Inclusivity, a work in progress

Inclusivity, a work in progress

After a tepid start, leading companies are taking steps to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplaces, writes Paarth Singh

Shaila (named changed), was working as a receptionist at a reputed hospital. Everything was normal around her workplace. Egged on by the toning down of Article 377 two years ago, she took a bold step to come out and declare her sexual orientation but little did she know that would turn her world upside down. The words — acceptance, diversity, inclusive society — suddenly seemed a mirage to her as she was subjected to harassment by her colleagues and was even called names.
s even called names.

“I felt it was only a lip service. People just wanted to show that they really care about us (LGBTQ+ community members) to earn brownie points from the society,” rues the 27-year-old who was finally forced to quit her job and now does a tailoring job at home for a living. Shaila’s statement reiterated the fact that most  Multinational Companies based in India adopted the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) policy merely as a token measure owing to their global policies. However, things are taking a Northern route now with a lot of companies incorporating inclusive environment policies.

Acceptance an integral factor

Tata Steel had adopted the D&I programme with the launch of a diversity group called ‘MOSAIC’ five years ago and subsequently launched ‘WINGS’, an LGBTQ+ employee resource group in May 2018. “Along the way, several colleagues from the LGBTQ+ community have felt empowered and they have come out and spoken about their story. One of our colleagues Anubhuti belongs to the LGBTQ+community and is spearheading the WINGS programme. She, along with the HR team, has helped a lot of other colleagues understand and accept their sexual orientation and enabled them to lead a life with confidence and pride.

Amartya Samata, an engineer at Tata Steel in Jamshedpur, is yet another example who has found direction and acceptance at his job. As far as hiring and training is concerned, there is a gradual shift and we are revamping our talent strategy where inclusion and diversity is an integral aspect,” says Atrayee Sarkar Sanyal, VP HRM (Designate), Tata Steel.

Anubhuti
Anubhuti

Key initiatives

The other initiatives taken by the company include reimbursement of medical expenses and special leave for employees undergoing gender reassignment surgery, medical benefit schemes, honeymoon packages for officers and same-sex partners, adoption leave while paternity and maternity leaves have been extended to gay/lesbian couples and transgender couples.

Discrimination, harassment, neglect, fear of coming out and a host of other aspects result in many youngsters dropping out of schools and being left at the mercy of destiny.

Sahil Patel
Sahil Patel

It was this crying need to create a level-playing field that forced Neelam Jain, a 22-year-old financial analyst with Goldman Sachs to quit her cosy job and take up the arduous task of setting up PeriFerry, a company based in Chennai that is involved in training and employment exclusively for the Trans community. “Social stigma and discrimination are often the culprits that force transgender people to live off by begging or engaging in sex work. Also, some of those who are already employed do not come out and live their true identities,” opines Neelam while adding: “We step in as a conduit between the talent and employers in terms of training, employment and sensitisation programmes.”

A truly friendly work atmosphere plays a great role in employees giving their best.

“Aware of my sexual orientation, I once thought of coming out at a workplace that I really liked. However, when I was on a weekly off, I came to know of a person who had come for a job interview and that people were making fun of him as he displayed some feminine characteristics. Hence I decided not to come out then. But the next company I joined, I immediately liked the people who were more welcoming and I was truly myself as they accepted me for who I was. I was able to give more than 100 per cent. I feel that when you are not carrying any baggage about your identity or sexuality you can focus a lot better at work,” says Sahil Patel, who now manages his family-owned Milan Book Depot in Navi Mumbai.

Diversity and inclusion also gives the employers a vast pool of talent when compared to employees from the mainstream sector alone. “At Klaus IT we certainly believe in D&I. In fact, our management team has an equal number of women leaders who spearhead different portfolios,” says Bengaluru-based Savitha AD who has risen to the ranks of CEO.

Amartya Samata
Amartya Samata

Conducive environment

Tech giant Infosys has for long recognised the issues and has been providing a conducive working environment. “Members of the community face a couple of challenges — the first is about having a safe environment for them to be at their best, and the other is acceptance and approval from a larger ecosystem they are part of. At Infosys, apart from inclusive policies, learning and awareness form a huge part of creating inclusive ecosystems. iPride, our employee resource group for members of the community and allies, collaborates to inform policy, build inclusive workplaces, strengthen learning and awareness and more,” says Krish Shankar, Executive Vice President and Group Head, HRD at Infosys.

One of PeriFerry’s product, Hayathi, needed moral support after coming out before she could apply in a mainstream job. After two failed attempts, she finally managed to garner a job at ANZ Bank and is currently working as a service desk analyst. “Here my colleagues treat me just like anyone else, although it was tough to get an acceptance from transport, cafeteria and the housekeeping departments,” recalls Hayathi.

“Sensitisation should start at the school and college levels so that there would be equal opportunities for people with similar qualifications,” feels Hayathi who is based in Visakhapatnam.

Activist Parmesh Shahani, who has recently authored a book which preaches the dos and don’ts of hiring queer people says, “while most of the companies have adopted the policy in principle and have the intent to implement, they do not know how to execute.”

Going a step ahead from just providing training and sensitising programmes or reams of literature being published, Bengaluru hosted India’s first LGBTQ+ job fair called RISE last July followed by Delhi early this year. The results were phenomenal as over 35 companies and 1,200 potential employees participated.

Thus there is a thrust from all the quarters to help the members of the LGBTQ community lead a dignified life. However, unless our society accepts them in totality, all the efforts may go futile.