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15 Ways To Make The Workplace Inclusive For The LGBTQIA+ Community

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Written by: Ritushree

The LGBTQIA+ community is one of the most stigmatised communities in India. The patriarchal society is yet to accept members of the community. People belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community are often at the receiving end of discrimination and harassment. Rejections, slurs and taunts are a part of our daily lives.

When I tried to come out as a transgender woman, I got a lot of criticism and became the butt of every joke. Negative environments or reactions deter folks of the LGBTQIA+ community from coming out as their true selves. An unfriendly/unwelcome work environment adversely affects the mental health and productivity of queer folks at work.

lgbtq rights
Representative Image. (Source: flickr)

A safe workplace for LGBTQIA+ folks has the potential to become a lifeline. There is also a business case for inclusion that corporate India needs to understand. Studies have shown discrimination against LGBTQIA+ employees at work has a significant negative impact on revenues. According to a 2014 report by the World Bank, India has lost up to 1.7% in GDP because of homophobia.

Having a diverse workforce and an inclusive work culture has proven benefits for a company’s commercial success. A robust D&I (Diversity & Inclusion) agenda also attracts and retains the best talent and builds brand value in the long term. Companies should know by now: people thrive when they are at work as themselves.

As a D&I practitioner, this is my list of 15 things that companies can do to make their workplaces more LGBTQIA+ friendly:

1. The Agenda

The first step towards making an organisation inclusive is to prepare an inclusion statement that communicates the organisation’s agenda on how they believe a workplace should be for folks from the LGBTQIA+ community and what changes they’re going to be making to make that inclusion happen.

This message should come from top management as it would have a significant impact on the workforce and assure them of the organisation’s commitment to inclusion.

The mission statement should include why the organisation is interested in implementing an inclusion plan for the LGBTQIA+ community. Inclusion shouldn’t be happening for corporate social responsibility or compliance but equal opportunity, as the queer community is not asking for sympathy but equal rights.

Before applying for any job, LGBTQIA+ candidates check for the company’s inclusion statement or agenda. Inclusion statements should make LGBTQIA+ candidates feel welcome and also promise them a safe workplace culture.

2. The Policy

Policies on diversity, equity and inclusion shouldn’t only be anti-discrimination policies. They should be policies that promise to make the workplace safe for candidates from diverse backgrounds and make space for them to be who they are.

A workplace is like a second home, given just how much time people spend there. The workplace should be safe for queer folks to come out without fearing discrimination and harassment. An effective D&I policy shall ensure that such a safe environment exists and is functional through all levels of the organisation.

Moreover, having a D&I policy does not guarantee inclusion. Ensuring its effective implementation without any deviation should be the goal.

3. Zero Tolerance On Discrimination And Harassment 

lgbtqia+ rights
Representstive Image.

An anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy and its successful implementation are the keys to making the workplace genuinely safe and inclusive.

Organisations should implement effective policies to ensure safety at all stages and ensure that no person shall be discriminated against for their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expressions. From hiring to promotions, an anti-discrimination and harassment policy should be active.

It’s also essential to let the workforce know every now and then that these policies exist to keep them safe and are being implemented with commitment. Such practices should include advertising gender-neutral job descriptions. Letting people know that job openings don’t have gendered expectations attached to them will help organisations attract the best talent.

Organisations can develop their anti-harassment policies along the lines of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, which can include employees from the LGBTQIA+ community.

4. Workplace Infrastructure

Washrooms are a big infrastructural barrier that excludes transgender folks at the workplace. They’ve been harassed and discriminated against for their choice of using a particular washroom. Organisations working on building an inclusive work environment for transgender people should either build gender-neutral washrooms or provide transgender persons access to the washroom of the gender they identify with or a separate washroom for them.

Denying trans folks access to the washroom of the gender they identify with qualifies as discrimination. Moreover, while building washrooms, organisations should consider the needs of non-binary employees.

During the lockdown last year, Mphasis, an IT company, introduced gender-neutral restrooms in their offices across India.

5. Say ‘No’ To Dress Codes

Representative Image.

Many organisations still have a dress code for their employees. These dress codes are based on a binary understanding of gender and exclude employees who are non-binary and gender-fluid. Regulations like this impose expectations on employees to adhere to society’s norms on what is expected, appropriate, and the like.

Clothing is a crucial form of self-expression. Dress codes, if any, should set guidelines in consultation with the employees and create an atmosphere that is safe for employees to be who they are.

6. Inclusive Job Hiring

If the hiring processes are not inclusive, chances are very low that an organisation will become inclusive. Companies need to be mindful while drafting and posting job descriptions. Use gender-neutral terms and emphasise your company’s concerted efforts to make the workplace more inclusive.

The HR Team and team leads should be trained in how to interview LGBTQIA+ candidates. Language is key, and interviewers need to know what to ask and what to say and not say to candidates from the community. The process should be as transparent as possible to eliminate biases and discrimination.

7. Documents Have No Gender

Onboarding marks the beginning of an employee’s journey in the company. Therefore, it must begin on an inclusive note. A gender-neutral data form is a good place to start. Provide options for genders other than male and female.

Leave it on the employee to communicate the gender expression of their choice. Instead of asking for “spouse” on insurance forms, ask for their partner’s name. This would be an inclusive step not just for members of the LGBTQIA+ community but also cis-het employees.

8. Support And Benefits

Representaive Image.

An inclusive workplace is a space where employees from the LGBTQIA+ community feel safe to come out. Coming out can be highly stressful and traumatic if the workplace isn’t safe. An inclusive, safe and supportive environment at work would go a long way in pushing for the growth of the LGBTQIA+ talent in your company.

Provide mental health support, extend unique benefits for LGBTQIA+ employees that support them and their partners and in their endeavours to further the interests of the community.

9. Support For Transgender Employees

The inclusion of transgender employees in an organisation requires special care. Some employees may join after their transition, some may transition during the job, and some may not prefer transitioning medically.

Organisations shall take extra care of these employees in the workplace. From washrooms to documentation, they will need support from the company. Housing remains one of the biggest concerns — organisations hiring transgender employees should provide or assist these employees in finding trans-friendly accommodation.

Trans employees will require help in processing essential documentation like getting a bank account, insurance, and managing or changing their legal and dead names. While an employee is going through transition, the organisation should be accommodative about their leaves and work timing as this is a very tough journey.

Organisations should also provide monetary assistance for transgender employees opting for a transition during the job as no health insurance policy covers gender affirmation surgery.

10. Employee Resource Groups

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Employee Resource Groups (ERG) are constituted at work to nurture an inclusive environment at the workplace. The primary focus of an ERG is to support the community members, listening and resolving their issues, raising the issues and recommendations before the management. It is that space at the workplace where the members can speak without fear, consult, suggest and raise issues affecting them.

Effective ERGs help organisations understand and keep track of the implementation and success of their policies. Moreover, ERGs help and support the community members and allow organisations to achieve commercial success. Without a functional Employee Resource Group, a workplace cannot be truly inclusive.

11. Becoming Sensitive

Sensitising and helping the employees address their conscious and unconscious biases about the LGBTQIA+ community creates the path for inclusive work culture.

Inclusion at the workplace without training and sensitising the employees wouldn’t mean much. Educate your cisgender heterosexual employees on gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. Companies need to guide their workforce on how they should conduct themselves better, especially with and around their fellow colleagues from the LGBTQIA+ community.

They need to know what to say/not to say. For example: how no one should ask a transgender or non-binary person — their dead names, private lives, the transition process, and so on. All in all, intrusive behaviour is a big no-no.

Organisations can train their employees internally through their DE&I (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) lead or externally by taking professionals’ help.

12. Visibility Is Key

pride parade
Representative Image. (Source: flickr)

If your organisation is inclusive, let the world know. It will help in brand building, attracting LGTQIA+ employees and will send out a clear message that the organisation is serious about the inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community. Organisations should participate in larger events like the Pride Parade and should encourage employees to be a part of it.

Another significant way of participating and communicating to the LGBTQIA+ community that you welcome them to your workplace would be to participate in job fairs. Organisations can reach out to LGBTQIA+ candidates and send a message to the market about their inclusivity. Celebrations of significant dates in LGBTQIA+ history at the workplace is another way of making the workplace inclusive.

Things you can do to promote inclusivity for the community are endless, so give it some serious thought and get started.

13. Recognition

Recognising and appreciating the accomplishments of LGBTQIA+ employees at the workplace is another way through which the organisation can send a message to queer employees that they care for them. Make the success stories visible, loud and clear to lower the attrition rate and better the retention rate.

It also boosts the morals of the LGBTQIA+ employees and motivates them to strive to achieve. They are the face of your organisation: celebrate them, cherish them.

14. Encourage Allies

When the organisation does not encourage people outside the LGBTQIA+ spectrum to become an ally of the community, a gap is created between the two groups. Effective implementation of DE&I policy should not be confined to the workplace.

The ethics of inclusion and non-discrimination should also reflect in the mentality of the employees who are NOT from the queer community. Allies, in this case, cisgender heterosexual folks, exercise a lot of power, and without them, no workplace can successfully become inclusive.

Encourage and include allies in LGBTQIA+ celebration, recognise their efforts, include their representation through ERGs, take their valuable suggestions and make them feel inclusive. An inclusive work environment should be inclusive for all.

15. Achieve One Goal, Set The Next One

Without setting targets that need to be achieved, an organisation cannot measure the success of the inclusive policies they’ve implemented.

Some of the goals that you could start with could be fixing a minimum percentage of LGBTQIA+ employees that the organisation must have at all times and that all related processes like hiring, onboarding are also inclusive. Don’t be complacent because there will always be scope to be better, so move on to setting the goal after you’ve achieved the first one.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is a continuous process. Without setting, achieving and setting the next goal, the workplace cannot evolve.

These are only a few steps to make a workplace inclusive for LGBTQIA+ employees. That said, there are endless ways to make the workplace inclusive for queer folks. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is an ever-evolving process and organisations should always try to improve for the better every day.

About the author: Ritushree is a transgender woman (she/her), corporate lawyer, D&I campaigner, and LGBTQIA+ activist. 

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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