While the success of inclusion and diversity policies in any workplace will eventually depend on the strength of execution and adoption, it is true that more Indian employers are actively making efforts towards including people of all genders and orientations.
The approach to creating LGBTQ friendly workplaces has to be multi-pronged. First, employers must understand the scope of the law while going beyond the basic minimums offered by it, to create inclusive policies for all employees, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Second, every organization needs to build a culture of inclusion through engaging gender sensitization programs. Finally, it is important to have a culture of learning, where policy-makers learn from the community as well as allies, and have conversations, rather than taking a unidirectional approach.
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As Shailaja Pradhan, head of a 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. Gender 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 create a work environment more friendly to the LGBT community.
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 diverse 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 gender sensitization is achieved so that inclusivity becomes a natural process.
Busting barriers: Nysa Bhatt, managing director of a leading fashion house, said: "Stereotyping of LGBTQ 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 a LGBTQ friendly and 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 and 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, gender 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 to create a LGBTQ friendly environment 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.