LGBT inclusion in Organization
On 6 September 2018, the Supreme Court scrapped a colonial-era ban and ruled that Section 377 is unconstitutional as it infringed on the fundamental rights of autonomy, intimacy and identity, thus legalising homosexuality in India. Majority of organizations showed their solidarity on social media by adding pride colours on their app/social media pages as a brand building exercise. However, in reality, have the organizations, working towards this cause made any progressive policies and a bias-free environment for the LGBT community? Let’s know the terms better before we understand how marginalization and discrimination of a community restrict markets, shrinking the existing pool of talent and in turn slows down the economic growth and what can be done!
Gender and sexuality are two different aspects. “Sex” is a label assigned to one at birth based on the genitals they are born with i.e. “Male”, “Female” and in some cases “Intersex”. In contrast, “Gender” is different from sexual orientation, which is how we explain masculinity and femininity. Think of a linear scale with Masculinity on one end and Feminity on the other. Instead of emoting one or the other trait based on sex, one can move throughout the gender scale freely and express various degrees of both traits despite their biological anatomy. For example, Radhika’s sex and gender match so she can be categorized as cisgender. Transgenders, who are just as human as the rest, do not identify their gender identity with their assigned sex at birth. Eg: Radhik identifies as a transman even though the assigned sex was female.
Transgender is not a third gender. It is an umbrella term for various genders that aren’t exclusively Masculine or Feminine. It includes Bigender (people who identify with two genders), Pangender (person who identify with all genders) and Agender (people who are genderless). People can choose from many terms and definitions which they think represent their gender identity and matches their self-expression. Sexual orientation is about whom you’re attracted to and want to have sexual, emotional or romantic relationships with. These orientations include homosexuals (gay, lesbian), heterosexual, bisexual, and asexual.
The historic judgement of the government to recognize LGBT’s fundamental right to live and work with dignity paved a path for an inclusive Indian Society. On the other hand, it was reported by World Bank that India faced a loss of $32 billion in GDP, or 1.7% of the country's GDP due to homophobia.
Homophobia and Trans phobia have only been removed in theory but still remains a major concern. These concerns have been addressed by Fortune 500 companies like Microsoft, Google, IBM, LinkedIn to KPMG, Barclays, Goldman Sachs, Virgin and several others. These companies have spread awareness and taken initiatives at various levels, forums, scaling up to become providers of equal opportunity. For instance, Google runs a voluntary employee group called “Gaylers” and Intel has an initiative named “ IGLOBE” to increase awareness; Tata Steel aims to have a diverse workforce and envisions to have 25% of its workforce from diverse groups by 2020 aiming 5% to be from LGBT community.
Indian cities, such as New Delhi and Mumbai, are at par with Bangkok and Manila when it comes to LGBT inclusion in organizations. The range of inclusion is very diverse, as the other organizations especially start-ups, SME’s and MSME’s are yet to take concrete initiatives to encourage talent from this segment of society. The companies who are struggling to figure out strategies to become an inclusive company might find some ideas in the pointers below:
1. Inclusion/ Anti-discrimination policy.
Policies are important and organizations should develop policies that are gender-neutral. They should be focussed on zero-tolerance towards discrimination. The policies should be reviewed periodically and strict action should be taken against employees who do not adhere to them E.g.
• The documents should not reflect a person’s gender identity and expression, including their preferred name and pronoun.
• Disclosing details of an employee’s trans history should only be done with consent.
• Denying employees access to locker rooms and/or restrooms that correspond to their self-identified gender identity.
• Prohibiting employees from dressing or otherwise expressing themselves according to their gender identity or expression.
• Refusing to respect employee’s gender identity or expression.
• Comments that denigrate or mock the gender identity or expression of the employee based on individually-held gender stereotypes. These comments might be directed towards a staff member, be in reference to a staff member or directed towards a particular category of people in general.
• Physical, verbal or sexual harassment;
• Failure to hire, promote, or terminate an employee’s contract of employment because of the actual or perceived gender identity or expression.
2. Conduct diverse hiring by Objective Tools
Hiring should be done based on the knowledge, skill and behaviour of the individual and not on the basis of one’s gender or looks. The hiring process should be objective and proper tools (Questionnaire, Assessment Centre etc) must be used to identify the candidate rather than a subjective criteria.
The documents should not contain the gender categories like Male, Female and Trans, rather - ‘I prefer to self-identify as…’ The job applicant could specify one’s gender identity on an optional basis.
The HR Department should collaborate with the Learning and Development Department to train the interviewing panel to ask gender-neutral questions. Some organizations mandate medical screening to ensure that the person has medically transitioned so as to qualify as a trans person. Please note that this violates the dignity and privacy of the individual and that organizations should refrain from doing so.
3. Hold frequent Sensitization programmes
Existing employees need to be aware about LGBT employees joining the organization and training should be given to be more empathetic and sensitive towards the new employees. Only one sensitization session would not suffice to increase this sensitivity.
The Learning and Development Department should regularly conduct programmes using different formats such as film, discussions, Q&A sessions and so on which can promote the increase in awareness.
Training about “bullying and harassment policies” as well as what constitute such behaviours should be conducted. The procedure of how to report misbehaviour if they witness or experience it should also be stated. These values should be embedded in performance evaluation and be positively reinforced as the organisational culture. Leaders in the organisations should also be evaluated on the basis of their efforts towards inclusivity.
4. Restroom Infrastructure
Transgenders are often made to feel uncomfortable and are at times threatened or denied access to use the washroom of their choice. It is always better to have a “gender-neutral restroom” opposed to “transgender restroom” or “third gender restroom”
5. Medical Benefits which includes partially/fully covering transition cost
Organizations must initiate a discussion with their existing insurance providers to make sure they don’t categorise gender affirmation surgery and hormone therapy as cosmetic procedures. Ideally, the insurance company should include gender affirmation procedures and hormone therapy in their coverage. Orinam and Diversity Dialogue’s ‘Supporting Gender Affirmation: Towards Transgender+ Inclusive Workplaces in India’ (2018) suggests that employers use the IRDAI (Health Insurance) Regulations, 2016 to strengthen their case with their existing insurer. For instance, covering the cost for:
• Infertility/Subfertility/Assisted Conception Procedure Psychiatric and Psychosomatic Disorder
• Dental Treatment expenses that do not require hospitalisation
• Treatment of Sexually Transmitted Diseases
• Aesthetic Treatment/Surgery
• Hormone Replacement Therapy
6. Support group/ in house counsellor for employees transitioning
An individual goes through a difficult phase during their transition. Proper counselling and guidance should be provided before the individual decides to undertake the transition process or opt for any medical procedures. Proper psych evaluation should be done before the individual thinks of transitioning. The company should have a ready database of trained doctors, psychiatrists, counsellors and psychologists who are experts in dealing with Gender Dysphoria and are well versed with the process of transition.
There is a long road ahead to change cultural attitudes. The moment employees realize that colleagues around them at the workplace are a part of society and refrain from labelling them is when acceptance can be believed to be taking place. Instead of seeing them as minorities, the organization should train employees to see them for what values they bring in i.e talent, innovation, creativity and persistence. It’s with this spirit that we would have to set the tone for a more inclusive and discrimination-free Indian society.