After Section 377, what is Corporate India doing?

 

By Swati Thakur April 2, 2019
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The LGBTQI community has been facing marginalization, societal ostracism, exclusion and inequities throughout India.  They have been pushed to live their lives in the periphery with a fear of reprisal and persecution, especially in the workplace. According to a World Bank study on the economic cost of homophobia on the Indian economy in 2016, the GDP loss from the exclusion of LGBTQI employees is reported at about 1.7 percent, which does not include the brain-drain of highly-qualified professionals who move to other countries that are more inclusive.

The culture of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in the workplace is perpetuated through attitudes, environment and policies.. Accordingly, the Indian workplace has little representation from the LGBTQI community, and even less in leadership roles.

Time and again, Corporate India has pointed out that little could be done to include and protect the interest of the LGBTQI population because of legal impediments, especially section 377 of the IPC.  Accordingly, barring a few select employers, there wasn't much done in terms of policies or organizational culture to create inclusive and equal opportunity workplaces.

The historic judgment towards inclusivity and equity

The Supreme Court of India decriminalized part of Section 377 in September 2018 that criminalizes consensual homosexual relationships and expression and allowed consenting adults to engage in any form of gender and sexual expression and relationships of their choice. The judgment upholds the rights of members of the LGBTQI community to life, dignity, liberty, equality and non-discrimination.

With this law now struck down by the Supreme Court, the corporate sector can work unhindered by law towards equity and inclusivity.

Creating inclusive, safe, dignified, equitable and sensitive work environments makes a lot of economic sense, even if the organization does not necessarily want to contribute to social welfare.

Inclusion and sensitivity also enable organizations to help employees unleash their full productivity as they bring their whole selves to work. It brings different perspectives to the table rather than just the majoritarian voices and ideas. Organizations can explore newer market opportunities to cater to the needs of the marginalized and stigmatized LGBTQI population. If nothing else, what they stand to gain from being inclusive are goodwill and a great brand image that can be leveraged in marketing and PR efforts.

What is Corporate India doing after the judgement?  

The initial period after the ruling saw most companies tweeting and  publishing content with hashtags such as 'Love is Love' and 'Pride wins over prejudice,' but have they taken solid measures to bring about inclusion?

In a previous article, we explored five corporations in India that made great strides with respect to LGBTQ+ inclusion policies and practices within a short span of time after the Supreme Court ruling, and some that already had such policies in place even before the judgement, such as Godrej, Intuit and Barclays. Let us now look at what other progress has taken place over the past six months apart from the notable cases from the previous article.

It has been observed that smaller organizations and startups are proactively working towards becoming gender-agnostic, inclusive, safe and equitable places to work.  Some are conducting sensitization programs, physical workspace-level changes and even bigger policy-level changes. It is possible for them to show such responsiveness, quickly make required changes and adapt mainly because of the openness, fewer processes and approvals and greater flexibility.

Many startups and smaller players are open to working and collaborating with service-providers and NGOs, such as the Solidarity Foundation, Periferry, Saathi, Community Business, Tweet Foundation and Interweave Consulting to identify LGBTQI persons, especially qualified trans persons, and hire them. They are also taking the support of these service-providers and NGOs to make requisite changes to enable seamless integration of the new hires into their workspaces, which includes sensitizing their existing employees.

One of the noteworthy examples is NestAway. This home rental aggregator based in Bengaluru has been consistently working towards becoming inclusive through several policy and office-level changes in the last year. They enlisted the help of Periferry and hired over 12 people from the transgender community. To make their office culture and employee attitudes more sensitive, they organized workshops for their entire team of 800. Having understood the need to become gender-agnostic, they redesigned their restrooms. They now have gender-neutral restrooms with signs on the doors that clearly state anyone can use them irrespective of their gender identity and expression.

Companies such as Kolapasi Takeaway food-chain (Chennai), DropTaxi (Chennai) and Bro4U home cleaning service (Bangalore) have hired between 10 to 40 employees each from the transgender community in various capacities and departments, such as packaging, billing, sales and marketing Third Eye Café (Navi Mumbai) has 6 trans employees, including a manager.

Bigger players are slowly yet steadily effecting changes

Apart from Godrej, Lalit Suri Hospitality Group has been making great strides towards inclusivity even before the 2018 verdict due to its commitment towards the UN Business Standards for Conduct. The company has specific policies drafted for hiring transgender employees. It spells out a strong anti-discrimination stand in recruitment and a dress-code policy that allows employees to dress in accordance with their full-time gender expression. The Group continuously organizes awareness and sensitization workshops for all its employees, has gender neutral restrooms and follows gender neutral communication. One of its nightclubs, Kitty Su, hosts fashion shows and drag shows featuring persons from the transgender community. The company also engages in community-level outreach programs for trans persons. Keshav Suri Foundation was launched in October 2018 as a platform for the empowerment of LGBTQI individuals through counselling, role models and skilling to earn a livelihood.  

Lalit Suri Hospitality Group, Godrej, Tata Steel, IBM, Accenture and Cognizant are some of the companies that are offering medical insurance to their employees where nominees can be same sex partners and, in some cases, adopted children and others who they live together with and consider family.

IBM, Tata Steel, Accenture and Lalit Suri Group also support medical expenses incurred in sex reassignment surgeries up to a specified sum and offer special leave for recovering from the procedures, where required.

Other positive changes

Gender-neutral restrooms are being put in place in more and more organizations.  

Myntra, e-Bay and other e-commerce and online service providers are offering LGBTQ+ themed advertising and content. Since most of their target audiences are young, they are able to strike a chord with them.

Apart from hiring trans persons, some of these organizations like Medica Super-specialty Hospital (Kolkata) and VLCC (Hyderabad) are also engaging at the community-level to train and up skill them to help earn respectable positions with good remuneration.  

Google, Godrej, Lalit Group and several others have instituted support groups for their LGBTQI employees.

These changemakers aside, several companies have organized sensitization workshops and sessions, talks and discussions for their employees in the 6 months post the verdict. The top management and leaders have consistently and continuously verbalized their support and inclination towards making workspaces inclusive, equitable and safe. We do hope that, despite the slow pace, Corporate India goes beyond tokenism and verbal assurances to create workspaces where their employees can bring their whole selves and work freely. 

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