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Inclusion is the best policy

Inclusion is the best policy

Dr Srinivas Ramchandra Siras was a well-known linguist who taught Marathi at Aligarh Muslim University for 22 years. In April 2010, the professor was found dead in his apartment after allegedly committing suicide. Despite his impeccable record Dr Siras had earlier been suspended by his college for 'gross misconduct'. There was no gross misconduct. Dr Siras was gay. His private moments with his partner were used as excuse to suspend him on grounds of morality. Dr Siras' death and his humiliation before that had made national headlines, but it is not a stray case of workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.

To study the status of the LGBT community in workplaces, MINGLE (Mission for Indian Gay and Lesbian Empowerment), an Indian think tank for LGBT rights, teamed up with Community Business, a Hong Kong-based non-profit organization. Almost 20% of those surveyed reported harassment at work, with most of the homophobic comments coming in the form of jokes or anti-gay rhetoric. Around 72% of these taunts were from co-workers. It was also found that 80% of corporate staffers have witnessed homophobic comments in their offices. The study also came up with recommendations for workplaces to be more inclusive and diverse in their hiring policies.

Some of these are:

1. Include LGBT-friendly clauses in company policy: Prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression as part of a written employment policy statement in India. Develop policy and procedure for handling LGBT-related bullying and harassment or workplace grievances and complaints. With overseas networks in 233 locations in over 100 countries and territories, the British Council employs a diverse group of employees, including LGBT individuals. (To read their Equal Opportunity Policy, click here)

2. Create a safe environment: Companies should take steps to create a safe working environment and reassure their LGBT employees by including a 'grievance handling mechanism' in their policy. Particularly in the Indian context, where there is no anti-discrimination law to protect LGBT employees in the workplace.

3. Provide anonymity: To the extent possible, the policy should provide anonymity to LGBT employees who aren't open about their sexual orientation. They should not fear filing a complaint if there is a possibility that they will be exposed and discriminated against.

4. Share policy during induction and training process: Companies in India looking to use their equal opportunity policy to make a positive impact on their company culture should share their policy during the induction process, often with senior leaders joining the discussion. Accenture's Equal Opportunity Policy, which includes reference to sexual orientation and gender identity, is communicated to employees in a number of ways like new joiner orientation, senior manager training, etc.

5. Conduct awareness sessions: Inviting LGBT speakers or advocates to share personal experiences with other employees helps in developing greater understanding. Annual trainings requiring employees to attend a minimum number of diversity training sessions per year can also help remove the stigma. Google's Gayglers India network is one of their most active and engaged employee resource groups. The network is aimed at creating an inclusive work environment by sensitizing staff and increasing awareness on LGBT issues

6. Conduct higher management training: Positioning diversity training as essential to effective management and leadership development will lead to creating an overall environment of support in the workplaces.

7. Organize reverse mentoring: Introducing reverse mentoring programmes where a senior manager is mentored by a more junior LGBT individual, will expose the senior manager to some of the challenges faced by an LGBT employee so that they can become an ally or supporter of change.

8. Create an inclusive corporate culture: Engage with LGBT staff via posters, emails or intranet pages, diversity meetings, etc. Communicate how the company supports and values its LGBT workforce. Infosys focuses on online chat sessions, play-reading and theatre workshops to create openness for all staff. The company also has a group called Infosys, Gays Lesbians and You (IGLU) that helps in better communication.

9. Offer benefits: Offer same benefits to employees in India to cover their same-sex partners regardless of the employee's marital status or gender identity. Companies can also offer LGBT-specific benefits or support, such as counselling or mentoring to employees in India.

Although corporate India is waking up to the inclusion of the lesbian and gay community, the hijra community is yet to find options for meaningful employment. For true inclusion, there now needs to be a focus on the inclusion of the hijra community as well.

It's not only about making a business case and improving profitability alone. As Parmesh Shahani of Godrej India puts it: "It's a journey of humanity and you want to bring a whole complete self to the workplace."

This article contains excerpts from MINGLE's LGBT Resource Guide for Corporate India.



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