Contrary to popular belief, Indian history has, through several mythological instances, defied the gender binary. The example of Srikhandi – a transgender person, who not only participated in the War of Mahabharata but also ensured the defeat of Bhisma Pitamah who seemed unstoppable otherwise, is testimony to the glorification of gender neutrality in Indian mythology.
In recent times, the decriminalization of same-sex relationships by the Supreme Court of India by repealing Section 377, creation of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019 and the step taken by the Ministry of Home Affairs to include transgender persons in paramilitary forces have undoubtedly been landmark moments for our country and its inclusive culture. Amidst so many unpredictable happenings, these relaxations send out a message of brotherhood like never before. While the laws set the premise in order, by opening up avenues for accepting the LGBTQ+ community into the fold of respectable citizens, the onus now lies upon the rest of the people of India to create solid spaces and get the laws implemented. With about 8% of the total population of India belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, and a majority of them working in organizations without having ‘come out’, a major portion of responsibility falls upon organizations to create safe spaces for them where they can feel included. Different aspects need to be taken care of in different parts of an organization starting with broadening the scope of the hiring process where any person irrespective of their sexual orientation may feel included. The process of recruitment and hiring people from the LGBTQ+ community alone may not suffice the need. Practices around these policies are also the need of the hour.
Luckily for us, keeping in tune with the above requirements, we have moved forward to an era where organizations are slowing realizing that a person’s proficiency and work productivity are independent of their gender orientation. There are many organizations who have taken the lead to not only include LGBTQ+ people in their workforce but have also introduced customized tailor-made policies to endorse the practice in a broader manner. Organizations like Godrej, Intuit and Uber among others have already begun extending general as well as specific benefits to LGBTQ employees.
However, there is a lot that still needs to be done across the different touch-points in an LGBTQ employee’s lifecycle. Changes to be brought in can be as simple as an extra option in an application form where the third gender is included. Similarly in the initial stage of bringing in these employees into the organization, managers and recruiters need to be trained to avoid sensitive questions during interviews which may unintentionally hurt the sentiments of the candidate. Finally, to have the adequate effect, changes have to come from within and merely framing policies is sometimes not enough to address the central concern.
Organizations will require restructuring their HR policies to not only recognize people from the community but also empower them with growth opportunities.Equal benefits need to be extended for the rainbow employees just as any other employee in the workplace thus setting the norms for the organization to be inclusive.
The other stakeholders that need to be roped in into the process are the other employees in the organization. In some cases, extensive training might be required for the other employees to be more welcoming towards the LGBTQ+ community and strict rules have to be set in place to counter cases of disparity against them.
It will become imperative for organizations to adopt these initiatives not only because they would set the premise for implementation of the laws,but also because then, these organizations would be able to hold their commitment high enough to walk the talk.
An important development for India in this regard is the launch of the India Workplace Equality Index (IWEI) – the first ever benchmarking tool in the country for different organizations to measure their LGBTQ+ inclusion progress in an Indian context. The IWEI brought out by a partnership between Stonewall - the largest LGBT Rights organization in Europe, the Keshav Suri Foundation and Pride Circle, India, requires organizations to submit information regarding how they have included LGBTQ+ inclusion practices and policies in their daily work processes, and then assesses them on a framework which is based on the Workplace Equality Index of the United Kingdom (created by Stonewall itself). The launch of this Index is definitely a milestone considering the wave of gender neutrality that is slowly being accepted by organizations far and wide and the citizens of India in general.
Taking an all-round view of the practices for LGBTQ inclusion as deciphered from an extensive benchmarking conducted by us as well as upon understanding the global practices that have been prevalent since a while now, there are some trends that stand out – some broad heads under which one can classify the different initiatives being undertaken. These broad heads begin with recruitment and continue well up to employee engagement and include the following.
- Eliminating Selection Bias: The selection process needs to be fair and transparent so that the LGBTQ+ candidate or candidates having varied sexual orientations feel that their sexual choices make no difference in their selection or rejection. For this, recruiters and hiring managers need to be trained so as to remove any biases regarding these communities.
- Devising Rainbow HR Policies: In order to have complete inclusion, it is not enough to just on-board LGBTQ+ candidates. Organizations need to extend health, insurance and welfare benefits towards them and further come up with specialized benefits for them such as allowances for gender reassignment surgeries, hormone replacement therapies, and so on.
- Training & Development Programs: Programs which help bring the LGBTQ+ community to a level playing field and enable other employees with behavioural skills so as to create acceptance in the workplace for them, are also essential for total inclusion.
- LGBTQ Assistance Programs: Being part of a community that is often ostracized because of several reasons, can take a toll on the mental health of these employees. Therefore, assistance and counselling programs can provide a safe space for these LGBTQ employees and make them feel at home.
- Infrastructural Improvements: Nothing speaks support for a rainbow workplace like gender agnostic areas such as washrooms and canteens. As an example, Nestaway has black-and-white signs on the doors of washrooms in their office which indicates the spectrum of colour it is designed to accommodate. Such practices go a long way in making the rainbow employees feel welcome.
- Engagement Initiatives: The LGBTQ movement is still at its nascent stage where individuals are still looking for acceptance from the society. In such a scenario, organizations could play a significant role byconnecting them with like-minded individuals and helping them create their own space in the organization with their own set of innovative pride programs. In this regard, many organizations have started the concept of Employee Resource Groups, such as GLEAM (Gay & Lesbian Employees at Microsoft) at Microsoft, and BGLAD (the LGBTQ Network at Bain &Bridgespan) at Bain & Company.
Deeper insights that go beyond just policies in a workplace is a critical step towards setting the tone right for a Rainbow Workplace. HR polices have to be subject to audit and periodic evaluations toensure relevance in terms of building a gender-neutral workplace. The right set of practices prioritised to give direction to move forward for the wellbeing of LGBTQ+ employees will be a substantial step towards complete gender inclusiveness.