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india | IST

SC’s Section 377 verdict: Experts discuss how Indian companies fare in parity for LGBTQ+

A survey conducted by BCG covering close to 9,000 people between June to December of 2020 shows that the first year of employment is critical for LGBTQ plus employees. It also showed that more respondents tended to work for companies that had advanced LGBTQ plus policies.

Three years ago on September 6, in a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality in India. On this special edition of the CNBC-TV18 Conversations, here is a closer look at whether the work environment has in fact become more inclusive for LGBTQ-plus employees and the steps corporate India is taking to achieve real diversity and inclusion.
Recently Axis Bank announced its ‘Come As You Are’, a charter of policies where all employees can list partners for mediclaim benefits irrespective of gender, sex and marital status. Customers from the LGBTQ plus community will also be able to list their title as MX in their accounts, open a joint account with the same-sex partner and add a partner as a nominee as well. Companies like Godrej, Wipro, Salesforce, TCS, Capgemini and Tech Mahindra have also put in place policies to ensure a safe, inclusive and equal opportunity work environment.
Tech Mahindra, and Godrej also covered gender reassignment surgeries under their medical insurance policies. In fact, Tech Mahindra, for example, provides 30 days paid leave with reimbursement available up to Rs 5 lakh.
A survey conducted by BCG covering close to 9,000 people between June and December of 2020 shows that the first year of employment is critical for LGBTQ plus employees. It also showed that more respondents tended to work for companies that had advanced LGBTQ plus policies.
To discuss all this in detail, CNBC-TV18 discussed with Rajkamal Vempati, President & Head - HR at Axis Bank; Srini Ramaswamy, co-founder of Pride Circle; Harshvendra Soin, Global Chief People Officer & Head - Marketing, Tech Mahindra; and Kushal Khandhar, Global Pride Manager, BCG (Boston Consulting Group.
Three years ago, September 6, was an inflection point with that landmark judgement coming in from the Supreme Court. When asked how much has the needle moved? How different are things when it comes to India Inc.’s approach to diversity and inclusion, especially in the workplace?
Khandhar said ever since the judgement has come out, there has been a significant movement in the needle in corporate India. "Now, of course, a survey that we have done currently shows that we clearly have a very long way to go. But if you just look around, just at the amount of presence, the LGBTQ topics have in media, and various other platforms, there has been a significant change. It's also enabled a lot of companies to actually come out and start supporting this cause more openly versus before when it used to be a hush hush affair."
“We still have a long way to go as a survey shows. But I do think we made significant progress, especially thanks to the judgement on September 6, three years ago,” said Khandhar.
When asked to talk about the changes that they have been able to bring about not just for their employees, but even in their external engagement, Soin said," The whole ethos and the culture of TechM is that we believe that we are intentionally diverse and globally inclusive. And, you know, it's important to state this as our policy, we have obviously put in a lot of initiatives, much before the judgement, including some foundational policies, whether it is gender-neutral washrooms, or it is adding the third gender in all our forms and everything that you see is actually got three genders."
“We have also done some work around important things, for example, sensitivity training because it is not enough to just put in policies, but honestly to have sensitivity training, because when our folks interact with the clients, it's important that our stance on LGBTQ is very clear. And we take pride in saying that we are on the forefront of doing things like insurance for same-sex partners, adoption policies, and of course, the surgery. So I think it is both within and externally, that we made those changes,” said Soin.
When asked if they are covering the length and breadth of how corporate India is trying to become much more diverse and much more inclusive. What do they believe has resulted in firmer steps in a greater degree of resolution to take these issues forward? While it is the right thing to do very often given the stigmatisation, given the sort of,  lack of social currency around these issues, it has not been something that has been prioritised, what do they believe has changed there?
Ramaswamy said as my co panellists mentioned a lot has changed, companies are far more visible and vocal to talk about their initiatives, both internally and externally. What has happened over the last couple of years is that a lot of organisations have consciously invested in. One is going through a lot of training around unconscious bias and trying to understand what the LGBTQ community requires, and try to internalise in terms of some of the programmes that they want to do. Two, also to see where the culture is currently.
"So we do a lot of those studies around the room measuring the current environment and culture of how inclusive certain organisations are on various parameters from policies, communication, and etc, said Ramaswamy adding that so establishing that baseline helps the organisation."
“One of the studies that we did last year, which is the workplace Equality Index, which is the only index today in the country, which measure the level of inclusion for it. At workplaces, we have 65 companies participate, and out of that you had 11 companies, which were Indian companies. So it clearly talks about, there is a need, and there is a far more visible interest and commitment to come forward and really look at affirmatively some of these processes," said Ramswamy.
When asked why the decision now to not just change policies internally, but even externally, what was the tipping point? How did you come about making this not just the right thing to do, but also the right business thing to do?
Vempati said the intent of inclusion should not be driven by those who are excluded, but it has to be intentionally driven by those who are included. "And one of the challenges that in the diversity and inclusion (DI) journey we face is, most of the policies are templatised. It caters to a homogeneous set of people. And maybe we talk about one specific differences - gender or maybe neurodiversity or such thing."
“For us, as we are reshaping the workplace, we need to reshape the workplace also for the customers and clients as well. We realised and recognise that LGBTQ plus community is, unfortunately, a lot of them are not included financially because of the policies and processes not being available to them. So the charter was a step not only to normalise conversations internally but for customers as well. So that no Indian whatever the differences may be, we are not in a mood of tolerating them, but we are talking about celebrating the differences and including as many Indian into the fold,” she said.
“The question that you would ask is, it is for me and for the organisation as well as not only a business imperative but the right thing to do, especially as we take India to the new future. Believe me, the new talent that is coming along with purpose is also looking at the markers of how inclusive a company and organisation is," said she.
For the entire discussion, watch the accompanying video