Evolution Of LGBTQIA+ Inclusion At Workplace

A peak into the advances made towards inclusion of persons of the Pride community, and the shortcomings that need to be addressed


LGBTQIA+ individuals have made considerable advances in securing equal rights, greater social visibility, and acceptance and equality in the workplace. However, there is still significant discrimination—and, in many countries, discriminatory laws— against the community.

While it is evident that we have come a long way in inclusion of LGBTQIA+ community, making them feel at ease and helping them accept who they are or want to be, but there is much distance to be covered.

A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that gay applicants in OECD countries are about 50 per cent less likely to be invited to a job interview than their straight counterparts; they earn, on an average, 4 per cent less than their heterosexual peers; and they are 11 per cent less likely to hold a high managerial position. No wonder, LGBTQIA+ people are reluctant to be out at work — there are only a few LGBTQIA+ CEOs in the Fortune 500.

In India, earlier, the context of diversity did not extend beyond women’s representation in the workforce. That is slowly, but surely, changing now. In September 2018, the Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality by scrapping section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. This threw a sharp focus on the support to LGBTQIA+ employees at the workplace. However, a lot still needs to be done to welcome gender minorities into the workplace.

In the Indian context

Indian organisations have begun to focus on Diversity and Inclusion agenda within the organisational ecosystem. Companies are now incorporating new titles like ‘Diversity Officer’, ‘Chief Diversity Officer’ and ‘Diversity and Inclusion Consultant’. It is also used as a measure to promote employee engagement and attract key talent. In fact, Indian companies like Tech Mahindra, TCS and Godrej have received global recognition for their D&I endeavours.

Earlier, even the boardroom talks were restricted to providing measures towards female inclusion in the workplace realm but over past decade the focus has shifted towards the inclusion of other talented individuals from all walks of life, including LGBTQIA+ individuals.

Today’s LGBTQIA+ workforce has undergone a fundamental generational shift, both in terms of how it defines itself and what it expects of workplace inclusion. The LGBTQIA+ workforce is far more racially diverse and more likely to include people with more varied sexual orientations than in the past, particularly among younger generations.

The evolving makeup of the LGBTQIA+ workforce and its multifaceted composition present challenges to changing organisational culture — but in this complexity lies the solution. Future D&I efforts aimed at LGBTQIA+ employees must acknowledge multiple personal attributes in addition to sexual orientation and gender identity. Demographic factors (like race, generation, and immigrant status) and life factors (such as caretaker status, religious belief, managerial level, and income) mean that each LGBTQIA+ employee has a different life experience.

Successful culture change will take a “segment of one” lens to acknowledge each employee’s unique life context and needs.

Present scenario

A key issue is that the earliest D&I initiatives were aimed at establishing anti-discrimination and non-retaliation policies. Subsequent efforts that focused on benefits parity, ERGs, and recruiting processes were designed to

level the playing field. These programmes tended to cover formal interactions but did not address daily, informal interactions. Nor were they meant to activate the entire workforce around inclusion. In that way, those policies and initiatives were critical but are no longer enough to create an inclusive workplace or change the behaviours and biases of majority groups.

Further, companies should issue clear guidelines about the use of pronouns, stipulating that employees can expect their colleagues to use the pronouns they use. Companies should strive to use gender-neutral language and incorporate it into formal communication (for example, during introductions and at the beginning of team meetings). This approach shifts the burden away from LGBTQIA+ employees and instead creates an expectation of inclusion that applies to the entire workforce.

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