Access to sexuality and gender rights in the workplace received yet another fillip as the United Nations (UN) started a series of consultations with corporates to ensure greater inclusivity of employees who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), and to end the discrimination faced by them at the workplace. Representatives from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the London-based Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) met heads of companies, LGBT activists, and Diversity and Inclusion professionals in a closed-door event in Mumbai on Monday to discuss the challenges that face national as well as local and foreign multinational companies located in India, in creating a supportive work environment for members of the LGBT community. The UN and IHRB will hold consultations in Europe, Africa and the United States at the end of which the guidance will be made available for companies to develop policies.
“There is an increasing understanding among companies worldwide of the multiple benefits of diversity and inclusion. It creates a window of opportunity for the United Nations to develop guidelines on the ways corporations can respect and promote the human rights of LGBT people within their walls, but equally important outside of them. The consultative process allows us to get a better understanding of the specific challenges and opportunities that companies face in different contexts, such as the specific Indian legal and cultural context. I am confident this will contribute to having a final set of guidelines that will be useful and hopefully lead to improvements in the lives of the millions of LGBTI people in India,” said OHCHR human rights officer Fabrice Houdart, who is conducting the consultation with Charles Radcliffe, chief of Global Issues and Intergovernmental Affairs, OHCHR.
“Being LGBT inclusive aligns completely with our core values of equality and helps create a workplace that empowers each employee to bring their whole self to work. We also believe that it makes good business sense—in the search for talent and in creating a workplace in which innovation thrives. Diversity is essential to create a future ready organization,” said Parmesh Shahani, head of the Godrej India Culture Lab, and part of the senior leadership who is driving LGBT inclusivity in the company. Godrej Industries, which employed a transgender employee last month, and also conducts sensitization workshops for managers on LGBT-inclusion, hosted the event at their corporate headquarters located in Vikhroli.
According to a communication on the website of the IHRB, which has teamed up with the UN for this effort, the draft guidance under development advises companies to make policy commitments, establish remedies, create effective recruitment policies, extend employee benefits, and undertake public advocacy to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
In India, after the recriminalization of consensual same-sex intercourse in 2013, corporates are hesitant to come out in support of LGBT rights in fear of being on the wrong side of the law. However, in the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court verdict on Section 377, which penalizes non penile-vaginal intercourse, lawyers from Bengaluru-based Alternate Law Forum clarified that the law did not criminalize anyone who identified as LGBT, or penalize companies that created LGBT-friendly policies and a safe work environment for their employees.
On 5 June, think tank Mission for Indian Gay and Lesbian Empowerment (MINGLE) released a report based on a survey conducted among 100 LGBT persons employed in Information Technology, Banking and Finance, and Fast Moving Consumer Goods and Manufacturing sectors. The report titled The Indian LGBT Workplace Climate Survey 2016 found that 52% of them were not covered by anti-discrimination policies at their workplaces, and 96% lacked same-sex partner benefits available to their married colleagues. The report also found that 87% of them did not have access to formal LGBT Employee Resource Groups within their organization. In the absence of protective policies, two in three reported hearing homophobic comments in the workplace and one in five faced discrimination by their immediate managers and human resources department.
According to a 2014 World Bank estimate, the economic cost of stigma and exclusion of LGBT people in India is $31 billion.