A new report from India has revealed that the vast majority of Indian businesses have yet to have embraced any form of LGBT diversity and inclusion practices.
‘Inclusion in India Inc. – Diversity, the core of our cultural fabric’ was produced by the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, in association with Biz Divas Foundation.
Biz Divas is an India-based organization that works specifically to promote female leadership in business and public life.
The report sought to look at what diversity and inclusion practices were employed by a representative sample of Indian businesses, and to offer pointers on ‘dos and don’ts’ for those new to the field.
The report’s conclusions was drawn from in-depth interviews with 75 professionals within 21 companies, and a study of the organizations’ literature concerning diversity and inclusion. The largest organization had 56,000 employees, while the smallest had 260 employees.
Although a slight majority of businesses (51%) were now taking measures to promote gender diversity, a mere 2% of those surveyed ‘seemed comfortable’ speaking about diversity in terms of LGBT issues. More usually, LGBT issues within the workplace were more likely to be ‘completely dismissed’ by the remaining 98%.
Of the businesses surveyed, those 2% fell into the ‘large business’ category. Small and medium-sized businesses were worse when it came to LGBT issues.
One participant explained the situation thus: ‘Exclusion is usually unintentional because of lack of exposure to the LGBT category. People do take a step back the moment they hear the word gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender. As a culture we haven’t evolved so much that it is easily spoken about.’
India is unlike other countries in many ways: its society has traditionally had a strict caste system, and promoting diversity and inclusion has involved tackling perceptions around background and place of birth.
It has also got a prominent transgender community – commonly referred to as ‘hijra’.
Last year, India’s Supreme Court accorded legal recognition for the first time to transgender people as a ‘third’ gender, a move that the report’s authors concluded marked a step towards a more inclusive climate. In fact, earlier this week, the Times of India reported on the appointment of the first transgender principal to an Indian college.
Traditionally, Indian society has placed great importance on the family and marriage – leading to single people facing discrimination. This can include many LGBT people who have kept their same-sex relationships a secret.
Quoted in the report was Pallav Patankar, Executive Director of the LGBT rights NGO, Humsafar Trust. He said, ‘There exists an unwritten discriminatory reward system in some organizations around appraisals and bonuses against single people. A lot of LGBT people who do not wish to get into trouble are unable to explain that the marriage is never going to happen.
‘Does that mean “I am going to get a horrible posting and am I going to get a sad bonus, because somebody out there doesn’t think I really need it because I am not married and I don’t have children”?
‘I think somewhere it breathes into you and you may probably look at alternate careers, you might look at better options or you might just leave that organization because there is something out there which is unfair and I think that needs to be addressed with a lot of organizations.
‘Sadly I find a lot of HR professionals totally clueless or insensitive to this reality.’
In its recommendations for change, the report’s authors pointed to the success of ally networks in companies in other parts of the world: straight colleagues who are prepared to speak out in defense of LGBT inclusion and diversity.
It also said that LGBT networks and support groups are ‘a tangible gesture by organizations to acknowledge that employees have a demanding life with its own set of challenges and pulls beyond the identity that the individual has at the work place.’
One of the reasons that so few companies are prepared to be seen to act to promote LGBT issues is that same-sex sexual activity was recriminalized in the country in 2013, following an early court case in 2009 that had rendered it legal. An appeal against this verdict is currently pending in the country’s Supreme Court.
There is also no legal protection against sexual orientation discrimination.
Commenting on the report’s findings, Sarika Bhattacharya, co-founder of Biz Divas Foundation and a co-author of the inclusion report told Quartz said this lack of progress on LGBT inclusion was down to two main factors.
‘One, the Indian legal stand is still not clear. So companies are a little wary and unsure about making it very open through policies. If someone puts up a hand and says it’s illegal, then it becomes a legal case.’
‘Two, LGBT as a community is very small in terms of the people who are out of the closet, and are open about it.’
A report, ‘2015: Asia – Ground Shifts for LGBT Workers Abroad’, published earlier this year buy Monitor Global Outlook, found that workplace discrimination against LGBT employees in India remained ‘high’.
It also said that although some companies may have charters that mentioned LGBT inclusion, ‘there may be a considerable gap between corporate policy and practice.’