LGBTQIA+ inclusion: Is it mere lip service in India Inc?

Protest from the young and disillusioned on social media could hurt a company’s brand image, impacting its employee attraction ability and more.
Protest from the young and disillusioned on social media could hurt a company’s brand image, impacting its employee attraction ability and more.


  • Today, various generations huddled in the same office want the voices of all genders and orientation want to be heard. Businesses that care about their brand image have adopted DEI measures, but there still seems a long way to go for ideal levels of diversity, equity and inclusion.

A born-male hotel executive who identified as a woman had a request of her HR head. She wanted to work in the reception desk of the hotel in a sari. The senior approved. Next morning, the executive in a sari drew attention from many guests, but the decision worked in the hotel’s favour. That one nod upped ratings from many guests and bolstered its brand image of being an inclusive company.

Now, in an ideal world, an employee being denied a role because of any orientation is unacceptable. But since we do not reside in such a world, the letters LGBTQIA+ (abbreviation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual and any other identities) could take time to percolate through the layers of most organizations. 

But time is not a luxury that India Inc has. Today, different generations huddled in the same office want the voices of all genders and orientation, with any kind of fluidity, to be heard pronto.

A single protest from the young and disillusioned on social media could hurt a company’s brand image, impacting its employee attraction ability and more. “It has taken more than 50 years for society and thereby companies to notice the impact women leaders bring to an organization. 

Getting them to accept different orientations, which are also evolving, will take a lot more years," observes a senior HR executive who conducts DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) training sessions for business leaders of a conglomerate. “We have to start now."

Also read: LGBTQ+ community finds startups, MNCs ’safest’ workplace! Thanks to GenZ and millennial crowd

The HR executive recounts how leaders are getting trained not to react or form any judgement, and also be acutely aware of any subconscious bias kicking in when a job seeking candidate discloses more about oneself. “‘I am asexual’ cannot be met with ‘What does that mean?’ or ‘How will the employee fit in,’ etc. 

No one asks personal questions, but candidates in interviews have opened up about their orientations sometimes just to check if they and the firm are a match."

What does DEI training involve? Is it taken seriously across all levels in India Inc, or is it just a perfunctory checklist tick-off? A consultant told me that explaining it to employees could lead to questions on religious beliefs on orientation, with morality cropping up as a subject.

There is curiosity about whether sexual and other forms of diversity can influence decision-making processes, while there is also rejection of anything beyond heteronormative archetypes. People often ask if all employees must attend these programmes if the likelihood of having LGBTQIA+ colleagues is low. 

Some firms insist that all need to be sensitized, while others want their senior leadership to be trained every few months in the hope that their understanding will seep through the layers.

The worry that they may not be considered inclusive has pushed firms across sectors to look at benefit packages. While concepts like adoption and paternity leave are available in a few firms, DEI teams are working to ensure that if gender-affirming surgery is covered by the company’s insurance policy, then so should the gender-related medical expenses of employees who are transitioning but may not require surgery.

Also read: Pride in diverse colours: Remembering India’s LGBTQ icons

But can these measures stop the slurs? A business house had to look into a harassment case where an employee felt “threatened" by another colleague who had come out of the closet. “Slurs, abusive words, snide remarks are common, but rarely are they reported by anyone, not even the person who was the target. 

Sometimes, senior executives are bored in these sessions, but the hope is that with every step, the office becomes a safer place," says a senior executive.

Unfortunately, as conversations with office-goers suggest, leaders in many places are still getting used to the new dynamics brought about by out-of-the-closet orientations. In the meantime, the younger lot, especially in metros , are scanning their employment contracts to confirm if the firm meets their fairness yardstick. DEI standards are rising. Simply installing a gender-neutral washroom doesn’t make the cut.

Whether people protest what they identify as DEI violations, especially if someone is victimized in office for orientation, can depend on how badly they need their jobs. For many, calling out the bigotry displayed by a senior, like opening up to colleagues, can be a tricky decision if it risks being singled out and ridiculed. Yet, from insider accounts, company cultures are changing as younger generations move in. 

According to a prominent DEI activist, there seems to be more acceptance of different orientations among general workers than their higher-ups who work in cubicles: “A transgender working in a plant is more easily accepted by the workmen on the floor but the MBA degree holders in cabins create more resistance."

Also read: Understanding and supporting LGBTQ+ adolescents

So, are DEI training investments turning out to be mere lip service in India Inc? Is June celebrated as Pride Month mostly for brand projection purposes? I would like to think that even if a single candidate opens up about one’s sexuality in a job interview and the panel waves the candidate in as if nothing extraordinary happened, then India Inc should feel relieved.

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