LGBT inclusion at the workplace

By Archana Jerath October 16, 2018
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Fact: Diversity and Inclusion is a business imperative.

Fact: Diverse workforces create sustainable organizations.

Not a Fact: Diversity automatically translates into inclusion.

Organizations have begun a spree of diversity hiring particularly related to gender. There are two elements that the success of this entire approach depends on: whether the term gender itself is being redefined and also includes individuals with different sexual orientations, and whether the next step of inclusion is taking place to ensure that diversity is being leveraged.

LGBT inclusion is a grey area in the context of Corporate India. A venture capital firm LGBT Capital reports that the spending power of the global LGBTQ community in 2015 was $3.7 trillion, or around ₹254 trillion. If we put a microscope to the economic loss in India, there is a World Bank report which reports that India's loss in GDP due to homophobia was $32 billion, or 1.7% of the country's GDP.

Legally India has been making strides with respect to recognizing the rights of the LGBT community. The century old law, Section 377, was recently repealed to de-criminalize sexual orientation or relationship between two consenting adults of the same gender. The fundamental right to live and work with dignity was upheld. This landmark judgment is believed to have long-term impact, especially with companies which were worried about LGBT inclusion due to regulation issues. Equal opportunity and recognition of the fact that this preference is the right of the individual and within his or her personal space are the principles that the judgment was based on.

The range of inclusion trends has been wide for India. On one end of the spectrum are some organizations that do great work in this space and have scaled up to become equal opportunity providers. On the other end of the spectrum, there are many organizations that have yet to initiative any form of people practices to encourage talent from this segment.  When we see the global context, more Fortune 500 companies offer benefits to their LGBT employees, according to Catalyst, a diversity consulting firm. Also, as of 2017, 91% of Fortune 500 companies have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation.

These are positive indicators of the steps being taken for LGBT inclusion. Let us take a closer look at some companies in India and the types of practices they have instituted.

1. Godrej - Even before Section 377 was repealed, Godrej Industries was a trendsetter by becoming one of the few companies partnering on a UN initiative to fight prejudice and discrimination against gays and lesbians at the workplace. This was also done through a report called the UN Standards of Conduct for Business report for LGBTQ Inclusion.  It has founded the Culture Lab, which works with the internal D&I team to raise awareness about LGBT individuals in the workplace.  There were some significant policy changes that the company made. Employees are allowed to select gender when they join the company. Terminology such as 'spouse' has been changed to 'partner'. Also crucial to note is the fact that LGBTQ individuals are given a three-month paid break for primary care-giving if they choose to adopt.  Health insurance coverage includes same sex partners. The company's leadership has been extremely vocal about their support for the community and their efforts towards creating a safe workplace for LGBT employees.

2. RBS - One of the most forward-thinking moves from the organization was to include the provision of extended hospitalization benefits to same-sex partners of its employees. The company has decided to bear the cost of this provision, as well as a surrogacy leave policy provided irrespective of the gender of the partner. This was done to encourage their employees to express themselves without the fear of being judged or humiliated. Their approach is targeted towards creating a culture where all employees receive equal opportunity to grow into bigger roles.   

3. Infosys - This Indian IT employer has been one of the first few companies to create an employee resource group called "Infosys Gays Lesbians and You" (IGLU) to bring together their LGBT employees. The focus of the ERG is to encourage open discussions on policy changes that are needed and the support that can help LGBT employees perform better in the workplace. Infosys also works actively in hosting workshops and sessions to raise awareness and foster a culture of respect.

4. Intuit - This Bangalore-based IT organization is seen as one of the frontrunners in providing inclusion for LGBT individuals. It was voted one of the best companies to work for in 2017. Intuit has its own Pride Network and has been advocating for the creation of safe spaces in all offices. In addition, they offer regular counseling sessions where experts are brought in to offer advice to all employees. There is a consistent focus on building greater awareness around LGBT inclusion. Due to its efforts, Intuit has achieved a 100% rating on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index for many years in a row.

5. Barclays - One of the few organizations with a clear non-discrimination policy in India, Barclays made its diversity strategy stronger by sponsoring India's first LGBT film festival some years ago. They encouraged free dialogue and internal discussions about the business impact of inclusion. One of their biggest strengths was to ensure that the senior leadership was engaged in the process from the beginning. For example, the Barclays India CEO attended the opening night of the film festival. He also sent an internal communication to employees emphasizing the importance that Barclays attaches to equality of opportunity irrespective of gender identity and sexual orientation. 

Many other firms are also doing excellent work in this area, such as Google, which runs a voluntary employee group called Gayglers to raise awareness; Tata Steel, which is aiming to have 25% of its workers from diverse groups by 2020, of which 5% will be from the LGBT community; and Intel, which has the IGLOBE initiative towards LGBT inclusion that works as a support network and also conducts awareness sessions.

In addition, the Solidarity Foundation in Bangalore focuses specifically on helping transgender people find jobs and also mentoring them to be able to adapt to the workplace. 

These are some ways in which organizations are taking big and small steps towards LGBT inclusion. HR has a significant role to play as always by being the process owner and driver of future-focused interventions. Running a diversity initiative for this community is no longer about following a regulation or simply hiring a certain percentage into the workforce. Some concrete steps such as those below will need to be taken to make an impact.

  1. Regular and focused sensitization programs to enable individuals to overcome  their inherent biases and homophobic ideas.
  2. Development of policies that are gender-neutral and focused on zero-tolerance towards discrimination. Provisions should also reflect some requirements of this segment, such as medical health coverage for any transition-related procedures.
  3. Leadership buy-in forms the core of any inclusion strategy, and the same applies to LGBT. Company leaders need to demonstrate how they value the individuals for their performance and not due to their gender identity or sexual orientation.
  4. Forming buddy groups or support groups between those who are part of this community and those who are not is a good way to sensitize each segment to the other segment's thought process.
  5. Design induction processes that enable trans-employees to get extra time to scale-up and fit into the organizational culture, since many of them might be exposed to a corporate setup for the first time.

These are a few guidelines for the HR and Diversity & Inclusion practitioners to keep in mind as they focus their efforts towards LGBT Inclusion.

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