On September 6, 2018, the Supreme Court of India passed a historic judgement to read down Section 377, giving freedom to millions of LGBTQIA individuals who were living in the dark shadows of this draconian law.
What followed was a celebration with rainbow colours everywhere, on and off social media, including an outpouring of support from corporate India and consumer brands that found creative ways to paint themselves in rainbow colors!
While these initiatives are encouraging, the question is, can someone go from one extreme where there is zero acknowledgment of the existence of this community to the other extreme of wooing them? Is LGBTQIA inclusion only about changing logos into colourful rainbows? Absolutely not!
Let’s draw a parallel with inclusion of people with disabilities at the workplace. Can an organisation be welcoming of people with disabilities (PwD), just by positive branding with icons depicting disability everywhere? What would be required is concrete work on inclusive hiring, relevant policies and benefits, accessible infrastructure, workplace accommodations and empathetic culture which can ensure that members of the PwD community can have productive and successful careers. Remember, this is possibly different for every type of disability, as the challenges and needs differ. LGBTQIA inclusion is no different.
Create a safe and welcoming environment for the community
As a first step, organisations need to have a basic understanding of the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) spectrum before starting on this journey. Remember, this is often an invisible diversity. You may already have employees, customers, vendors, suppliers who identify as LGBTQIA – they may just not be out. Therefore, recruitment of LGBTQIA persons is not the only outcome of this inclusion. The bigger outcome is to create a safe and welcoming environment for this community (Watch Diversity Dialogues’ Demystifying LGBT+ inclusion at Indian Workplaces)
Take a thorough look at policies and benefits
An organisation looking to be inclusive to its employees must take a thorough look at its policies and benefits. LGBTQIA employees need to be protected from any sort of discrimination or harassment, for which policies on equal opportunity, non-discrimination and prevention of sexual harassment need to cover all identities of the gender-sexuality spectrum.
LGBTQIA employees need to have the space to express themselves in their authentic gender, which includes dressing according to gender and using the washroom of their choice. There must be policies or guidelines to support transgender* persons who choose to go through a transition (affirmation) process. The transition need not involve medical or surgical interventions. (Watch Diversity Dialogues’ video on creating LGBT+ inclusive policies).
Deliver equivalent benefits to LGBTQIA employees
Employees can never feel a sense of belonging if they are not getting the same benefits as others. A typical organisation’s benefits may not consider the needs of LGBTQIA employees or acknowledge their family structures. Interventions to address these needs must be made, sometimes working with external partners (insurance companies) to deliver the same benefits to LGBTQIA employees. (Watch Diversity Dialogues’ video on equal benefits)
Be a vocal ally
Merely having policies and benefits may not be sufficient to engender confidence in the organisation becoming inclusive. What drives an LGBTQIA-inclusive culture is the presence of visible and vocal allies. Allies are people who understand the LGBTQIA community and are willing to support them. Allies play a vital role in ensuring that members of the LGBTQIA community are able to be themselves. They also provide a voice to their issues. (Watch LGBT Ally Journeys)
Be cognisant of marginalised identities
An organisation that is already ahead in the LGBTQIA inclusion journey may have to evaluate whether it is truly including persons who belonging to multiple marginalised identities (watch intersectionality), and sensitive to the mental health needs of specific constituents (watch EAP and inclusion).
Be visually inclusive
An organisation cannot bring about change by itself. The organisation needs to engage with the larger community and society outside to be a catalyst for change. Being visibly inclusive also helps organisations put themselves out as a brand of choice or an employer of choice for people from the LGBTQIA community. (Watch Beyond the workplace)
Be inclusive with your product and marketing
B2C organisations and consumer brands need to evaluate their products and services thoroughly to check if they could be excluding the LGBTQIA community in any way and/or if there is scope to create relevant products/services for this target audience. For example: A bank could offer joint accounts to same-gender couples; a travel company could ensure their stay partners are transgender* inclusive; a TV channel could vow not to air content with homophobic/transphobic plot; a fashion apparel company can feature transgender and non-binary models. However, note that such marketing should be sensitive about how the community is portrayed (without being tokenistic).
The empowered and privileged members of the LGBTQIA community can see through superficial attempts that seek their wallets. Once the hype around reading down of Section 377 fizzles out, the rainbow branding will eventually stop yielding traction. Traction is sustained by creating inclusive hiring, inclusive policies and benefits for LGBTQIA employees, by relevant and customised products for LGBTQIA customers, and by working with marginalised groups to be a brand of choice for the LGBTQIA community.
Build inclusion from the core
Smart organisations would realise that only if they build LGBTQIA inclusion from the core, can they create higher brand value for their employees and customers, over time. Studies in mature markets have proven that brand loyalty is significantly higher among the LGBTQIA community (Community Marketing Inc. & Harris Interactive). Given the purchasing power of the (privileged) LGBTQIA population, it makes long-term business sense to be truly inclusive to the LGBTQIA community.
Watch out for microagressions
Inclusion is about culture and culture is something we all collectively own and build. Are we ready to introspect and reflect? Are we ready to be more self-aware, recognise biases and microaggressions that we experience within and around us? (Poster: Microaggressions). Inclusion starts with ‘I’ and contains ‘us’ – let’s pledge to collectively become more inclusive- as individuals, families, organisations and society.
Insights into inclusion
Diversity Dialogues is a collective representing multiple affinity groups, and diversity and inclusion professionals working in the space of inclusion across gender, disability, LGBTQIA, generational diversity. Diversity Dialogues has created resources for workplaces to implement LGBTQIA inclusion and Supporting various hues of parenting. In collaboration with Orinam.net, Diversity Dialogues is soon launching a guide to support gender affirmations at workplaces to support transgender persons. In partnership with Innersight and Orinam.net, Diversity Dialogues has also organised workshops on peer support to build mental health support systems within the LGBTQIA community. This was also supplemented by a workshop on LGBTQIA basics for counselling organisations.
Diversity Dialogues – LGBT+ Inclusion at workplaces (series of 8 videos)
Employer’s guide to making Indian workplaces LGBTIQ+ inclusive