On first anniversary of Supreme Court ruling striking down Section 377 ruling, 6 mantras for corporate India
Although the LGBTQ community is celebrating the Section 377 judgment today, they are also asking companies, the government and society at large — “What next?” I am hoping that this time next year, corporate India will have a powerful answer to give to them.
Godrej Culture Lab head Parmesh Shahani offers six mantras for corporate India one year after the Section 377 judgment.
He advises organisations implement these if they are committed to upholding equal rights.
At recent LGBTQ job fairs in Mumbai and Bengaluru, we had hundreds of visitors at the Godrej booth. As I watched these incredible LGBTQ applicants, my mind went back to 6 September 2018.
In the Supreme Court’s historic judgement striking down parts of Section 377 on that day, then Chief Justice Dipak Misra quoted German philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s words: “I am what I am, so take me as I am” — a statement that would become the mantra for India’s LGBTQ community.
These words set the ball rolling on so many more conversations across the globe on the discrimination the LGBTQ community in India faces, and also the different ways in which this discrimination could be battled. Over the past year, I’ve been on a whirlwind journey across corporate India, advocating for LGBTQ-inclusive workplaces. I have been sharing with them the Godrej Manifesto for Trans Inclusion in the Indian Workplace, which is a white paper I wrote along with my colleague Nayanika Nambiar, detailing a strong business case for LGBTQ inclusion. To make the business case for LGBTQ inclusion stronger, I am also writing a book — Queeristan — documenting my own journey in corporate India and the steps that other companies can take to become more inclusive.
The book will still take a few months to release, but till then, here are my six mantras for corporate India one year after the Section 377 judgment. Read and implement them in your organisations please!
- Immediately and urgently sensitise senior business leaders
One of my earliest conversations with my boss Nisa Godrej was when I asked her, “I am gay. What can the company do for me?” and she had the foresight to say, “Tell me what you need, and it will be done”.
After this, I went back, took a look at the policies at Godrej and asked for them to be worded differently. It was a simple word to be added here, some phrasing to be polished there — but to me it was non-negotiable and part of the bare minimum a company should offer. Make sure you push the inclusion agenda with the leaders — that is how the message will trickle down.
- Publicise your support for the LGBTQ community; the community is waiting to hear from you
Even if you are straight, come out of your closet and show yourself as the supportive ally you are. After the Section 377 judgment, over 70+ companies came up with innovative branding to show their support for the LGBTQ community. This is great because the community is most definitely watching. They are seeking jobs based on companies’ sensitivity to LGBTQ issues and they will keep doing so. I am acutely aware that of the companies that ‘came out’ in support of the LGBTQ, very few have actually followed it up with on-ground work. So yes, show your support outwardly, but make sure you are going beyond that too. We just need to make sure the conversation doesn’t end at superficialities.
- Engage with civil society organisations near you
There is an LGBTQ support space or organisation in almost every state in India. Companies need to actively seek them out and engage with them through sustained efforts. They might need funding, small sponsorships, they could link you to important sensitisation resources or could even be your solution to LGBTQ hiring.
- Refer to the best practices of others around you
To shamelessly plug our own work, our Manifesto on Trans Inclusion in the Indian Workplace is a great place to start referencing (read it here) There are so many other companies doing excellent work in this area. Reach out to them and ask for their advice. Inclusion is not a zero sum game. In this case, the more you share, the faster and better the results will be.
- Check your privilege
I have had conversations with HR heads of companies who are exhausted with all the inclusion efforts they have to put in, post-judgment. I want to remind those who are ‘exhausted of these inclusion drives’ about the years of discrimination and prejudice the community has tackled and continues to tackle. The community is far from equal to you: the Parliament recently passed a transphobic bill, the community has been shunned in the Surrogacy Bill and the CARA guidelines (for adoption). We are therefore actively still being ‘othered’ in the eyes of the law and companies must recognise this.
- Create opportunities or empower change
At Godrej we just awarded a scholarship via Godrej’s LOUD initiative to a young MBA graduate, Gokul Chhabra, who is working towards launching a beauty salon run by the LGBTQ community. Gokul will now work with the Godrej Salon-I initiative to make this happen. You can do this too, simply by encouraging skilling and training yourself or even by offering your services for free trainings in exchange for volunteer hours.
I am keen to see companies take note of these simple steps at a larger scale. Although the community is celebrating the judgment today, they are also asking companies, the government and society at large — “What next?” I am hoping that this time next year, corporate India will have a powerful answer to give to them.
Parmesh Shahani is the head of the Godrej India Culture Lab, a senior TED Fellow and the author of the books Gay Bombay: Globalization Love and Belonging in Contemporary India (2008) and Queeristan: LGBTQ Inclusion in Corporate India (forthcoming in 2020)
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