BANGALORE: How many times have you heard homophobic water cooler jokes at your workplace? Jokes that reinforce the cliched assumptions of the homophobes. To reduce workplace bullying and intimidating stare downs, some companies in India have introduced inclusive HR policies for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT) community.
LGBT-friendly companies celebrate diversity and inclusion by covering sexual orientation in their policies and employee handbooks. The rationale for LGBT inclusion is an essential part of business for firms demonstrating diversity.
IBM India has initiated a reverse mentoring project where members of Employee Alliance for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Empowerment (EAGLE), an internal employee resource group, is paired up with senior employees to discuss issues ranging from alternative sexuality, queer pride events to career advancement. “The project sensitizes workforce on inclusiveness of sexual inclinations. The unique gay-straight collaboration is aimed at building awareness about LGBTs among employees, who cannot easily correlate with people not conforming to hetero-normative behaviour. The conversations between mentors and mentees will help segue naturally to other subjects like discussing their career paths,” said Kalpana Veeraraghavan, workforce diversity manager in IBM India.
Infosys Gays Lesbians and you (IGLU), the employee resource group for the LGBT community, was set up last year. “At Infosys, the focus has been to ensure employees have a safe and harassment-free work place irrespective of their sexual orientation. The members are further given a choice to declare if they are ‘out’ and are comfortable about others knowing about their orientation or ‘discrete’ where they would not like to disclose their identity to others,” said Nandita Gurjar, group head of HR at Infosys.
Gayglers, Google’s employee network group for LGBT employees, started in India in 2010. The company organized The Sixth Sense, a diversity week in 2010 with over 750 Googlers participating in the event, the company said in its Global Diversity & Talent Inclusion 2010 Report.
The momentum for a strong case for inclusion came with the Delhi High Court revoking Section 377 of the Indian Penal Pode decriminalizing gay sex between two consenting adults. “Since the Delhi High Court judgment in 2009, companies and employees are hungry to find ways to ensure they operate in an inclusive environment. If your company is not gay-friendly, you may start losing employees, future clients and revenue. It makes good business sense to be inclusive,” said Bunty Bohra, CEO of Goldman Sachs Services India.
Companies have a structured policy advocacy in place, but gender sensitivity among colleagues in the workplace is still abysmal. Vinay Chandran, ED of Swabhava Trust, an NGO that works with the LGBT community, said “In many ways, LGBT-friendly policies tend to be mere lip service. Companies are worried about productivity, not really about upholding rights of people with different sexual orientation.”
Elengovel, a software professional with IBM in Bangalore, who takes pride in being gay, says many people hide their sexual orientation to avoid any kind of prejudice at workplace. “They should come out of the closet to talk about their gender identity. Though many companies have inclusive polices, lack of sensitivity and awareness among colleagues is still a concern.”
Colleagues can be intrusive about martial status and sexuality that forces many of them to go into a shell. Mahesh Natrajan, a senior consultant with a Bangalore-based IT company, said the management didn’t have an inclusive policy till the time he was around in 2003. “I got the impression that leaders were advocating “a don’t ask, don’t tell policy” at best. I had specifically mentioned in my exit interview that I quit because the firm didn’t have a support group for the LGBT community, but they didn’t respond.”
The awareness has grown with time. Companies are offering diversity training to sensitive their employees about gender identity and expression at workplace. As a part of its overall diversity focus, Goldman Sachs expects all its employees to complete at least 2-hours of diversity training each year. The programmer also offers a curriculum “Out in the Open: Sexual Orientation in the Workplace.” “Research shows that an LGBT person who does not need to hide his/her sexual orientation can be 30-40% more productive in the workplace. Relationships and trust are key in our business. Hiding something about you can impact trust,” said Stephen Golden, head of diversity for Asia-Pacific at Goldman Sachs.
The company has 300 members as part of its LGBT Network in India. “The network has many managing directors who have stepped forward to become “MD allies”. These allies help champion inclusiveness, and act as a visible resource for people who may have questions relating to sexual orientation and the workplace,” he added.
( Times of India)