Godrej's anti-harassment policies are gender neutral: Parmesh Shahani

They really understood what a struggle it must be for LGBT people in India and promised me that if their children came out as LGBT, they would completely support them.


Meet Parmesh Shahani. He is one of the country’s most multifaceted public figures. He is known for voicing opinions on LGBT diversity and inclusion, as he believes that diversity leads to more innovation. Former editorial director of Verve magazine, he created Godrej India Culture Lab after he became a TED Fellow in 2009. In an interview with Business world People’s Himani Chandna, talks about the policies and initiatives of Godrej India for rights of the LGBT community at work place.

Being strong supporter of inclusivity at the workplace, what are the benefits that diversity and inclusions bring to on the table of an employer? 

The idea is to respect everyone for whom they are, so that they can bring their “whole self” to work. Diversity also leads to innovation – the more diverse a company is, the more innovative it is, because there are so many different voices around the table making decisions about its future. For us, this is a journey that we are still on - whether it is in making progressive policies or in ensuring that these are practised through the culture we create.

What are the policies and initiatives the company has in place to support LGBT at the work place? 

Godrej provides an equal opportunity policy to all and does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Our anti-harassment policies are gender neutral. We also have equal benefits to same sex partners of employees and a medical benefit scheme that includes the spouse / domestic partner, parents or children of an employee. 

How has your work at India Culture Lab served as a catalyst for the inclusion and integration in Godrej? 

Over the past five years, the company has hosted over 40 LGBT themed events as part of the Godrej India Culture Lab. We have had well-known guests like Radhika Piramal, managing director, VIP Industries, Harish Iyer, homosexual rights activist, Sushant Divigikar, TV and film actor, singer, VJ and choreographer, Laxmi Tripathi, prominent transgender activist speaking about their own journey of acceptance of sexual orientation. During Trans Awareness Week, on November 18, we hosted the ‘Dancing Queens’, Mumbai’s premiere professional transgenderled dance contingent, in a collaborative performance curated by the Lab’s scholar-in-residence, Jeff Roy. We have also collaborated with the UN to host a summit with other companies that want to be LGBT friendly. In June 2016, we hosted the Indian LGBT Youth Leadership Summit for the second consecutive year. Additionally, we hosted a national conference by Mission for Indian homosexual Empowerment, an organisation that aims to groom young people for positions of leadership. Godrej also sponsored KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival 2017, the biggest LGBT film festival in South Asia. 

How has this been beneficial for the organization? What more do you want to bring in at Godrej? 

Through our events, we closely engage with leaders from the LGBT community and our events are a great way of sensitizing our employees to LGBT issues. I remember once, we hosted a play by Mona Ambegaokar called Ek Madhavbaug about a mother who discovers that her son is homosexual by reading his diary. After that play, many people in the audience were in tears, especially those who had children of their own. Many of them came and told me that it was the first time they really understood what a struggle it must be for LGBT people in India and promised me that if their children came out as LGBT, they would completely support them. It was very moving. 

How should companies be more sensitive towards LGBT employees? Do you think asking gender on induction forms is instructive? 

Three simple steps -- - Companies should first create policies that are inclusive. Secondly, they should create a culture of inclusion and this should start at the top. Finally companies should engage with the LGBT community and hire more and more LGBT individuals. 

The process isn’t simple. What have been your learnings and challenges? 

I read somewhere that about 64 percent of the youth in India want to work at companies that are inclusive and LGBT friendly. The fact that Godrej is LGBT friendly has been appreciated by everyone. I speak at college campuses across India as part of our recruitment drive and it is amazing how responsive they are to what we say. It is vital that we are an old Indian company talking about inclusion – and we often say this too. Inclusion is something that is deeply rooted in Indian values – we are simply practising these values. 

Are the Indian companies now more open to LGBT freindly environment? 

Of course. More and more Indian comapanies are realising the need to be LGBT friendly. As I mentioned earlier, diversity makes the working space more productive. Various companies are promoting inclusion as LGBT is one of the aspects of society and cannot be excluded. Youngester prefer a progressive company with an open minded approach towards work. They like the fact that they are a part of an inclusive company. Global innovation companies too are taking inclusive diversity seriously. The hiring process are talent and value based for a better future growth. 

Among Indian leaders, who as per you, is boldly coming out to support LGBT rights and culture at workplace? 

Leading by example and sharing personal stories can be very effective in ensuring that the organisation is effective. The young India is changing and so is the thought process of industry. All big reforms have great leaders behind their success. Radhika Piramal, MD, VIP Industries is one of those great leaders, who came out in confidence about her sexual orientation. This gives employees ample of comfort in stating their individuality and help them work freely. Nisa Godrej, Chairperson, Godrej consumer products, our leader completely believes in inclusive diversity. She also believes in me and my efforts to make work environment more LGBT friendly and promote inclusion. 

Your words on the Supreme court verdict of declaring privacy as a fundamental right under the Indian constitution.

I’m very enthused by SC’s ruling. I think it is a ray of hope for the LGBT community. Of course, we still need to do a lot of work within the community but after the SC’s judgment, it is only a matter of time before Section 377 is struck down. With this verdict, 377 is on its way out. We are hoping that the corporate community takes these standards and implements them in the organisations in the best possible way. I implore people to train their children toward empathy and more importantly to repeal Section 377.

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