When will Indian corporates include ‘LGBT’ in their diversity programme?

While companies welcome the dissolution of Section 377, they will take a while to accept the change and promote it in their diversity and inclusion agenda.

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With the Supreme Court verdict pronouncing the same fundamental rights to the LGBT community as other citizens of the country, it is definitely a moment of victory for the lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders in India.

The Supreme Court scrapped the controversial Section 377 paving the way for far-reaching changes in the Indian society and its corporate world.

“The verdict is incredible in terms of the language, which is powerful and the Supreme Court judges in their wisdom have laid the ground for radical changes to happen in the country in the future,” says Parmesh Shahani, head, Godrej India Culture Lab.

Parmesh Shahani

“A lot of companies were hesitant to roll out the inclusion initiative earlier, because the law prevented them from doing so, but now there is no fear. In the past seven years, around 50 companies have become inclusive in supporting LGBT. Going ahead, I can see the number growing to 500.”

“This historic verdict is a welcome step, which has finally provided the LGBT community the chance to come out and be who they are while being respected and accepted in a society like that of India. This verdict is definitely going to change a lot of diversity policies in organisations,” says Bhasker Bhandary, senior director-human resources, Acer India.

Most HR leaders feel the decision adds an important dimension to the definition of diversity and inclusion (D&I). “Inclusion of diverse groups in the workforce, be it basis gender, ethnicity, education, culture or religion, has proven to be beneficial for the corporations as it has helped organisations’ decision-making process and outlook towards its key stakeholders, such as customers, become far more fertile. When employees feel involved, respected and connected, employers gain access to the richness of their ideas and problem-solving approaches,” says Paramjit Singh Nayyar, CHRO, Apollo Munich Health Insurance Co.

Paramjit Singh Nayyar

“Inclusion of diverse groups in the workforce, be it basis gender, ethnicity, education, culture or religion, has proven to be beneficial for the corporations as it has helped organisations’ decision-making process and outlook towards its key stakeholders, such as customers, become far more fertile. When employees feel involved, respected and connected, employers gain access to the richness of their ideas and problem-solving approaches.”

Shahani, who has been a strong supporter of the LGBT cause, says, “A lot of companies were hesitant to roll out the inclusion initiative earlier, because the law prevented them from doing so, but now there is no fear. In the past seven years, around 50 companies have become inclusive in supporting LGBT. Going ahead, I can see the number growing to 500.”

According to the findings of the global report ‘Open For Business’, released in Davos earlier this year, Indian cities, such as New Delhi and Mumbai, are on par with Bangkok and Manila when it comes to businesses that are open to the gay community. They fall in the ‘low-risk zone’. However, the working gay community has its own share of harassment and trauma at the workplace to deal with on a regular basis.

HR leaders in the industry have supported this bold move on inclusiveness of sexual inclinations in our society, which has been following the archaic 150-year old law.

Bhasker Bhandary

“In future, an inclusive workplace culture will be shaped where LGBT employees know they will be safe, valued and accepted for bringing their whole selves to work. This will lead to increased engagement and career satisfaction, and more open and respectful relationships with colleagues.”

It clearly brings the focus on how organisations need to pitch in for the Community to make them feel safe at work.

The report quoted leaders from Indian companies, such as Godrej, Tata Steel, Mahindra & Mahindra, Lupin Laboratories, Dr Reddy’s, Wipro and Tech Mahindra, who are open to including the Community in their diversity agenda.

“IBM has always been a workplace where everyone can bring their whole selves to work and express themselves freely. Diversity and inclusion are a conscious element of the equation in every aspect of our work decisions, because they simply can’t afford to be afterthoughts,” says Chaitanya N Sreenivas, VP & HR head, IBM, India and South Asia.

Chaitanya N Sreenivas

“IBM has always been a workplace where everyone can bring their whole selves to work and express themselves freely. Diversity and inclusion are a conscious element of the equation in every aspect of our work decisions, because they simply can’t afford to be afterthoughts.”

However, the other segment believes that the change will happen over a longer period of time, which will require active efforts from the establishments.

“It’s a political issue, and the way real politics is playing out in India, the whole society is divided. The liberal mindset, which fosters such a development, is still missing. The Supreme Court’s bold verdict will provide an impetus to diversity, as it makes for a business case as well,” pointed out another HR leader.

Organisations will have to take a neutral view of differences because it is individual preference that has to be respected.

It’s a political issue, and the way real politics is playing out in India, the whole society is divided. The liberal mindset, which fosters such a development, is still missing. The Supreme Court’s bold verdict will provide an impetus to diversity, as it makes for a business case as well.

At the organisational level, there are three major aspects that need to be looked upon. First, HR policies have to be made inclusive with non-discrimination clauses added. Second, same benefits need to be offered to everyone, and finally, a culture of inclusion has to be created.

The companies will have to devise programmes and frameworks that augment existing processes to provide equal opportunity to everyone to showcase their talents and abilities. In short, the Community should feel happy and included.

This can be ensured by promoting LGBT causes and resource groups; actively hiring people from the LGBT community; talking about LGBT issues; reaching out to B-schools; and creating agents of change.

Many organisations in the country have already had strong D&I agendas. Accenture India was the first among the corporates to offer medical cover for sexual reorientation surgery in 2016. Godrej’s medical scheme covers same-sex partners of employees. The Royal Bank of Scotland, which was already providing medical/hospitalisation benefits to same-sex partners, is now planning to extend relocation and adoption benefits to same-sex couples too. Deutsche Bank and Bank of America also have progressive policies that are applicable to LGBT employees as well.

The verdict has definitely given the much-needed space to the LGBT community and is certainly a move in the right direction when it comes to shaping a more inclusive workplace.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Correction to last para:
    Do you know that being is a Gay/ Lesbian etc is a disqualifier in most militaries including US armed forces – US should not be our inspiration but since our lot appears tagged to behaviour in US – we should think why this rule exists in US military. Under no circumstances should we accept these behaviours as acceptable to Corporates. Most pathetic decision.

  2. People belonging to the LGBT community should be given due respect at the workplace and the HR department must ensure that no harrassment is being inflicted upon them. They must be viewed as any other employee at the company. However, it is not at all necessary to formulate separate inclusiveness policies for them, just because they are of a different sexual orientation. Talent, experience and expertise must continue to be the principal criteria when it comes to hiring.

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