Article: Do your DEI policies truly cover LGBT employees?


Do your DEI policies truly cover LGBT employees?

“The onus of creating a safe workplace isn’t just confined to the HR professionals, it is a collective responsibility. It is important to be educated and break the societal moulds which have been considered as normal for a long time now,” says Jaya Virwani of EY GDS.
Do your DEI policies truly cover LGBT employees?

As Pride Month commences, discussions around prioritising the well-being of LGBT employees increase. However, do organisations’ DEI policies always really cover LGBT employees completely? 

Recently a study conducted by Out Now Consulting found that the US economy could save $9 Bn annually if organisations were more effective at implementing diversity and inclusion policies for LGBT staff. In a market that is running short of talent, are organisations thinking over their inclusivity policies, or are they beating around the bush of talent shortage?

In an interaction with People Matters, Jaya Virwani, Ethics and Diversity, Equity and Inclusiveness Leader of EY GDS shared how EY is working on building a safe and inclusive work environment for all. 

According to a survey released in May 2021, 46% of LGBTQ employees have faced inappropriate behaviour at work at some point in their lives. How do you look at this?

Having the right DEI policies in place is highly important for organisations. At EY, we have been working not only on the policies to protect the interests of the employees but also launched several initiatives for implementing those policies. I think what we've managed to focus on clearly is ensuring that behaviour towards every employee is respectful irrespective of their personal choices and identity. 

As an example, I would like to share the experience of one of our employees (who is also an activist) belonging to the LGBT community who joined EY about six years back. When he reported that he was facing bias from his colleagues, we immediately took the initiative to address the matter and had a dialogue with his teammate. And, that was how we managed to retain the employee.

Today’s workplace is really an extension of your home, and the lines are getting blurred. So, we need to raise awareness and create an environment where everyone understands that each one of us is completely different and it is normal to be so. We're tackling the behaviour of employees, helping them understand how being inclusive can enhance the sense of belonging. 

The same survey found, “Overall, 8.9% of employed LGBT people reported that they were fired or not hired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in the past year, including 11.3% of LGBT employees of colour and 6.5% of white LGBT employees.” What could be the possible factor driving this situation? Do you observe any change as the offices reopen?

Division again! Having been in practice for more than 10 years, I have seen that this mindset arises out of the feeling of being a part of the majority group in a certain space. At GDS, we had a senior employee from the US who was very vocal about his sexual preferences there and also a part of the ‘pride’ community. But he never opened up in India.

I believe that ignorance is driving this division. The issue is embedded from childhood and throughout the process of how one grows up. But, to a great extent, the media can create a lot of awareness. For example, the latest web series Modern Love Mumbai beautifully talks about the support systems or the lack of support systems that LGBT employees have. 

Do you think that redrawing diversity policies and ensuring employment irrespective of sexual orientation can have a sustainable impact on employee retention in a market running short of talent? 

Absolutely! Internally at EY, we have special policies in place for LGBT employees and in an EY specific survey, we found that the more inclusive you are, the greater the sense of belonging for your employees. 

For same-sex couples, we have leave for adoption and commissioning leave which are on par with maternity leave. We regularly gather feedback from our employees about these policies. So, I think we have enough policies for LGBT employees in place. What we have learnt from several studies is that the onus is not just limited to the DEI experts or HR professionals in the team. It is a collective responsibility and not just about listening to the leaders’ perspectives. Such a sensitive issue should always be addressed on the basis of the employees’ voices. 

How do you look at the idea of dialogue exchange as an initiative to boost awareness?

It is very important to put those conversations on the table and respect people for having their own thoughts and choices. I would like to mention the example of yet another employee who wanted to come out of the closet and very intelligently, took us through his identity and how he would like to be acknowledged during a conversation. 

So we are trying to bring to the table, the real-life experiences of people instead of just launching policies for the sake of having those. And I think it is important for all of us to be educated and come out of the societal mould that has been considered normal this far. 

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Topics: Diversity, #PrideMonth

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