The new-found focus of corporate India is LGBTQI+ inclusion in the workplace. In the past decade, the conversation around having an inclusive workplace for LGBTQI+ employees has seen its ups and downs. After the Delhi High Court judgement on Section 377 in 2009, a handful of multinational companies started employee resource groups in their India offices. Unfortunately, quite a few organisations rolled back all these initiatives right after the Supreme Court verdict in December 2013, which upheld Section 377. This knee jerk reaction by the corporates didn’t go down well with queer activists who were already critical about corporates and the “pink-washing” that was happening in the other parts of the world.
The December 2013 Supreme Court verdict was in a way a tipping point for the queer movement in India. There were coordinated protests across the country against the verdict, and in the following years, there was a visible shift in the language of the queer discourse. Simultaneously, a few queer persons in corporate India silently pushed their employers to start Employee Resource Groups and implement policies and benefits inclusive of LGBTQI+ persons in their respective workplaces. This also had a ripple effect within the corporate sector.
While these changes were in the process, corporate India also missed the landmark 2014 NALSA judgment which was pathbreaking in many aspects. While this could be attributed to the lack of knowledge of those who were making the changes within the workplace, one cannot ignore the fact that the changes were mostly cisgender centric, baring a few companies, and restricted to gender-neutral restrooms that mushroomed in the corridors. Till today I believe we had missed a great moment to make our workplaces belong to everyone by not paying attention to the 2014 NALSA judgment.
In the past year after the Supreme Court amended Section 377 on September 6, 2018 many more multinational companies and India based companies have joined the conversation of LGBTQI+ inclusion in their workplaces. This is an evolving conversation and organisations are still working on finding ways to identify what needs to be changed in the existing processes and policies. There is also resistance to these changes, like any changes would have.
As a queer activist and a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion professional I often find myself tugged between the activist space and the corporate D&I community. Below are a few points to keep in mind when as a company when we speak about LGBTQI+ inclusion in our workplaces and elsewhere.
Unlearn and be challenged
It is a noble thought if, as an employer, you'd want your organisation to be inclusive of LGBTQI+ persons. You have made your first step by making a commitment to yourself. But that alone would not make your workplace safe for LGBTQI+ persons.
You need to be ready to unlearn everything that has shaped your thoughts, language and actions. Be ready to be challenged, and have a beginner's mindset. Engage with your queer identified employees to understand the challenges they face in the office and how you can proceed. Create awareness about LGBTQI+ inclusion to every employee in your organisation. You need to have an organisation wide effort to bring in the change. Having your heart in the right place alone would not help.
There is no industry standard, yet
Remember that currently there isn't any industry standard and benchmark in India to define the best policy and benefits an employer could have for their LGBTQI+ employees. While having references and aiming to be competitive with other companies in the market, who are already ahead, will make things easier to move, it is also best to remember that we are still in nascent stage when it comes to making our offices inclusive of all LGBTQI+ persons.
Taking bold decisions and thinking out of the box would also make you a trendsetter in the market. If someone hadn't been bold, today we wouldn't have organisations in India that cover same-sex partners under medical insurance, or cover the cost of gender affirmation surgery for their employees.
Involve an expert from the community
If you do not have an in-house expert to work on your policies and process, consider hiring someone who can do it for you. Make sure that subject matter experts from the community are involved while you frame policies and benefits. Who can provide you better insight than the person who has lived experience?
In a time where it isn't easy to be a queer person, trying to make your organisation LGBTQI+ inclusive is the right step towards equality. It also means that you are signing up for some responsibilities that not many are ready to take up. In the process of inclusion, it is perfectly alright to be proud of the work you do, but do not let it become a charity mindset.
Our workplaces are evolving to belong to everyone and we are working towards that journey. What we are doing is the right thing to do at this point of time and this might still evolve. Let us also remember that we might also be called out at times for not doing much. Do not get self-righteous and defensive. Have a conversation or introspect on why we are being called out. As I said earlier, let us get into a beginner’s mindset. This will help us to keep pushing the envelope and move ahead.
Do not pink-wash
We have all noticed the surge in rainbows in the month of June. Businesses brand, but this should not be at the cost of the struggles of the community, and the support to the LGBTQI+ community should not stop with just branding your company.
I have noticed that one common thing most organisations or people who drive LGBTQI+ initiatives do is to look for a Pride parade in their respective cities to participate with branding. Do not do this unless you are invited by the organising committee of the parade. There are other ways to show your support and commitment.
Give back to the community
As you work on making your organisation diverse and inclusive, check if every aspect of the organisation reflects this value and culture. Expand your Corporate Social Responsibility to include organisations that work to empower queer persons. This will bring you closer to the community and build a longer relationship than rainbow branding.
Moulee is a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion professional. He specialises in corporate inclusion strategy and drives organisational change, policy and inclusive development programs.
Views expressed are the author’s own.