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Pink & Proud: How Indian MNCs are becoming more LGBTQ-friendly

Participants of a 2018 Bhopal parade celebrating the ruling of the Supreme Court Image credit: By Mukesh bari - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74018057

Tech Mahindra recently introduced progressive policies for its LGBTQ employees which included same-sex adoption leave and bereavement leave. Under the policy, same-sex couples can avail of 12 weeks of paid leave in the case of adoption and three days of bereavement leave. The company has also formed LGBTQ communities called ‘Kaleidoscopes,’ which will share stories from community members to the larger audience.

While, traditionally, members of the LGBTQ+ community have found it difficult to assimilate with society and work environment, more businesses and organisations are focusing on inclusivity, especially after September 6, 2018, Supreme Court judgement scrapping the archaic Sec 377 and decriminalising homosexuality.

In 2018, Tech Mahindra saw one of its former employees, Gaurav Probir Pramanik, go public with accusations of homophobia and bigotry that he had faced in the hands of the company’s former Diversity and Inclusivity Officer, Richa Gautam. After Pramanik’s tweet went viral, Gautam was asked to leave the company and Group Chairman, Anand Mahindra tweeted that Tech Mahindra believes in diversity and inclusion and condones discrimination of any kind in the workplace.

Corporate India has not always been this diverse or inclusive, though. A 2015 study of 21 corporate companies conducted by the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, revealed that 98 per cent of the companies did not take any initiatives to make their workplaces more inclusive. However, things are changing as more companies are realising that the economic and social benefits of a diverse and inclusive work environment.

Including the LGBTQ+ sector in the workforce makes economic sense – a 2018 study by the Boston Consulting Group revealed that increasing diversity in the leadership team leads to better innovation and higher profit margins. The report analysed employees in more than 1,700 companies across eight countries, which included India, China, France, Brazil, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and the US. It also found that employees in emerging economies such as Brazil, India and China, reported greater progress in bringing in diversity than those in developed economies.

Inclusive policies

Like Tech Mahindra, a number of corporates in the country have been working towards providing safe and inclusive workspaces for their LGBTQ+ employees. Recently, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) broadened the scope of its health insurance policy coverage to include same-sex partners as well. The new policy has replaced the term ‘spouse’ with ‘partner’ to bring in a more inclusive policy. Further, as per the new policy, up to 50 per cent of a sex reassignment/gender reassignment surgery will be covered by insurance.

Another Tata company, Tata Steel also recently introduced a new HR policy whereby it allows employees to disclose details of their partner and get HR benefits. This includes health check-ups, adoption leave, child care leave and newborn parent leave. The policy also allows LGBTQ employees to receive financial aid for gender reassignment surgery and a 30 day leave for the same.

The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group presently has the highest number of LGBTQ+ employees employed in the hospitality sector. It became the first hotel chain in India to extend employee benefits to its LGBTQ+ employees and families, which included same-sex partners, adoptive parents and children and children born through surrogacy in its healthcare plan. The hotel group, whose executive director Keshav Suri, has championed the cause of LGBTQ+ and was one of the petitioners of the Section 377 case, has also been holding annual Pride parade parties and drag shows.

The India Culture Lab at Godrej collaborates with different teams within the company to have meaningful conversations around LGBTQ+ rights. The Lab has also launched a ‘Manifesto for Trans Inclusion in the Indian Workplace,’ which is aimed at highlighting how the inclusion of trans-people in the workforce makes it a win-win situation for both the community and the companies involved.  

While the Kochi Rail Metro has employed nearly 23 trans people in its housekeeping and ticketing departments, other companies including IBM India, Accenture, Capgemini India and RBS India also offer various facilities for their LGBTQ employees which include sensitisation and myth-busting sessions with the rest of the employees, health care policies and Pride walks, among others.

However, this alone is not enough as much of the work is concentrated around the top MNCs, while the majority of the people in the community remain marginalised and discriminated against. As per the 2011 census, the population of transgenders in the country is around 4.9 lakh – a figure which could be much higher as many more have not been counted. A 2016 World Bank report had said that India lost billions of dollars due to homophobia and the exclusion of members of the LGBTQ+ community - with lower educational achievements and added cost of providing healthcare to the community which is more prone to mental health problems, adding on to the burden. A healthy, educationally forward and inclusive society would thus save the country billions of dollars.