LGBTQ India community says corporations must change definition of diversity
The Supreme Court ruling that decriminalized homosexuality has opened up doors of opportunities to the LGBTQ community at least in principle. What the society needs to strive for now is to bring it in practice too. While there are a few companies that are doing extremely well in progressing towards a gender just and inclusive future, the numbers are grossly low. This is the reason for this article – to talk about why companies are holding back and how can they unleash true diversity at the work place. Companies like Godrej, The Lalit hotel chain, Barclays, Tata Steel have opened doors for the 70 million people who identify themselves as LGBTQ India community. But more can certainly be done.
There are about 100 companies in India who are on this journey of bringing change. People are realizing that the more diverse you are, the more talent you have – Parmesh Shahani
For the society to accept the community as a whole, it has to start extending jobs to it and that’s how we can expect true change to happen. “It is a question of having a more inclusive perspective and a more inclusive playing field. A lot of us who work on diversity and inclusion take that practise of love being the guiding principle in business and implement it realize that inclusivity makes great business sense,” said Parmesh Shahani, who leads the Godrej India Culture Lab, at an event in New Delhi.
He referred to the World Bank 2016 report on Cost of Homophobia which noted that 1.2% of India’s GDP is lost because of unacceptability of LGBTQ community. “That is money a lot of us could have earned. The point is inclusivity is directly related to economic growth. There are about 100 companies in India who are on this journey of bringing change. People are realizing that the more diverse you are, the more talent you have, the more innovative you become, the more you secure your own future,” added Shahani.
A lot of the talk around representation comes from the myth that LGBTQ community does not have merit and should be given a chance only on the basis of their sexual orientation. The fact that Barclays has employed Amita Karadkhedkar at the position of Assistant Vice President, Project Delivery Manager is telling of how untrue that is. Karadkhedkar talked of many examples of technology innovation that failed because they did not cater to diversity.
“While inventing these products, diversity was not a part of consideration and that is why they failed. When it comes to meritocracy, we assume that meritocratic recruitment is purely meritocratic. Secondly, we assume that merit is clearly articulated and defined. Thirdly, we strongly believe that representation based hiring is not meritocratic. All these assumptions lead to unconscious bias and that leads to not having representation. And diversity is important to have a solution that works for everybody. So testing of a product has to be carried out looking at the various aspects of it to cater to the various sections of the society,” said Karadkhedkar.
As leaders if we don’t actually step out and identify as LGBTQ, how can we create environments where other people will do it? This is something that has to start top-down – Amit Mahtaney
While diversity and inclusion has a lot to do with the women’s movement, Amit Mahtaney of TFE Foundation and LGBTQ activist said that there is much to learn from its journey towards inclusion. “While there are learnings to be had from the women’s journey but at the same time you don’t have to come out as a woman. And at the end of the day that there are members of the parliament, the business community who many of us know of and who choose to stay in the closet. But as leaders if we don’t actually step out and identify as LGBTQ, how can we create environments where other people will do it? This is something that has to start top-down,” said Mahatney about acceptance from the senior management.
Karadkhedkar noted that the problem with today’s work culture was that it wasn’t an enabler. “When it comes to inability, it is basically practising a hostile work culture which pushes an individual not to embrace themselves and that’s what we need to work at,” she said.
While India is still at a point where LGBTQ people working in corporate is considered more tokenism than genuine inclusion, the fact that the conversation of inclusion of all genders has begun sends out a loud message that we are on the road to progress.