While the impetus provided by legal reforms set the ball rolling for the LGBTQIA+ community, the corporate sector has a major role to play in promoting inclusivity, says Rupali Kaul
The reading down of section 377, the decision legalising consensual adult same-sex relationships in 2018, creation of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019 and the inclusion of transgender persons in paramilitary forces in 2020 have been some monumental milestones in building an equal and inclusive ecosystem for the LGBTQIA community. These laws and initiatives have set the premise in place, but a large part of the onus lies with organisations in the corporate sector to create adequate avenues to implement these changes. Today, we see a genuine interest among corporations to be inclusive when it comes to individuals from the LGBTQIA. It has become a priority for many organisations. They have started with multiple initiatives to back individuals from the LGBTQIA community but many organisations are still at a nascent stage in their journeys.
What is it that organisations need to do to help their workplaces in becoming inclusive in the truest possible sense?
Ensuring inclusion that goes beyond cultural symbols
Creating a sustainable and inclusive environment for LGBTQIA individuals has to go beyond tokenism, mere symbolic actions, checking boxes for diversity goals. With the pride month here we see rainbow colours streaked everywhere, organisations signalling their support to the LGBTQIA community in their marketing and on social media platforms. Social media and advertising have the potential to impact attitudes and opinions in society. Symbols do play an important role as they show visible commitment to the inclusion journey creating awareness around the topic, but what is important to note is whether such branding and advertising initiatives align with some real actions.
The first step towards building the right culture is creating awareness in the workforce by educating them. Most initiatives to enhance inclusiveness fail not because of malintent but a lack of awareness. The employees need to know about the ground realities of the LGBTQIA community, who they are, their challenges and their aspirations. It will help filter unconscious bias and demystify myths around their LGBTQIA colleagues to aid the organisation’s commitment to be inclusive. Apart from this, being trained on using inclusive language and calling out inappropriate behaviour will not only improve their knowledge but also encourage employees to engage in candid conversations with colleagues from the LGBTQIA community, making them feel more included in the organisation.
Revisit your policies and processes
Having created awareness on the topic, it is the key to strengthen your policies by reviewing them with an inclusive lens. Policies impacting the touchpoints in LGBTQIA employees’ professional and personal life cycle need to be reconsidered. Policies should not only provide equal benefits but at the same time empower them with equal opportunities to learn and grow. Some changes we see today in many organisations are– an inclusive hiring policy, extending health insurance benefits to domestic partners, gender-neutral sexual harassment policy, health insurance benefits covering hormone therapy and gender confirmation surgery for employees seeking to transition, parental policies, HR systems and documents that are inclusive of genders and personal pronouns, having gender-neutral washrooms and revising the dress code so that it is gender-inclusive et al.
Understanding that the inclusion of the LGBTQIA community in the corporate sector is still at an early stage, individuals from this community still look for acceptance in the organisation. Hence, it becomes essential to keep employees from the community engaged by connecting them with like-minded people by initiating pride programmes, creating ERGs (Employee Resource Groups), having inclusive work-family initiatives to explicitly include non-traditional families, amongst other such activities. These initiatives will help enhance employee experience and create allies within the organisation.
When addressing concerns revolving around LGBTQIA inclusion, anti-discrimination policies and employee resource groups (ERGs) are mostly seen as the first steps to establish a more inclusive environment. As important as these are, at times, they may not have the intended impact. One reason here is the challenge around ‘coming out with their identity’ in the workplace. It could be the first step for them to create a connection with colleagues in the workplace, giving them the freedom and ease to work productively. However, employees from the LGBTQIA community may feel uncomfortable revealing their identity through day-to-day casual conversations with their colleagues. There is continuous social pressure that keeps them from opening up. Removing the various pressures LGBTQIA employees feel to hide their identities may appear intimidating but encouraging everyday conversations, casual interactions, continuous listening and learning from their experiences may become more important than just policies and processes. It is such small gestures, daily conversations that can really make a difference.
Another challenge is their underrepresentation in the corporate world. Being the only one, or one of the few causes a lot of anxiety and isolation. The solution to this is only through hiring more from the community and giving them the environment to grow and open up. This will set the right example and provide role models for future employees to look up to within the organisation.
Overcoming these challenges and social barriers is not going to be easy. But with the growing awareness across organisations and the impetus given by legal reforms in this direction will go a long way in creating the ideal rainbow workspace which embraces the LGBTQIA community with respect and love.
(The author is the Operations Head of Marching Sheep, an HR advisory firm.)