees.