The quest for LGBTQ rights in India has gone through many crests and troughs. A historic moment was the reading down of Section 377 by the Supreme Court in 2018. The landmark judgement led to a fundamental shift in the rights of India’s LGBTQ citizens and paved the path for policy changes across the board—not least in the world of Indian business. But while there’s been some positive change since then, a lot still needs to be done.
In Queeristan, Parmesh Shahani, vice-president at Godrej Industries Ltd, draws from his decade-long journey in the corporate world as an out and proud gay man, to make a strong case for driving LGBTQ inclusion and reshaping India’s office culture.
Parmesh begins by sharing the life experiences that made him the advocate for LGBTQ inclusion that he is today—from founding the Godrej Culture Lab to now guiding India’s leading companies on their inclusion journeys through “jugaad resistance,” or what he calls a resourceful, solution-based opposition from within the establishment.
Being LGBTQ in India
The book traces the history of the LGBTQ community alongside the feminist movement as well as changes in the law, and explains the individual identities within the community. It also discusses what it means to be LGBTQ in India, and shares intimate and powerful stories of love and family. It also gives a sense of the marginalization of the community with nuggets like this: Statistics show that in economies with a longer history of LGBTQ rights, 3–7 percent of the adult population identifies themselves as LGBT. In India, the queer community cannot be mapped accurately as it has varied identities, some of which are yet unknown.
Why LGBTQ inclusion makes sense
Most businesses think diversity is only about women. It is not. And that’s something Parmesh stresses on, especially when driving home the benefits of diversity for corporates. Referring to a 2013 study of US companies by the New York-based Center for Talent Innovation, now called Coqual, he points out that consciously talking about diversity and inclusion (across different sections) makes an organization 45 percent more likely to increase its market share.
Clearly, LGBTQ inclusion is not just the fundamentally right thing to do—it translates to increased innovation and higher profits. It’s an opportunity not to be missed. This is a key message Parmesh sends out loud and clear, and wants India Inc. to capitalize on.
Through conversations with inclusion champions and business leaders who have systematically worked toward bringing changes in their LGBTQ policies, the book leads to action points to create meaningful change and enable the long marginalized community to live a life of dignity.
How to make your workplace LGBTQ inclusive
The author lays out a five-step guide for businesses to create a queer-friendly and inclusive work environment:
- Set up corporate policies and benefits for LGBTQ employees: Recognize the need to create provisions for members of the community and take action.
- Actively recruit LGBTQ employees: Create formal systems of inclusion to ensure that LGBTQ members are made a part of the workforce.
- Create an LGBTQ-friendly work culture: Foster a culture of inclusion within the organization. Focus on aspects like inclusive behavior and communication.
- Address specific challenges of trans employees: This is an area that needs a significant amount of work, with transgender people still facing a lot of bias at work.
- Be an advocate for LGBTQ issues: Call out discriminatory behavior, within or outside the organization, and become an LGBTQ ally in the true sense.
Industry giants like Godrej, Tata Steel, the Lalit group of hotels and many others have tapped into the power of diversity. Their transformation into LGBTQ-friendly workspaces has revolutionized the lives of their employees. But for India’s corporate spaces and societies to be more truly inclusive, we need all to be allies for change. Queeristan is nothing but a passionate appeal for change.