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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.