One Love: Championing LGBTQ+ rights in corporate India
The world has changed. Attitudes have evolved. Social norms are being rewritten and we as a society are growing more aware.
Yes, change is unfolding at a different pace on different issues. Evolution is not always linear. But there is one issue on which we as a society have made clear progress over the last decade - that of LGBTQ+ rights.
This is evident in the growing sensitivity surrounding discourse about the LGBTQ+ community - whether that’s in the mass media we consume, or conversations we have. What was acceptable before simply isn’t anymore. And what seemed unacceptable, is growing to be embraced.
This change in attitudes has been driven by a number of factors - from the tireless work put in by LGBTQ+ activists to raise awareness to social media giving every individual a voice and a platform.
But equally, the corporate sector has also played its part in giving impetus to this shift.
Embracing diversity in its truest sense
There was a time when the inclusivity enshrined in corporate India’s diversity policies was limited and narrow. But today they have evolved to embrace diversity in its truest sense.
Several companies today are active in their support of diversity, especially when it comes to the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. They have become cognizant of identity and personal preferences.
Their policies aren’t just a passive HR document. But, incorporating strict workplace policies and codes of conduct safeguarding at the basic level an individual’s right to choose, they are backed up by concrete action. Such policies and conduct guarantee the same benefits to colleagues who identify as LGBTQ+ as those who don’t.
This includes benefits like:
- Adoption leave for single LGBTQ+ employees
- Compassionate leave in the event of a death of a family member, including a same-sex partner,
- Medical benefits that extend coverage to same-sex partners as they would to a straight employee’s spouse
- Counselling services that include counselling specific to addressing the daily challenges and pressures faced by employees as members of the LGBTQ+ community
Truly inclusive policies and culture aim at driving a mindset shift among employees, breaking the unconscious biases that exist in each one of us.
Being inclusive beyond policies
Hard, tangible benefits can go only so far toward creating a healthy working environment.
Ultimately, it is the more subtle factors like the way colleagues behave around you, their body language, the way they interact with you and so on that play a bigger role in making a work environment healthy and fulfilling to work in.
According to a survey titled ‘The Business Impact of LGBT-Supportive Workplace Policies’ conducted by the Williams Institute, LGBTQ+ employees who feel the need to hide their identity in the workplace often feel greater levels of stress and anxiety, causing health issues and work-related complaints.
The fact is that there is still a lot of stigma associated with being a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Many employees prefer to keep their queer status confidential. That’s because while companies may strive to be inclusive, fellow employees may not always feel the same.
It’s easy to put rules and codes down on paper. But to make a workplace truly inclusive in every sense of the word is to drive a shift in mindsets. That can only be achieved by becoming aware of and dismantling the subconscious biases and attitudes shaped by generations of conditioning that each one of us as individuals carries. The good thing is that corporate India is responding. Many companies are going that extra mile to make their workplaces safe and comfortable for LGBTQ+ employees to work in:
- Some companies require employees to be cognizant of the language and vocabulary they use when interacting with or talking about members of the LGBTQ+ community
- Employees are required to understand how their LGBTQ+ colleagues define their identity, how they identify their partners or their relationships and refer to them accordingly
- Moreover, companies are creating programmes to sensitize employees to the struggles and challenges faced by their LGBTQ+ colleagues, so they can be more accepting and understanding of diversity
We have made significant progress in improving the diversity of our workplaces. But we still have a lot more to do. Changing attitudes in a conservative society like ours is challenging and we need to keep plugging away.
There’s always more that can be done.
It’s only when members of any community, regardless of gender, religion, caste, race or sexual orientation, can express and own their identity without fear or shame that our workplaces can be said to be truly diverse.