Why we need a mindset shift around LGBTQIA+ employees in the workplace and how we can get there

The LGBTQIA+ community in India has come a long way and now there are several laws in place to protect their rights and offer equal opportunities. However, even then, the ground reality in workplaces is different.

Many organisations have a number of policies in place to prevent discrimination against the queer community, but a lot of work yet remains to be done to allow for better inclusivity and visibility in the workplace and tackle inherent biases.

ACTIVATING A MINDSET SHIFT

The best way to empower a community is by equipping them to enter the workforce and perform at par with the majority. But this is easier said than done.

A mass mindset change is the first step towards eradicating discrimination against queer identities in the workplace.

“It is important to understand that queerphobia will always exist. The only way to effectively change the mindset of employees is through continuous and consistent sensitisation, awareness sessions, reality checks, and interactions with queer employees,” says Ankita Mehra, DNI Lead, Careernet, and an out and proud member of the queer community.

“Quarterly sessions, periodic reviews with queer employees and structured exit interviews to seek constructive feedback are steps being taken in this direction,” she adds.

“Many queer members who enter the workforce quit in a few months because they face hate and discrimination. It is important to reiterate the need for employers to take the responsibility for making their workplaces inclusive instead of the community adjusting to a rigid environment,” says Anshuman Das, CEO and Co-founder, Careernet.

Employee sensitisation, especially of the organisational leaders, HR coordinators, interview panellists, and recruiters, is definitely the number one effective measure that can tackle discrimination, he says.

Das adds that companies also need employee resource groups (ERGs) which comprise LGBTQ allies who support queer employees.

“These measures can help LGBTQIA+ employees feel included from Day 1,” he says.

Helping LGBTQIA+ community members become a regular part of the workplace is still an ongoing process in India despite the number of laws in our country and the world protecting queer identities.

In 2014, Supreme Court recognised transgender people as the ‘third gender’. It upheld that discrimination on the basis of gender identity is constitutionally prohibited in all areas of life, including employment. It passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 (Transgender Act) following this judgement.

This law prohibits both government and private bodies from denying or terminating employment or discriminating against transgender people on the basis of gender identity.

Two years ago, in another historic judgement, India decriminalised homosexuality and acknowledged that discrimination against homosexual people violated their constitutional rights.

In 1962, in the Southern Railway v. Rangachari case, Supreme Court upheld that the Indian constitution prohibits all manners of employment discrimination in the state.

In the KS Puttaswamy v. Union of India, 2017 case, the apex court also ruled that a person’s sexual orientation is a private issue; individual privacy is a fundamental right under article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Apart from the above cases, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that “all are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection without discrimination”, and the Human Rights Council Resolution 32/2 provides for “protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity”.

All the above instances show that when it comes to the legal stance, the queer community is protected against discrimination at least on paper.

WORKPLACE INITIATIVES THAT THE LGBTQIA+ COMMUNITY NEEDS

As a member of the queer community, Ankita Mehra lists the following initiatives that she would like to see becoming standard at workplaces:

1. Onboarding experience: When members of the community join an organisation, they experience gender dysphoria because most onboarding forms have only male and female as genders. This can be addressed by adding “others” as an option and letting them specify their preferred pronouns to make them feel included.

2. Binary dress codes: Organisations define dress codes that specify the clothes men and women should wear and lack gender-neutral clothing policies. The problem lies in putting binaries on clothes and assigning gender to them, which affects people who are crossdressers or prefer wearing gender-neutral clothes. It can be solved by revisiting the clothing policies and championing the idea that clothes have no gender.

3. Unconscious bias: When a member of the LGBTQ community interviews with an organisation, managers tend to have unconscious bias. This can be overcome by conducting sensitisation sessions. Managers are not aware and sensitive to the community by default. There is a need for additional support, and this is where ERGs are helpful.

4. Non-inclusive insurance policies: Insurance policies need to be gender-neutral that include members from the LGBTQ and PwD communities.

5. Unfair compensation packages: Employers need to ensure pay parity for talent from the LGBTQ community. Organisations need to have policies for the overall transition of transgender people. There is a need for introducing queer friendly policies, and this can be done by putting oneself in the shoes of the person going through the transition.

6. Inadequate leaves: Besides maternal and paternal leave policies, companies must introduce leaves for people who undergo transition. Such meaningful changes can be implemented when organisations involve members of diverse communities in their decision-making or policymaking process, as they are the best to tell what organisations can do right to make workplaces better and inclusive.

WHY WORKPLACE DIVERSITY IS IMPORTANT

“A diverse and inclusive workplace is one that makes everyone, regardless of who they are or what they do for the business, feel equally involved in and supported in all areas of the workplace,” says Sekhar Garisa, CEO, Monster.com.

Research by McKinsey has shown that diversity can help organizations increase innovation, rethink trying ways of thinking, and improve financial performance.

“Only if leaders and employees share a sense of inclusion, enabling them to contribute in a meaningful and deliberate manner, can organizations fully benefit from the perspectives of a diverse workforce,” Garisa says.

But diversity is not just about gender ratio; it is much more. This Pride month, Monster even introduced five pillars of diversity — PWD, sexual orientation, gender, parenthood, and age.

STEPS BEING TAKEN BY INDIAN COMPANIES TO BRIDGE THE GAP

Monster, the global employment solution brand, reached out to their Indian recruiters through a survey to understand what their policies are for the LGBTQIA+ community and get a list of roles where the community members can apply. An overwhelming response was received from 200+ recruiters across retail, marketing and tech industries.

“The survey showed that 64% of the respondents have currently open positions for LGBTQIA+ members in their organization. These figures reflect a huge change and widespread inclusivity in the job market,” says Sekhar Garisa, CEO, Monster.com.

Some other findings from the survey are:

  • 51% of respondent organizations are conducting diversity and inclusivity (D&I) trainings/workshops for their employees
  • 36% of the respondents also have counselling services available for the community members
  • 27% of the respondents provide special medical health benefits to the trans community employees

“Based on the findings, Monster identified the top 10 recruiters currently hiring for D&I on the platform namely TCS, Mindtree, HCL, and others. The open job positions were also shared with the job seekers who chose to not mention their gender and sexual orientation while registering on Monster,” Garisa adds.

Monster itself has a transparent hiring policy, learning programmes for people with diverse backgrounds, sensitivity training to understand unconscious bias, and has also launched a digital campaign called #ComeOutAsAlly.

As per Monster, 13% of the corporate workforce identify themselves as LGBTQIA+, which leaves room for 87% of the workforce to become allies.

“The burden of coming out has always been on the LGBTQ community, and we are aiming to change the narrative with the launch of this campaign encouraging more people to come out as allies,” explains Sekhar Garisa.

“This change in the narrative will put the onus on the allies to create a safe space for LGBTQIA+ peers to communicate freely and perform at their best in their workplaces,” he adds.

Monster is also prepping for TRIUMPH, a virtual career fair for women, PWD and LGBTQIA+ community in July where applicants can come and apply to 100+ companies hiring for D&I.

A mass mindset shift is never easy, but it is not impossible. Measures such as the above can go a long way in helping build normalcy around the conversation of gender identities in the workplace, and slowly but surely we can eradicate discrimination and bias against the queer community in India.

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