Section 377 has been in the news ever since the Supreme Court lifted the ban on "unnatural offences." For the LGBTQ community, this would obviously have presented real-world ramifications, more so in the bustling Indian workplace.
While the success of inclusion and diversity policies in the workplace will eventually depend on the strength of execution and adoption, it is still heartening to note the efforts being taken in that direction. In the end, the solution will be a three-way process. First, using the laws and the policies as the foundation. Second, building a culture around it. Third, ensuring every employee understands the policies, even those who may not be sensitized to such issues before.
Radhika Sharma, an HR manager with an FMCG company, put things into perspective. "With this judgment coming in, we will have to revamp our policies and code of conduct manuals to include all sections of the society in it. Once the process is done on paper, we will need to put it into action quickly," she said. Policy-making is only the first step, but an essential one.
A survey of 100 LGBT employees in India conducted by MINGLE (Mission for Indian Gay and Lesbian Empowerment) revealed that 40 percent were harassed at work. This harassment was mostly verbal.
Shailaja Pradhan, head of LGBT support group for a multinational company said: "It is the mindset that needs a paradigm shift for acceptance of people with sexual orientation diversity. Sensitization is one of the major agendas and this is what we keep driving through the year."
Here are a few excellent ways companies in India can drive the sensitization agenda.
- Use of technology. Creating websites, mobile apps and online support groups for the differently abled and genderqueer. Krishan*, an employee with a BPO shared his experience and said: "Once at work we were shown a video on how tough life is for them and the pain that they go through when we slander them verbally. Awareness can really bring a positive change in everyone."
- Counselling and having a go-to person. Many companies hire psychologists to counsel employees facing mental harassment in the workplace. This is needed as a lot of people face immense stress due to covering up their reality in order to blend in. Similarly, employees who have never come across such colleagues may have a lot of questions on how to break the ice with them and make them feel a part of their teams. Trained psychologists at work advise on both of the above fronts to ensure that inclusivity becomes a natural process.
- Busting barriers. Nysa Bhatt, managing director of a leading fashion house, said: "Stereotyping of queer people is the most significant contributing factor toward discrimination faced by them. In the fashion industry, gay men are often projected as effeminate." Providing a solution, Nysa elaborated that they have created an open work culture with lots of posters in the office educating employees about equality and acceptance. Further, ensuring shared cab pools creates an environment where employees get to know learn about each other.
- Teaching parent employees. Teaching "parent employees" about how to broach the topic with their children serves a two-way purpose. Firstly, employees become a lot more sensitive in the process, and second, they foster inclusiveness as a culture among the Gen Next.
- Awareness drives. Gaurav Bharti, HR head of a BFIS company in India, felt: "Seminars, workshops, sensitization programs built in at the time of employee induction as well as diversity initiatives—all of these help in bringing about visible harmony at workplace." Gaurav drives an initiative called A day in my life initiative for his colleagues where anyone (irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender) can talk about their life. And such personal interactions go where sometimes ordinary programs cannot.
The process of inclusion has to be a continuous one. The challenge is to drive the sexual orientation diversity agenda keeping in mind employees’ awareness levels and encouraging people to shed long-held beliefs. The intent is to build acceptance, not resentment.