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Friday, Dec 13, 2019

Corporates come out with LGBTQ-friendly policies post SC verdict on section 377

According to a World Bank report of 2016, India losses nearly $32 billion, or 1.7% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), to homophobia, which many companies seem to realise.

mumbai Updated: Oct 15, 2018 12:58 IST
Yesha Kotak
Yesha Kotak
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
The staff of Lalit Group of Hotels in Mumbai wear badges showing their support for the LGBTQ community.
The staff of Lalit Group of Hotels in Mumbai wear badges showing their support for the LGBTQ community. (Satish Bate/HT File )
         

Has the Supreme Court (SC) order that decriminalised gay sex made office spaces better for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ)?

Here’s the ground reality. Employees of NeoNiche, an experiential marketing company in the city, can now choose the relevant pronoun in the joining form. Even before the SC order, Godrej and IBM India started to offer medical cover to partners of LGBTQ employees. Lalit Group of Hotels, through its recently launched Keshav Suri foundation, will provide a platform to help the community develop the necessary skills for a job. Hewlett-Packard (HP) India, which has gender neutral verbiage for its workers, intends to come up with gender neutral washrooms and spouse benefits, while Godrej, Tata Group, Infosys and Royal Bank of Scotland take steps towards inclusivity.

Why the change?

According to a World Bank report of 2016, India losses nearly $32 billion, or 1.7% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), to homophobia, which the companies seem to realise.

“Our success depends on our ability to use the skills and talent of our employees, regardless of their race, caste, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, colour, marital (or civil union) status. We have incorporated the approach in our human resources charter too,” said Prateek Kumar, CEO and MD, NeoNiche Integrated Solutions Pvt Ltd.

Explaining the change in approach, Parmesh Shahani, head of Godrej India Culture Lab, said, “Companies were earlier apprehensive in bringing about a change because of section 377. Now, they are opening up because they realise it has advantages. A company that promotes diversity will encourage employees to be themselves, otherwise the productivity will be hit.”

Some feel even the community needs to get comfortable in their own skin. “This is why we have to get them on a table, where they can get these seats on merit. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) has also agreed to partner with the foundation for our initiative,” said Suri.

“In IBM, all employees are entitled to partner benefits irrespective of their gender. Whoever the employees call as their partner, are given that status. We plan to incorporate it at HP India,” said Suresh Ramdas, head of LGBTQ chapter at HP India.

Small steps

While the bigger companies are doing their bit, smaller ones, too, are focusing on inclusivity. A case in point could be True Elements, a food company, that doesn’t have the gender column or date of birth in the joining form. “Asking about the gender of a person is of no relevance to the company and doesn’t serve any purpose. Once they join, we need the information for legal purposes and insurance,” said Sreejith Moolayil, co-founder, True Elements.

However, HR professionals are of the opinion that inclusivity follows a trickle-down approach, which means the approach of the leaders defines how a particular employee is treated at workplace. “The atmosphere at a workplace is a result of policies and culture. If the culture appreciates a person on the basis of performance, then it is not about gender, sexual orientation or caste. Top level executives need to be inclusive for the workplace to be inclusive,” said Mahrukh Bandorawalla, HR consultant and coach.

Community happy

The development is a ray of hope for the community. Diversity Dialogues Team, a collective working across gender, sexuality, disability for diversity at the workplace, said such initiatives mark the starting point, but the actual change can only happen with implementation of inclusive policies and benefits.

For Debendra Nath Sanyal, an employee at a company in Thane, this means he can easily have discussions about his partner with his colleagues during lunch. “There is awareness about LGBTQ issues in Mumbai. However, changing policies would push organisations to bring in reforms. I am hoping a similar policy would be incorporated at other places too,” said Harish Iyer, LGBTQ activist.

“When the verdict came out, the celebrations lasted for two days, but after that our lives are back to square one. Even today, we don’t get government pension. Special provisions need to be made to provide job security to us,” said Priya Patil, programme manager, Kinnar Maa Samajik Sanstha Trust.