Beth Ford [a1] became the CEO of Land O’ Lakes, an agribusiness firm, in 2018. She made news not because she identified as a female, but because she was “the first openly gay woman to run a Fortune 500 company.”
Fast forward to today and 93% of Fortune 500 businesses have included sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies, 91% have gender identity protections clearly documented and 65% offer transgender-inclusive benefits.
Why? Because a gender-diverse employee base “increases [a2] the pool of experiences, knowledge, values, and skills within an organisation.”
In simpler terms, inclusion and diversity are correlated to greater innovation and team performance.
These were global stats. Back home, equality for the LGBTQ+ community, especially in the workplace, still lags. But that doesn’t mean Indian firms don’t show up on the radar. They do.
After all, solely on the consideration of the total number of people affected, India is the top country to take significant steps towards greater equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.
Why? Because it is the most populated country in the world to pass the landmark judgement of decriminalizing homosexuality. It was the strike down of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in September 2018 that laid the groundwork for better protections for the LGBTQ community in the workplace and beyond.
Closing the Gap: Equality for the Entire Spectrum
In the past few years, companies in India have made progress, slow though it might be, on two fronts. One, hiring more gender-diverse people and two, making the workplace safer for them.
Here are a few organisations who are leading the charge:
In 2016 [a3], Barclays hosted a workplace talk on LGBT concerns, and only 40 odd people attended it. Three years later, about 250 to 300 people actively participated in the same event, which is now held quarterly.
The IT firm canned its Chief Diversity Officer in 2018 [a4], Richa Gautam because she harassed and discriminated against an employee for his sexual orientation.
Royal Bank of Scotland (India):
RBS [a5] India began offering medical benefits to same-sex partners and extending surrogacy leave to all, irrespective of the gender of your partner, even before the historic ruling of Section 377. The bank became the first company in the country to do so.
The India [a6] unit of the investment bank now offers medical insurance and relocation benefits to everyone, including live-in and LGBTQ+ partners.
The [a7] Walt Disney owned media firm provides maternity, paternity, IVF, surrogacy and adoption benefits to its LGBTQ+ employees from July 2019. This is besides extending health insurance coverage to them.
Medica Superspecialty Hospital:
The hospital [a8] in Kolkata takes a step further than merely hiring people from the transgender community. It helps up-skill them through a tie-up with a vocational institute.
There are many more examples of corporations in India working on inclusivity.
They prove, without a doubt, that India is working towards closing the gap.
Follow in the Footsteps Of Giants
The adage ‘where the giants go, the rest follow’ is valid for a reason. With larger companies paving the way for LGBTQ+ inclusivity, the others are likely to follow suit.
In the case of equality for the entire LGBTQ+ community in a country like India, it is a positive sign.
Moreover, if the stats below are any indicator, it also opens doorways to a larger talent pool for companies.
- There are around 4.9 lakh trans people in India and that’s a conservative estimate.
- 65% of the people in the LGBTQ+ community consider HR/diversity policies as a chief factor before deciding to join an organisation.
- By World Bank estimates, the loss in GDP due to homophobia and transphobia is up to $32 billion In India.
Remove the statistics, and it whittles down to this: when a company’s HR policies are not inclusive of the entire spectrum, they lose out on a massive talent pool and hence revenue.
Making Workplaces Truly Inclusive
Now that you have a clear picture of what others are doing for the pride and why you should follow the same path let’s tackle how you can do it:
Sensitise the Teams:
First and foremost it is critical to bring a change in the mindset of your teams. Sensitise your staff to help them do away with both conscious and unconscious bias.
Remember, this isn’t going to be a one-time exercise. It has to be a conscious effort and the leaders MUST lead by example.
Inclusive Policies and Their Implementation:
Create hiring, benefits, and workplace policies that are truly inclusive and go beyond lip-service. A clear, zero-tolerance policy on phobia, discrimination or harassment is the first step.
However, merely having policies does not work. There needs to be an unbiased implementation. Similarly, adequate processes should be in place to check the misuse of these policies.
Demonstrate Your Support:
As a company and a brand, you must be a vocal advocate for equality. Show public support for the LGBTQ+ community beyond merely looking at it as a PR exercise. Encourage the leaders and teams to participate in pride parades, events, etc. Organise internal team events to help your LGBTQ+ staff overcome any inhibitions and feel an integral part of your organisation.
Lastly, enable your LGBTQ+ employees by giving them information on policies that protect them and measures that benefit them like insurance coverage.
The goal should be to step away from tokenism and practice active equality.
Equality For LGBTQ+ is a Work in Progress
India Inc. has made strides on the right path and laid the foundation for inclusive organisational culture, but more, much more needs to be done. Because creating a work environment where all employees feel safe, respected and dignified is a work in progress.
It takes putting in place HR policies that not only benefit LGBTQ+ individuals but also are intolerant to discrimination, exploitation and abuse.