We spend a significant time of our lives toiling away in the office. Consequently, it's no surprise that many social and cultural movements have sprouted from workplace discrimination or toxic work environments targeting specific groups. Just like the fight for LGBTQ rights in the workplace that emerged during the Cold War. During that time, the US Senate released a report asserting that homosexuality posed a national security threat. The report claimed that LGBTQ individuals could be coerced into divulging sensitive information to the Soviet Union due to the fear of being exposed or blackmailed. In response, the government announced termination of any suspected homosexual government employees.
Throughout 1960s and 1970s, LGBTQ groups actively protested against discrimination. The AIDS crisis of the 1980s is widely known as a prime example of the widespread discrimination experienced by LGBTQ people, both within and outside of the workplace. Meanwhile, the press and many politicians also denounced the LGBTQ community, branding them as immoral. Over time, several incidents, well-known and obscure, occurred, leading to Supreme Court ruling that workers could not be terminated based on their sexual orientation in 2020.
Since then, initiatives focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have brought about positive changes for LGBTQ individuals in the workplace. With Pride month just around the corner, take cues from a few companies that have taken the lead in promoting LGBTQ inclusion at work.
LGBTQ+ employee resource group
Within an organisation, an LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group (ERG) is a specialised community with the mission of providing support and empowerment to LGBTQ+ employees. These groups are established with the goal of cultivating a secure and inclusive space where LGBTQ+ individuals can connect, exchange stories, and champion equality in the professional sphere. Nita Nambiar, AVP-HR and India Diversity & Inclusion Lead, Cognizant, revealed how her company helps LGBTQ+ employees feel safe and empowered to be their true selves.
“It is important to encourage a culture of authenticity and inclusion and HR can play a crucial role in creating this environment by establishing LGBTQ+ employee resource groups that provide a platform to connect, share experiences, seek support, and navigate challenges without the fear of being judged. Cognizant’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group called ‘Embrace’ fosters a culture of support within the company by facilitating events to educate, network and share ideas among the community,” said Nambiar.
Gender-neutral restrooms to Gender reassignment surgeries
Promoting inclusivity and support, providing gender-neutral restrooms and coverage for gender reassignment surgeries acknowledges and honours the diverse experiences and identities of individuals. These actions transcend symbolism, actively working towards equality, diminishing discrimination, and cultivating an environment where every individual feels affirmed and embraced, just like Zomato. The company “is committed to creating a space which is safe, discrimination-free, and offers a happy environment to the members of the LGBTQIA+ community. While each and every employee at Zomato is responsible for ensuring this, our People Team especially plays an important role to drive this message across effectively,” revealed a company’s spokesperson.
“For us, it's collaboration, conversation and feedback that guides our every move - whether that's for the benefit of the customer or for our employees. And by proactively organising such interactions, our People Team has not only improved their own understanding of the community, but has also filled small but crucial gaps, making our workplace more inclusive. In addition to rolling out policies such as our updated Parental Leave – offering 26 weeks paid leave to non-birthing parents, same sex parents and in cases of surrogacy and adoption – and our Period Leave for all women and transgender people, our People Team recently introduced gender-neutral bathrooms and added a Gender Reassignment Surgery Cover in our employee medical insurance plan,” shared the spokesperson.
Valuing and including pronouns
Culture change initiatives within the workplace have a critical impact on moulding the values, behaviours, and overall atmosphere within an organisation. Maneesh Menda, head of human resources – India, NatWest Group, shared how his team has been working towards supporting, “LGBTQ+ inclusion by being visible and vocal about social acceptance and understanding the community,” and added that “while we ensure that our HR policies, employee benefits, and offerings support the LGBTQ + colleagues, we recognise that the culture change initiatives within the organisation are the key enablers to drive inclusion at the workplace.”
“At NatWest Group India, our ‘LGBTQ + Innovative’ Inclusion Council volunteers and leaders play a significant role in raising awareness on unconscious bias, stereotypes, and microaggressions. We recently rolled out a comprehensive ‘LGBTQ+ Matters’ online training module that has been completed voluntarily by more than 11,000 colleagues in India. As a result of that, adding pronouns to Zoom and Microsoft Outlook has become a common workplace practice now. We also hosted a ‘Rainbow Bazaar’ recently across our India offices to encourage entrepreneurs from the wider LGBTQ+ community. The wholehearted participation by hundreds of our colleagues is a testament to demonstrated social acceptance. We are currently running the second cohort of ‘TRANspire’, a 6-month paid training and corporate work placement programme, for the transgender community,” Menda told PM.
Providing equivalent set of benefits
Offering an equitable range of benefits is a vital practice that guarantees fairness and parity in both organisational and community settings. This approach entails providing comparable opportunities, resources, and advantages to all individuals, irrespective of their background, identity, or gender. Nutanix, an American cloud computing company, believes in a diverse workforce and a culture that celebrates and supports everyone.
“Through our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) program, we build on our culture principles to create a workplace where every employee feels valued and supported for the diverse perspectives that they bring to the table. Our overarching goal is to operationalise the company vision for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging by increasing representation, building equitable infrastructures, fostering a culture of psychological safety, and deploying programs that enable a highly engaged, and optimally performing, globally distributed workforce. With this, Nutanix has always encouraged diversity hiring as one of our underlying operating principles,” stated Sankalp Saxena, Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Operations, Nutanix.
“Diversity extends well beyond gender alone as we actively look to recruit from the LGBTQIA+ and other communities. In support of ensuring we provide a highly inclusive environment for all our team members, we are one for the few companies in India that provides an equivalent set of benefits, including medical, etc, for our LGBTQIA+ team members. We also provide educational programs and opportunities for advancement that enable all team members to learn and grow,” he added.
AI: A key to bias-free hiring
Another way of transforming the workplace would be to proactively work towards eliminating unconscious bias. “The same can be achieved by adopting AI in recruiting processes. Additionally, it can also be used for tailoring diversity and inclusion initiatives by analysing employee feedback and sentiment to find possible gaps in LGBTQ acceptance,” advised Anjali Byce, CHRO, STL – Sterlite Technologies.
“At STL, we work proactively towards implementing gender agnostics policies and have recently piloted an AI enabled resume stack ranking tool. It ensures that all resumes are stacked on capability, thereby mitigating the risk of bias creeping into the process; additionally, tech evaluations are done through an independent agency ensuring equal opportunity and fairness. Our policies demonstrate our deep commitment to dismantling gender biases and fostering an environment where everyone is treated fairly and equally, regardless of their gender identity or expression,” she added.
One of the ways organisations can make themselves truly inclusive is in designing policies that can have far-reaching impact on the LGBTQ+ community. “At HGS, we value people for who they are, which drives us to evolve our policies and practices to make a difference. For instance, our medical insurance has been extended to cover same-sex partners. Furthermore, LGBTQ+ partners with childbearing abilities can avail maternity and childbearing benefits,” said Giridhar GV, Executive Vice President – Global Human Resources, HGS.
Normalise the conversation on LGBTQIA+
HR needs to establish and communicate a clear set of inclusive values that explicitly state the organisation's commitment to LGBTQIA+ inclusion. HR should drive initiatives to normalise the conversation about "intersectionality and talk about unconscious biases that alienate employees," said Shweta Mohanty Roy, Head – Human Resources, SAP Labs India.
She further added, "It is imperative to conduct employee sensitisation policies to create and raise awareness about the LGBTQIA+ community and the unique challenges they face. This will help break the stigma stemming from pre-conceived notions and misinformation, creating a safe space for people from the community. For example, encouraging the use of gender-neutral language is a great way to reflect the inclusive and diverse culture at an organisation. At SAP Labs India, we are proud allies of the LGBTQIA+ community and are committed to empowering them through our host of initiatives. Leaders can collaborate with external LGBTQIA+ organisations and advocacy groups to gain insights, access resources, and participate in community initiatives. This partnership can help HR stay informed about LGBTQIA+ issues and contribute to broader societal change."
Encouraging and promoting allyship
Promoting allyship plays a crucial role in cultivating an inclusive and supportive atmosphere for marginalised communities, such as the LGBTQ+ community. An ally is someone who actively stands up for and champions a group that differs from their own, striving for equal rights and fairness. And hence, “allies are vital in creating LGBTQ+ inclusive workplaces and can be most impactful by using inclusive language, being visible and vocal about their support for a LGBTQ+ friendly work environment. HR can help foster a culture of allyship by raising awareness and providing education on LGBTQ+ issues. In addition, they can facilitate allyship training, organise programs that promote understanding and empathy, and recognise and celebrate allyship efforts. Since 2021, Embrace’s India chapter has been organising LGBTQ+ awareness and sensitisations sessions across the country,” Nita Nambiar told People Matters.
It’s important to understand that not everyone is on the same page when it comes to our inclusivity journey. This makes “sensitisation and training that much more imperative to drive change from within. At HGS, we drive this change through sensitisation workshops both for our employees at large, and specifically for our HR professionals. Our ERG guidebook hosted on our company intranet helps our ERG teams in taking the cause far and wide,” added Giridhar GV.
Driving leadership accountability
While HR is responsible for developing and implementing inclusive policies that protect LGBTQIA+ employees from discrimination and promote a diverse and inclusive work environment including policies related to equal opportunity, anti-harassment, and gender identity and expression, the true success of this lies in leadership accountability, believes Head – Human Resources, SAP Labs India.
"While the business case for having an LGBTQi Inclusion policy is a critical part of the D&I policy of every organisation, the HR leaders of the organisation have to ensure that they hold leaders accountable to take appropriate action and create channels for confidential reporting mechanism to report any incidents of discrimination, harassment, or bias. HR should investigate reports promptly, take appropriate action, and communicate the outcomes transparently. Leadership should visibly and vocally commit to fostering an inclusive culture for LGBTQIA+ individuals. Their support sets the tone for the entire organisation and signals that LGBTQIA+ inclusion is a priority," Roy added.