Discussion around diversity and inclusion feature in most boardroom conversations in Indian firms today. While it is about adopting global policies, practices and identity for some multi-nationals, for others it is about being a fair and non-discriminating employer. It is not a question of “Why” anymore but that of “How” when it comes to approaching diversity, especially when it comes to that of LGBT inclusion.
Exploring avenues for LGBT inclusion is akin to treading muddy waters owing to the complexities surrounding the legal aspects in India. While section 377 prohibits the act of homosexuality, it does not prohibit individuals identifying themselves as sexual minorities nor does it prevent organizations from supporting LGBT inclusion. At the same time, the Indian Supreme Court, through its ruling in April 2014, provides legal sanctity to Transgender individuals and recognizes them as the ‘third gender.’ While the legal scenario looks a bit complex, the good news is that there is enough space for organizations to take a positive step towards LGBT inclusion.
According to the “Indian LGBT Workplace Climate Survey 2016” published by MINGLE, more than half LGBT Indians surveyed could be legally fired from their jobs for being LGBT, and about 40% reported having faced some form of harassment for being LGBT. This is concerning since it significantly affects the levels of engagement of such individuals at the workplace and can have a cascade effect on performance, innovation, retention and even talent attraction over a period of time.
What is a good starting point towards LGBT inclusion?
John Maxwell’s popular saying goes “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” Aligning the leadership team to support the LGBT inclusion agenda is a great place to start. The key is to help them understand the cause and lead them to support inclusiveness at all levels. This will eventually help in building the desired culture and obtain adequate sponsors to support initiatives around LGBT inclusion. Once the leadership team is on board, it is easier to take the agenda to the next level of managers and to the larger employee audience.
A foundational session can be organized for the leadership to clarify the understanding on sexual orientation, gender orientation & expression, dispel myths and support required from organizations in providing a supportive environment for such individuals. It often helps to have a dialogue on the sensitivities and everyday challenges faced by LGBT individuals through relevant experts on the subject. This can be followed up with the leaders articulating the organization’s vision on LGBT inclusion and priorities.
Equal opportunity / inclusive policies and benefits
An organization which intends to be inclusive of LGBT individuals needs to ensure that policies around resourcing/recruitment, onboarding, career progression and even exit management speak the language of inclusion/ non-discrimination and meritocracy. For example, it is important to pay attention to small but critical things such as including fields on ‘third gender’ or ‘other’ or ‘do not wish to disclose’ against gender on the recruitment portal/forms. The company’s grievance handling mechanism should be equipped to manage complaints/harassment owing to gender identity, expression, and sexual orientation. There also need to be clearly laid out consequences when managers/employees indulge in discriminatory practices.
While globally many employers offer benefits such as insurance, retirement, relocation assistance, etc. to same-sex partners, the possibilities of extending similar benefits is not straight-forward in India. However, organizations can extend monetary and leave benefits around adoption & surrogacy, compassionate leave, etc. to unmarried staff which can be availed by LGBT individuals as well.
Create awareness and address stereotypes through training
While inclusive policies serve as the foundation, often LGBT individuals are misunderstood and treated differently as an outcome of cultural factors. Hence it is important to address the ‘mind-set’ of managers and employees to make a difference. This can be achieved through sensitization workshops on creating a safe & inclusive workplace that specifically addresses challenges faced by LGBT.
Also, proactively seeking out and removing barriers for LGBT individuals when it comes to networking, offering customer-facing roles or team management roles, succession planning, etc. is crucial.
Communicate intent internally and externally
It is important to promote inclusion as an important agenda through leadership messaging at all levels. For example, senior leaders can begin town-halls and similar events with the equal opportunity employer messaging.
Organization-wide communications/campaigns can also be carried out which clearly articulate intolerance towards discriminatory behavior and related consequences. This can often be timed to coincide with the local ‘Pride/Queer’ festival months or well-recognized global ones. These cannot be one-off events and must be repeated periodically to reinforce the culture of inclusion. All new joiners need to be oriented on the firm’s culture and stand on inclusion during their induction to ensure they are aware of the expected behavior.
Pre-placement talks, recruitment drives, and interviews are good avenues to let potential candidates know about the firm’s equal opportunity policies and inclusive practices.
Creating resource groups and allies
Unlike other diversity segments, it is challenging to create Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) or run targeted initiatives such as mentoring, etc. given that most of the time LGBT individuals choose not to disclose their identity at work. However, organizations can explore options such as creating a broader diversity-focused ERG which has LGBT inclusion as part of its agenda.
It often helps to identify and create allies via Business Managers across locations. This serves a dual purpose – a) a platform to build future leaders who also engage directly with senior executives on the agenda, b) an opportunity to increase outreach and better serve LGBT customers using these allies and their insights. Allies help in gaining momentum and bring life to the organizational vision on LGBT inclusion by taking it closer to grass-root level staff.
It is safe to assume that if an organization has initiated at least a few of the ideas, they have set the ball rolling in the right direction. A sustained and structured approach as outlined above will help in building a safe working environment for LGBT individuals and allow them to deliver to their full potential.