The Rainbow Amidst June’s Dark Clouds 0

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Despite the inroads made towards LGBTQIA+ rights, LGBTQIA+ employees continue to face discrimination at work. Becoming a company that hires and nurtures LGBTQIA+ talent requires more than just not discriminating against them—it’s recognizing and celebrating their differences and building an inclusive and supportive work environment.

Though several organizations have come up with culture labs, inclusive policies, sensitization workshops and allyship programs, the fact remains that much needs to be done to make the LGBTQIA+ community feel safe enough to “come out of the closet” and embrace their identities at the workplace.

It’s that time of the year again – the time to Celebrate Pride!

While several organizations, especially the global MNCs, have changed their logos to reflect pride colours, sent out congratulatory messages over email, and have taken to social media to declare allyship towards the LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and, asexual) community, the truth remains that the culture of most organizations is far from inclusive towards the LGBTQIA+ community. Inclusion, as defined by the dictionary, refers to “access of marginalized communities to resources that they need.” In the organizational context, these could mean being promoted, being given cream work, being justly rewarded and even being invited for a postwork celebration.

Culturally, India is known for being a patriarchal and conservative society. Conversations around same-sex sexuality (even heterosexuality) are taboo. In that light, homophobia is rampant, even in the urban parts of the country. Arguably, though, before British colonization, India was said to be tolerant towards homosexuality with references in mythological scriptures and statues in the Khajuraho temple. In fact, with the Hijra community being revered as auspicious and celebrated during festivals, there was at least awareness about same-sex relationships. However, the issues related to the community were often swept under the carpet and remained largely invisible in mainstream discussions, which resulted in marginalization and discrimination of the LGBTQIA+ community which has only increased and multiplied over the years.

India decriminalized homosexuality on 6th December 2018 in a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court. However, did this make things better for the LGBTQIA+ community? The answer to that is a ‘Big No’! And let me tell you why. While being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community is no longer a crime, but is there a law to protect them from any discrimination at work (or even outside for that matter)? Again, the answer is NO. Given the internationally accepted figure of 5% to 10% of the population belonging to the community, this puts roughly 7 to 14 crore Indians at risk of being discriminated against. And, given the population distribution, most of them would be in the current workforce.

Leadership, as we know it, is one of the main determinants of culture. Not only do leaders role model desired behaviors, but they also reward behaviors that they want to promote and have the power to punish the behaviors that they want to see less of. If they go out of their way to advocate inclusivity, it is natural that their followers would follow suit and slowly but steadily the culture of the organization would change.

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Though several organizations have come up with culture labs, inclusive policies, sensitization workshops and allyship programs, the fact remains that much needs to be done to make the LGBTQIA+ community feel safe enough to “come out of the closet” and embrace their identities at the workplace.

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Many people might wonder why is it important to come out at the workplace – isn’t the workplace a place to work? What they don’t realize is that their actions are still pro-heterosexuality. Just because you don’t talk about your sexuality, doesn’t mean it isn’t apparent. Something as simple as being allowed to keep a picture of your spouse at your desk is a celebration of your heterosexual nature. An LGBTQIA+ person wouldn’t be able to keep a picture of their partner at their desk without attracting quizzical looks and raised eyebrows (in addition to certain overt reactions, jokes, and snide homophobic remarks).

While several “progressive” organizations have made ‘discrimination on the basis of sexuality’ punishable, subtle sexuality-based discrimination remains prevalent and there isn’t much one can do to prevent that as evidence might be limited. The ones that have succeeded in at least reducing discrimination may still need to put in some additional work to make the members of the community feel included. Shore et. al. (2011) stated that inclusion has parts to it: belongingness and uniqueness. While organizations are trying hard to focus on equality and making people feel included, the focus is primarily on being treated equally and blending with the crowd, thereby leading to belongingness. However, they forget the other important aspect – uniqueness!

This is the tougher part to work on as it requires you to put in an extra effort to approach someone and acknowledge their differences, let them know it is ok to be themselves and that their differences are recognized. This could include just asking them about the well-being of their partners, letting them dress the way they want, complimenting the one wearing the flashy outfit to work (rather than rolling your eyes and asking them to be “normal”), asking them what pronouns they’d prefer rather than just assuming, using gender-neutral terms and many other small gestures that could demonstrate that you care.

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And all of this starts with leadership. Leadership, as we know it, is one of the main determinants of culture. Not only do leaders role model desired behaviors, but they also reward behaviors that they want to promote and have the power to punish the behaviors that they want to see less of. If they go out of their way to advocate inclusivity, it is natural that their followers would follow suit, and slowly but steadily the culture of the organization would change.

While gender sensitization and other similar workshops are great, often they lead to negative consequences. The ones who need it the most don’t attend due to a “business priority” at the time, others feel that their time was wasted and lash out against the LGBTQIA+ person they feel was the reason behind the workshop and the ones that happily attend the same are the ones who (ironically) don’t need it. They, however, create awareness around the topic, and that in itself is a win, but it’s time to do more. It’s time we go beyond this superficiality and be the change we want to see in the world around us.

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Hence, we need to implore our leaders to come out of their shells and accept everyone as they are and take a step forward, and celebrate what’s unique in the individual. You never know, it may be returned manifold. It’s known that people don’t leave organizations, they leave managers. Maybe, you’ll be the manager that no one wants to leave because of that one small gesture of yours. Studies have shown the benefits of inclusion for organizations too – it leads to a more motivated workforce, promotes organizational citizenship behavior that leads to greater productivity, and finally greater organizational outcomes. Sounds like a win-win to me.

So, leaders, please take a call and decide what you’d like to do

– ignore individual differences or take that one step forward and make someone’s day. The choice is yours. Like Maya Angelou said

– “Try to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud!”

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Danish is an accomplished HR Professional with around 11 years of work experience across diverse industries like BFSI, Pharma, Healthcare, Manufacturing, Fashion & Retail, and Edtech in both Centre of Excellence as well as HR Business Partnering Roles. Currently, he is working as the Vice President and HeadHuman Resources at Quadrific Media Pvt Ltd. He is also pursuing a PhD in Human Resources (Diversity & Inclusion) from KJ Somaiya Institute of Management. Danish has played a vital role in solving business challenges and scaling organizations from the ground up. His areas of expertise include Organisation Development, Learning & Development, Talent Management, HR Business Partnering, Employee Engagement, and Performance Management. He has also received a variety of awards, accolades, and certifications for the uniqueness and effectiveness of his initiatives and interventions.  

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