Trans inclusion at the workplace: How corporate India can play a role in setting up support systems

There is a need to assess the actual efforts being taken by organisations to make workplaces inclusive. Mere tokenism is not enough

Parmesh Shahani December 21, 2018 11:41:19 IST
Trans inclusion at the workplace: How corporate India can play a role in setting up support systems

When the Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgement decriminalising homosexuality on 6 September, 2018, we, as members of the LGBTQ community, felt hopeful that it would soon end the harassment and discrimination that we have been facing over the years.

At the Godrej India Culture Lab, we started writing a white paper, A Manifesto for Trans Inclusion in the Workplace, back in June 2018, during the legal existence of Section 377. When the judgement was passed, we realised that the importance of the Manifesto had increased manifold.

While the law supports the community, there is a lot of difference between decriminalisation and true equality.

In the process of empowering the LGBTQ community, corporate India has a major role to play, especially in terms of offering a dignified form of employment and ensuring the community is not discriminated against in the workplace. While prominent people, including corporates, spoke in favour of the ruling, there is a need to assess the actual efforts being taken by organisations to make workplaces inclusive. Mere tokenism is not enough, and we need to wait and see how policies are implemented.

We launched A Manifesto for Trans Inclusion in the Workplace in December 2018 (it can be downloaded here) as a practical guide. The paper suggests certain steps that corporate workplaces can adopt to be more inclusive to the transgender community. We decided to specifically focus on the transgender community as they tend to be one of the most neglected segments in the LGBTQ spectrum. Sample these statistics: Almost 92 percent of India’s 4.9 lakh trans people are unable to participate in any economic activity, and less than half have access to education (UNDP, 2016).

Why corporate India needs to be inclusive

One of the compelling reasons why companies need to become inclusive is because of the impact it has on the overall profit. Research that looks into the LGBTQ consumer base’s purchasing power and characteristics indicate that the average gay consumer is college-educated, shops online and is interested in purchasing the latest technology. Our spending power is estimated to be $200 billion (according to a study done by Forbes India and Out Now Consulting), and we are the fourth largest economy in terms of GDP (LGBT Foundation, 2018). It doesn’t make good business sense to discriminate against such a significant chunk of the population.

Not being inclusive can also affect a company’s reputation. A 2016 World Bank report placed India’s loss in GDP due to homophobia and transphobia up to $32 billion, or 1.7 percent of our GDP (Radcliffe, 2016).

Trans inclusion at the workplace How corporate India can play a role in setting up support systems

Representational image. Photograph by Satwik Paul

In terms of talent attraction, diversity is good for the workplace. A 2010 report by Kellogg Insight shows that diverse groups in the workplace tend to perform better. A 2016 study by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation found that 72 percent of people are more likely to accept a job at a company that is more supportive of LGBTQ employees. Millennials are one of the key segments that companies are targeting, and this segment is keen to work with LGBTQ-friendly brands (MINGLE, 2016).

Pro-LGBTQ advertising is also good for business. In 2017, P&G Vicks’ trans motherhood advertisement featuring Gauri Sawant was a big hit and the sales of their health products rose. Companies such as eBay and Myntra also successfully incorporated LGBTQ themes in their advertising.

What the Manifesto says

A Manifesto for Trans Inclusion in the Workplace outlines nine steps towards trans inclusion that include devising an anti-discrimination policy, active trans hiring efforts, sensitisation of employees, developing restroom infrastructure, offering health insurance and medical benefits, and establishing a support system for employees transitioning in the workplace.

As a first step, at the event, Nisa Godrej, chairperson of Godrej Consumer Products, announced the launch of gender inclusive bathrooms as well as a gender affirmation policy to cover transition costs for employees.

The launch featured corporate leaders who are pioneering LGBTQ inclusivity, including Keshav Suri, executive director, Lalit Suri Hospitality Group, and Radhika Piramal, vice chairperson and executive director, VIP Industries Ltd, who spoke on the gender inclusive policies that they follow in their companies. The white paper also profiles companies like Tata Steel, one of the first companies from the steel/manufacturing industry to launch an LGBTQ Employee Resource Group.

LGBTQ hiring also comes with its unique set of challenges. The Kochi Metro, another case study that features in the Manifesto, hired and trained trans employees but the employees found themselves unable to pay rent or commuting costs, were harassed on the job and didn’t have access to gender neutral washrooms. The Kochi Metro has since then been working on addressing each of these challenges.

Such case studies offer some perspective on how small and large steps can pave the way for LGBTQ inclusion in the workplace. We are gratified as to how many other companies have downloaded the Manifesto since its launch and are using it in their own workplaces, and hope that many more do so.

Parmesh Shahani is head of Godrej India Culture Lab

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