Perspectives on LGBT Workplace Equality in India

 

On May 10, Out & Equal held a webinar entitled “Perspectives on LGBT Workplace Equality in India,” as part of our bimonthly global webinar series. Audience members had a number of interesting questions at the end of the webinar. Below are answers to those final questions, provided by two of our panelists, Ramkrishna Sinha, a Graphics Hardware Engineer and LGBT ERG Lead at Intel India, and Sriniwasan Ramaswami, formerly the Chief of Staff and Pride Network Sponsor at Intuit India.

 

Have there been any major legal reforms recently regarding consensual sex between same-sex couples in India, and has there been any progress on same-sex marriage?

Ramkrishna Sinha: After a review petition with the Supreme Court, the case of sex between same-sex couples has been referred to a five-judge bench, and a curative petition hearing is pending. Unfortunately, there has been no progress regarding same-sex marriage; we are still battling de-criminalization.

 

How do existing laws and public perceptions impact foreign LGBT visitors and foreign LGBT workers in India?

RS: Section 377 will apply to foreign visitors and coworkers, so it is important to exercise caution while dating in India. The decision to come out to Indian counterparts/team members should be thought through.

 

Would an LGBT ERG in India face legal challenges or threats?

RS: The legal interpretation of Section 377 is about criminalization of certain acts, rather than identity. ERGs are meant to support LGBT employees and not to facilitate breaking the law in any ways, so it is legally acceptable to support an LGBT ERG.

 

In India, along with stigma, one has to manage the sarcasm and raised eyebrows of non-LGBT employees. How would you suggest managing that, especially when it comes from senior leaders themselves?

RS: There are a few steps one might follow. 1) If an organization has LGBT-inclusive policies, talking to HR about the concern might help. An HR representative may have a conversation about LGBT sensitization and expected workplace etiquette. 2) If there are no supportive policies, find allies in the organization who understand and support you. Your ally could then help you challenge the behavior. 3) Having a conversation helps. Often people have no clue about LGBT realities, and are instead full of stereotypes and misinformation. Having a heart-to-heart conversation might help the person see you for who you are beyond your sexuality.

 

What are some examples of successful LGBT initiatives, besides ERGs, that other organizations have rolled out? Are there any best practice benchmarks for LGBT inclusion in India?

RS: Coworkers will be at risk if they come out in either the workplace or their public life. Since as organizations we have little say in an individual’s choice of coming out, our focus is on creating inclusive policies and a culture where employees in the closet feel free to work without worrying about being outed at work, or about the negative consequences of coming out at work. Hence we leverage allies for ERGs, where employees can participate without the stigma of being LGBT and can engage with the network. Other strategies could include anonymous calls, email subscriptions, off-site meetings, etc., to build the confidence of closeted employees.

 

How do companies create an environment that encourages self-identification, if it is not socially welcomed?

RS: Companies rarely have a self-identification program in India. If they do, these are very confidential, and are used to gauge the impact of LGBT inclusive initiatives in the organization. This would be done at the macro-level, and would reflect only numbers, without individual self-identification. Coming out at work for an individual is based on their experience of the workplace environment, and although it is aided by HR policies, etc., it is not a part of corporate self-identification program.

 

What are examples of some LGBT supportive policies at Intel and Intuit?

RS: At Intel, we have a policy of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and our “Prevention of Sexual Harassment” policy is gender neutral. We also have All-Gender Restroom available at our facility.

Sriniwasan Ramaswami: At Intuit, some of our supportive policies include: 1) Recognition of Domestic Partners under our Insurance Plan; 2) Gender realignment surgery; 3) Gender Neutral Restrooms; 4) Reasonal Accommodation policy; and 5) Adoption Assistance.

 

Does Intel have a reverse-mentoring program?

RS: At Intel, we have fairly fluid reverse mentoring; it is not a structured program right now. Our objective is to provide leadership with access to LGBT employees’ perspectives of the organization through personal stories, challenges faced, and possible solutions. We believe once allies see the workplace from a different lens, then they are motivated to make it inclusive and equal for all.

 

I would also love to hear more about Intuit’s podcasts that Sriniwasan mentioned.

SR: At Intuit, we host bi-weekly podcasts and then share them with all of our employees. These are usually under 10-minutes and are made available on intranet. We strongly believe in following a blended and rounded approach towards sensitizing employees and building a culture of inclusion, and through these podcasts we are able to share authentic and real life stories of our LGBT friends and our allies with our employees. They include topics such as gender, sexuality, Section 377, laws, homophobia, terminologies, policies, etc., and are for internal circulation only. The Pride Network Chair conducts research on these topics, and also invites members of the LGBT community who are experts on a particular subject matter to contribute. Lastly, we then offer the opportunity to any Intuit employee (ERG members, managers, leaders) to host the podcast.

 

Have you received any push-back from non-ally employees regarding ally cards?  We tried something similar to this and we could not fully implement it because employees felt that if they did not have this “badge,” then they were seen as hostile towards LGBT employees.

RS: Very interestingly we had one employee ask about it recently.  The question was that, since it is a default expectation for all employees to be respectful, why do they need to wear a badge? We clarified that not wearing the badge does not mean one is not supportive. There are many ways to be an ally, and different people choose different methods to express their support. This is just one way to create visible support for an invisible community.

 

We talked significantly during the webinar about large American corporations that have a presence in India. However, regarding large Indian corporations, like Tata Consulting for example, how do they seek to foster and work towards equality?

RS: Some Indian companies are doing fantastic work, like Godrej, which has been very visible and vocal in its support, and where the MD of VIP is an out lesbian woman. Many other companies had started on the journey post-2009, but took a step back after the 2013 ruling. Many other companies are now in the process of starting conversations on LGBT inclusion, particularly trans inclusion.

 

Do you notice younger employers are more comfortable coming out than older employees?

SR: In what may come as a surprise to some, young people who are LGBT are far less likely than older workers to be open about their sexual orientation in the workplace. Despite popular perceptions that young people these days are more comfortable with their sexual orientation, many young LGBT employees don’t yet feel that they can be themselves at work, or that they can confidently say that their work environment is safe and inclusive, since many have faced homophobic bullying or harassment in some form. However, despite the courts’ reinstatement of Section 377, many organizations, including Intuit, have continued their efforts and journey, ultimately aiming to sensitize, create awareness, and work towards fostering and promoting a safe and inclusive work culture.

 

The answers provided in this article reflect the personal opinions of the authors. They do not reflect the opinions of Intel India or Intuit India.