About two weeks ago, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of LGBTQ+ advocates protecting LGBTQ+ employees, roughly 3.4 million LGBT workers and over 500,000 transgender workers aged 16 and older, against discrimination at the hands of employers. Nearly two years ago India decriminalized Section 377, that essentially held the belief legally that being gay was a criminal offence. Kenya is currently fighting the system for fair and equal treatment of the LGBTQ+ community.
In 2019, a research on different rules for LGBTQ+ individuals in different countries was conducted. While LGBTQ+ rights continue to be fought for, the research revealed that in 70 counties across the globe “consensual same-sex sexual activity is still criminalized, punishable by imprisonment, torture, and even death”.
Despite the progress made in certain countries that have enabled them to provide legal protection to LGBTQ+ individuals, the stigma continues to exist and in much volume. Commenting on the findings of the aforesaid research, Jean Freedberg, Director of Global Partnerships, Human Rights Campaign said, “It’s inconceivable that there are places on our planet where people’s lives are at risk for simply being who they are or loving whom they love.” The steps are small, and while there is some progress towards being LGBTQ-friendly, “There’s no country on earth that doesn’t need to do better.”
In light of the above, efforts and endeavors to make the world a fair and equitable place to live continue. A reminder of how far we have come is the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall riots, or as we know it and commemorate the events, Pride Month.
While the rainbow splash might disappear from logos of organizations tomorrow, let’s take a look at how Pride Month was celebrated in 2020, the discrepancies in experience and perception of LGBTQ+ employee benefits across the spectrum, and what holds us back from becoming an equitable community.
In conversation with People Matters, leaders from across the industry spoke about how they are keeping the spirit of Pride Month alive in the era of digital existence.
Martin Shanahan, CEO, IDA Ireland shared that the company celebrated Pride with a number of different initiatives, including launching their Gender Expression and Identity Policy; working on knowledge (Understanding) development by promoting a series of articles on the history of Pride and the impact it has had on modern Ireland; and through community development with the LGBT+ Ally Network in IDA Ireland hosting a virtual Table Quiz/Trivia Night for members.
“IDA Ireland has developed a clear Diversity and Inclusion strategy since 2017, focussing on multiple pillars of Diversity, Ability, Gender, Ethnic Minorities, Socio-Economic and LGBT+. Our approach has been to nominate Champions for each pillar, to both develop policies, and also to develop a programme of initiatives and events to ensure there is visibility of the D&I agenda.”
Pitney Bowes’ VP HR for APAC and Country Head - Delivery Centers, India, Ruchi Bhalla, shared, “All our policies are gender neutral and we have consciously sought to create an environment where everyone is valued, respected, can be fully who they are and have the opportunity to do meaningful work. This year, we have partnered with Pride Circle as an ‘Ally’ to support the LGBTQI Community by participating in the Virtual #21DaysAllyChallenge. This will help us better understand the LGBTQI Community and the challenges they face.”
Companies are ensuring to not just educate themselves, but also celebrate Pride Month with zest and zeal.
Talking about how the company is promoting a culture where people can bring their whole selves to work and strip away prejudices and stereotypes, Sudeep Ralhan, VP People, Walmart Labs India told People Matters about the company’s “UNMASK” themed Pride Month celebrations. “To raise awareness and promote a culture of inclusion both internally and externally, we had a host of virtual but immersive experiences throughout the month, including - mask designing contest for our associates and their families, with the theme of ‘All People All Pride’, a special video on the History of Pride, a musical evening with queer artists and allies and a host of activations, including special Zoom backgrounds and leadership messages.” The organization also hosted a LinkedIn Live panel discussion on “Why Inclusivity matters more than ever” with renowned external speakers like Indian Athlete and Olympian Dutee Chand, among other leaders.
Mehernosh Mehta, Head HR, Mahindra Logistics Limited shared that the organization launched its LGBTQ inclusion policy at the beginning of Pride month, and to celebrate, “In association with Pride Circle, we conducted an LGBTQ awareness and sensitization session for our leadership team. Additionally, we launched a digital awareness campaign for our employees and in collaboration with Pride circle introduced a 21-day ally challenge (game-based engagement that creates awareness about the community and enhances allyship) for all the employees.”
Mapping the progress so far
While advocacy has been tremendous towards enhancement of benefits for LGBTQ+ employees, there is still a very long road ahead.
In an interaction with People Matters, Elliot Vaughn, Managing Director and Partner at BCG in London, shared that the Out @ Work Barometer shows that 50 percent of LGBTQ employees are not yet openly out at work.
The legal system of the country plays a critical role in enabling or paralyzing an organization in being to extend LGBTQ+ friendly employee policies. In recent years however, through undeterred D&I initiatives, a large number of global organizations have been able to gradually steer a culture of acceptance, though with infinite gaps that continue to exist.
A recent report by Blind highlights the discrepancies in culture and perception when it comes to LGBTQ+ inclusion, from an overall organizational perspective as well as from employees across the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Here are three key takeaways from the research (The percentages below are indicative of employees saying yes to the corresponding questions):
IDA Ireland’s Martin Shanahan shares with People Matters some initiatives introduced by their organization, supporting their LGBT+ employees - created an LGBT+ Ally Network, joined a number of industry groups including OUTstanding, INvolve and the IBEC Diversity Forum; rolled out a number of Inclusive Training Programmes, such as Unconscious Bias and Remote Inclusion, which will be expanded in the future and more programmes will be added; and launched the Gender Identity and Expression Policy during Pride Month 2020.
In the beginning of Pride Month, Mahindra Logistics Ltd. unveiled its LGBTQIA policy and the intent to employ people from the LGBTQ+ community. Sharing details of the polices, Mehernonsh Mehta said that existing employees from LGBTQ+ community have been encouraged to declare their status, and upon declaration can avail benefits including but not limited to:
- Adoption Leave: Definition of adoptive parents as mentioned in the adoption policy has been extended to single LGBT parents. Such individuals shall be eligible to avail 12-week adoption leave, starting from date of adoption.
- Medical benefits: The medical insurance benefits shall be extended to same sex partners on declaration of the details of the partner.
- Counselling Services: LGBTQ employees can avail counselling services on request for self and 3 immediate family members. Employees can avail counselling services for their same- sex partner, who will be included in the definition of family, with respect to this policy.
Ralhan from Walmart Labs India also talks about a range of programs, policies and benefits undertaken to make their organization more inclusive for the LGBTQIA+ community through the year, which include:
- A visible Associate Resource Group lead by a Leadership Team member, encouraging the concept of “safe space” conversations
- Sensitization sessions for all support staff in the facilities to avoid uncomfortable situations, especially with their transgender associates
- Gender neutral washrooms
- Day Care benefits extended to single parents, primary and secondary caregivers
- Insurance Benefits: Including same sex partners; covering gender realignment surgery
- Inclusive Leave Policy: Adoption and surrogacy leave for single parents which is same as maternity leave
Scratching the surface for LGBTQ+ inclusion
A recent report brought out one of the many episodes that members of the LGBTQ+ community have to experience, if not protected.
“When he was attacked by a mob for being gay, Martin Okello said the kicks and blows from his assailants came so fast that he couldn't stop them or flee. He passed out and was left for dead in Nairobi's low-income neighborhood of Kawangware.”
The report spoke about his life in Uganda and how it all came down when “a male sex worker tried to extort Okello for $10 and outed him as gay. He was then fired from the Christian radio station where he worked and was kicked out of his home by his Catholic parents. The same day that he was forced to leave home, he was attacked by a group of people but managed to take shelter at a friend's house.”
Far too often, once individuals come out to their families as being on the spectrum, they are subjected to ridicule, shame and often, abandonment. They are also at risk of being attacked by mobs, causing them to in some cases flee their home country to seek solace and asylum in foreign countries. To provide shelter and support to them, several nations have constructed refugee asylums. One such asylum helped Okello survive.
While we can discuss the positives and the developments, one cannot overlook the vast lack of rights, knowledge, culture and facilities that still position LGBTQ+ individuals at a disadvantage. In the words of Ana Mendy, a McKinsey partner, “companies have to move beyond mere gestures of support for queer and trans people” if they want to engage a new generation of workers and consumers who increasingly prioritize diversity and inclusion.
Here are some steps to move beyond advocacy, towards action:
- Education: A famous saying goes this way - “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance” - the cost of this ignorance has been borne by LGBTQ+ individuals and their families for centuries. One acronym - SOGIESC. If the global community endeavors to understand this acronym, we will begin to scratch the surface of a fair world, or at least a less inhuman one, for all. SOGIESC stands for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, and Sex Characteristics.
Exploring what SOGIESC represents will enable you to understand that being LGBTQ+ is a lot more than who your partner is, it is about who you are, it’s about being authentic in understanding, identifying and expressing yourself.
- Equal rights for trans segments: LGBTQ+ is often considered as a unit, not realizing the intricacies and differentiating factors and requirements of individuals across the spectrum. Owing to this ignorance, one of the most overlooked segments of LGBTQ+ is the trans community. The trans community requires greater advocacy, protection and need their voice to be heard, challenging the colonial outlook and all the notions that keep them from living a life with basic human rights.
- Extending policies to partners of LGBTQ employees: Steps and policies are being taken towards inclusion, however, companies are yet to provide LGBTQ+ employees the same status as other employees when it comes to definition and inclusion of LGBTQ+ employee families in organizational benefits. “If you are LGBTQ, and you are insured but your partner isn’t, it’s a big problem,” shared Godrej India Culture Lab’s Founder, Parmesh Shahani, in an exclusive conversation with People Matters.
- Leadership representation: Hiring LGBTQ+ employees is just one aspect of attempting to be inclusive, a truly inclusive organization would show such support and stand, by having LGBTQ+ representation in the leadership. History is witness to how having an LGBTQ+ leader enhances the ability of an organization and nation to build greater equity for all.
It’s not too late to educate yourself on the injustice that the LGBTQ+ community has been bearing for decades. It’s not too late to pause and reflect on why we continue to discriminate and are not taking a stronger stand to protect and look out for each other.
Let’s not allow inequality to breed in the face of lack of education, and years of ignorance on understanding what people truly entail, outside the social constructs and accepted definitions of human behavior.