Creating sensible workplaces to include LGBTQ+DIVERSITY IN WORKPLACE
Harsh Verma
Last Updated IST

The year 2018 was a significant one in India. By reading down Section 377, a colonial-era law, the Supreme Court of India decriminalised homosexuality, thereby restoring the right of dignified living, for a historically ignored section of the society.

Organisations that were brushing LGBTQ+ inclusion under the carpet or sitting on the fence came out to pledge their support to the community, incorporating rainbow colours in their brands, participating in Pride events and instituting same-sex partner benefits. Many firms decided to base additional interventions on the number of employees who declare their identity as being LGBTQ+.

However, despite the law supporting LGBTQ+ and concentered efforts, the number of people coming out has increased only marginally. This has made many organisations assume that while this diverse group is a reality in society, they are not present in their workplace.


Herein lies the most noteworthy danger — weighing the business case of LGBTQ+ inclusion based on the current representation numbers. Let’s first put in perspective why LGBTQ+ inclusion is essential.

The case for business

“LGBTQ+ inclusion makes perfect business sense and is the right thing to do. As a key lever, it helps organisations connect with new buying centres in customer organisations and strengthen supplier relationships,” says Chandra Duraiswamy, senior director of communications at a leading MNC, who is also an Out and Proud member of the community.

As per the IPSOS research 2021, approximately 17% of the Indian population identifies as LGBTQ+. These numbers are not entirely accurate as many people still choose to remain in the closet.

Being in the closet is a complex reality for community members, which many non-LGBTQ+ people do not appreciate. It requires a person to constantly navigate the environment, self-edit responses and steer away from conversations that one may find natural, such as questions around marriage.

This begs the question: why do people remain in the closet? Research on this found the desire for psychological and physical safety to be prime reasons. The residual negative experiences of members, such as discriminatory behaviours, derogatory jokes and physical violence, both at the workplace and outside, govern such decisions. The community may fear that behaviours towards them will change if they reveal their identity or that it might affect their promotion opportunities.

Hiding one’s authentic self at work directly impacts engagement and productivity. This makes the biggest case for creating an enabling environment for individuals to come out.

How can organisations support inclusion of LGBTQ+?

Psychological safety

Anti-discrimination policies, same-sex partner benefits, gender-neutral washrooms, and other related initiatives exist. However, the idea that these will resolve discrimination is naïve.

Focused efforts for emotional safety are a must. Offering platforms to discuss concerns should be created. Mental health support through employee assistance programs, a helpline to raise grievances, sponsoring employee resource groups and having a representative from the community on the internal POSH committee are some examples.

“By fostering an inclusive culture and providing psychological safety to LGBTQ+ employees, organisations can empower them to be collaborative, creative and innovative,” continues Chandra.

It is essential to acknowledge that some people may still not feel comfortable coming out of the closet, but this should not deter organisations from continuing efforts.

Assessing processes

Firms must embed inclusivity at every stage, from hiring to onboarding to career progression and development.

“An honest audit of company policies and practices followed by a plan to correct them is crucial to upskill, retain and promote employees apart from cisgender employees,” says Praful Baweja, co-founder of an LGBTQ+ business networking forum.

Firms must check current job descriptions and sourcing channels, and analyse past promotions for bias hotspots.

“When it comes to hiring trans people, organisations should hire more than one member to help them feel belong. This also reduces the extreme expectations on that one member from the diverse community to succeed,” says Mansi Lakshmi, who heads an NGO supporting trans people.

Addressing managers’ dilemma

Understanding managers’ dilemmas is an understated but critical pillar. Creating a safe space for the managers to share the questions in their minds openly and offering guidelines on overcoming them is critical.

“I fear my team may find it difficult to accept an LGBTQ+ member. Will it create a rift in the current team’s relationships?” Or “Is sexual orientation a relevant conversation for the workplace?” Or “I am not sure if my organisation is truly ready for this” — workplaces need to address such questions and dilemmas by managers and sensitise and equip them to deal with it all.

LGBTQ+ inclusion may be a long winding road, but it can be made more accessible by taking informed, affirmative actions.

(The author is a communication professional at a leading research-based Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) advisory firm.)

(Published 03 May 2022, 13:38 IST)