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Catalyzing LGBTQ+ Inclusion In The New Normal Workplace

Catalyzing LGBTQ+ Inclusion In The New Normal Workplace

29 Jun, 2021

While no one has been left unscathed by the pandemic, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ+) community has faced a double-edged sword of exacerbated poverty as well as heightened discrimination at healthcare centers. LGBTQ+ employees have experienced a higher rate of COVID-related job loss – 56% vs. 44% for majority – and a higher rate of neglect and abuse.

India Inc. is slowly realizing that the case for LGBTQ+ inclusion is stronger than ever, but tackling underrepresentation, stereotypes, and biases remain a work-in-progress. As Pride Month comes to a close, the question on all our minds remains: How can we advocate for the LGBTQIA+ Community, not just in June, but all year round?

At Zinnov’s quarterly Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) forum, we sat down with four experts to break down the role that organizations can play in shaping a truly queer-inclusive working world. Over the course of an hour, the panelists explored the key challenges of LGBTQ+ employees, their need-of-the-hour, the role of leadership and workforce allies in delivering outcomes, and the best possible approach to liberate the community at the grassroots.

LGBTQ+ inclusion

The edited highlights below can serve as a reference guide to all organizations embarking on their journey to LGBTQ+ inclusion.

What are some key challenges faced by LGBTQ+ employees in the workplace? How has the pandemic exacerbated them?

  • Workplace Productivity – It is important to remember that most LGBTQ+ employees experience mental, emotional, and sometimes physical trauma during their formative years, resulting in a lower self-worth than the majority. Without a safe environment for them to operate in, these insecurities may influence their productivity and satisfaction levels at the workplace. Their personal beliefs may not always align with how the organization views an “inclusive” or safe space.
  • Networking – Most effective professional relationships are built over conversations that transcend the workplace boundaries. However, especially for closeted LGBTQ+ employees, “water cooler” or lunchtime conversations about weekend plans, family lives or hobbies can be extremely uncomfortable and isolating.
  • The pandemic has magnified the challenges faced by an already marginalized and abused community. Examples include:
    • Social Exclusion – According to the Human Rights Campaign, out of the 20+ Mn transgender persons in India, less than 2% of them live with their families. While we all struggled with isolation and loneliness despite having our families’ support, the pandemic stripped displaced LGBTQ+ people of whatever little social connection they had.
    • Inaccessibility of Healthcare – In the middle of an unparalleled healthcare crisis, LGBTQ+ Indians have been subject to harassment, neglect, and rejection at medical facilities, quarantine centers, and/or vaccination drives.

How can organizations kickstart their journey towards LGBTQ+ Inclusion? What is the need-of-the-hour?

  • Why – Why is Inclusion important to your organization? What is your business case?
  • Who – Who would be the key stakeholders in your starter team? “Leaders” (sponsors, advocates, role models); “Initiators” (core team members, LGBTQ+ representatives, passionate allies); “Volunteers” (nascent allies, unaware but eager and committed)
  • What – What does your annual Inclusion Charter look like? What is your goalpost that you are striving for? Create an action plan.

The first 90 days of an organization’s inclusion journey are the most important to gain momentum, identify role models, mobilize supporters, and set the foundation for long-term impact. Remember that basic steps integrated into regular habits will be what helps keep inclusion at the top of the agenda while juggling business needs.

The need-of-the-hour is to:

  • Enable the provision of basic necessities to the LGBTQ+ community in India, especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Educate, educate, educate.

At Walmart, they hold sensitization sessions with not only their leadership and workforce, but also their support staff – security guards and cleaning crew alike. This spreading of awareness amongst all kinds of Walmart associates has been an eye-opening experience for Walmart I&D Leaders.

What is the role of leadership in the inclusion of the queer community? How do you not only gain their buy-in but also ensure their active involvement in inclusion initiatives?

Employees base their actions on that of their leaders; hence, leaders have to be the pioneers/champions for any Inclusion agenda to be successful.

Especially for a marginalized community, having a relatable, successful role model within the workforce can be life changing. It is very important for people from the LGBTQ+ community at executive levels to muster the courage to come out to their workforce so they can be a huge positive influence.

The misconception that business meetings and inclusion conversations are mutually exclusive needs to be eliminated. Inclusion permeates all workplace interactions and leaders need to be held accountable accordingly.

Be it providing rainbow lanyards or virtual allyship badges, the little things do matter.

Back in 2017, when the Intuit team began its process of trying to outline inclusive policies for employees, they struggled with updating their existing contracts. Vendors were not being as accommodating as they had hoped, and they did not have the advantage of large headcount numbers to sway them. Here, the leaders took a firm stand to prioritize queer-inclusion, no matter what that would take, and that eventually influenced their insurance provider to cater to their needs.

Fiserv followed a two-pronged approach – the team developed a “Forward Together” strategy along with launching an Inclusive Leadership (Assessment & Coaching) Program for all managers across the globe. That initiative solidified their commitment to Inclusion.

What is our role, as a community, in empowering the LGBTQ+ community at the grassroots?

Engaging Externally

  • Leverage the power of social media to start celebrating diversity rather than just tolerating it.
  • Involve family members and household help in sensitization sessions and thought-provoking conversations on LGBTQ+ – create a ripple effect within your societal sphere.

Fostering Partnerships

  • Partner with universities beyond hiring efforts (for upskilling of technical and soft skills, etc.) – use the existing network to build deeper connects and spread the message of Inclusion to other institutions.
  • Make supplier diversity a priority to empower queer-owned businesses.
  • Play your part in influencing government policies and actions taken by industry bodies.

Building Capabilities

  • Create internship opportunities, run scholarship programs, host leadership, and mentoring sessions to upskill the LGBTQ+ community.

“We need to pace the journey on queer enablement and empowerment; learnings from women empowerment efforts can serve as starting point towards building that momentum. As we have learnt, social awareness and financial stability are key to upliftment; and that starts with partnerships across the ecosystem towards skill building and creating employment opportunities.”

– Ritu Raj

  • Enable connections between corporates and the less privileged LGBTQ+ persons in India, through CSR or training initiatives with NGOs and grassroots-level activists (Ex: Grace Banu). Invite them to speak to and interact with your workforce, to open their eyes to what life is really like for the marginalized.

“We need to incorporate as much diversity in our approach of working and addressing the problem, as we say we do in our talent strategies.”

– Neelam Jain

PeriFerry’s approach has been to not only prepare trans people for the workplace but to co-create workspaces that are truly inclusive and nurturing towards the LGBT+ community. The start-up has created jobs for over 205+ transgender persons, enabled 60+ corporate journeys, and has successfully sensitized over 22,000+ corporate India employees.

What exactly does it mean to be an ‘Ally’? Can you shed some light on the role of LGBTQ+ Allies in delivering Inclusion outcomes for an organization?

An ally, quite simply, can be anyone whose heart is in the right place – a good listener, eager to learn and engage, and committed to the LGBTQ+ cause. Allies are the single biggest factor that can transform a workplace.

“Please remember – you don’t need to be an expert to be an advocate.”

– Karanbir Singh

Expectations of an Ally

  • Acknowledge your privilege.
  • Take charge of leading (and not only contributing to) Pride networks.

Challenges faced by Allies

  • The fear of being labelled as part of the LGBTQ+ community, leading to passive support techniques rather than active ones.
  • Not knowing the line between curiosity and invading personal boundaries, when interacting with queer persons.

Measuring success of Allyship Initiatives

  • Tangible Metrics
    • Time taken to achieve “goalpost” targets
    • Number of employment avenues created
    • Number of external forums participated in (speaking at vs. attending)
    • Number of Allies created
  • Intangible Metrics
    • How fast are we progressing with policy and process improvements?
    • How often are we enabling open conversations amongst our workforce? Are questions being asked? Are we clarifying misconceptions or shifting biases?
    • Are we standing up for potentially offensive behavior on any interaction platform? Ex: Insensitive jokes or nicknames, constant interruptions, etc.

What are some key takeaways you would like to leave any budding LGBTQ+ Allies with?

Be open to the fact that identifying as part of the community is not restricted to professionalism, but rather all aspects of your personal life. A family member, friend or neighbor could be a part of the LGBTQ+ community as much as a colleague could.

Being an ally takes patience and persistence. Passionate individuals may become restless to see immediate outcomes, but do not lose heart. Acknowledge that good things take time – so, stick with it, show proof of work, and gratification will follow.

Interpret openly, listen deeply, and welcome discomfort.

Always have the attitude of doing more, to be more.

“Selfishly, becoming an ally was an opportunity to become a better version of myself – i.e., more effective at work and more emotionally balanced in life – because of the knowledge and wisdom I have gained throughout this sensitization journey. That should be the starting point for everyone to want to become an ally, if nothing else.”

– Kanisha Raina

A Starter’s Guide to LGBTQ+ Inclusion

Okay, you changed your logo and pledged support with Pride hashtags…what next?

When it comes to true Inclusion, everyday interactions with peers and leaders matter as much as organizational policies or formal processes. To make meaningful progress for LGBTQ+ employees, organizations can start with a few basics:

  • Advance Awareness – Unlearn, Learn, Relearn
  • Analyze Yourself – Assess your programs, policies, and communication styles through an inclusive lens
  • Anonymize Feedback – Build collaborative and safe spaces for open conversations
  • Acknowledge the Strength in Numbers – Collaboration breeds Innovation AND Impact

“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower,” said Alexander Den Heijer. As organizations, we are responsible for fixing that environment for the LGBTQ+ community.

So, what are we waiting for?

To craft an authentic yet customized LGBTQ+ Inclusion strategy, reach out to us at

  • Inclusion
  • Inclusion & Diversity
  • Inclusion and Diversity
  • LGBTQ+ inclusion
  • LGBTQ+ inclusion at the workplace
Priyanka Oza, Consultant, Zinnov
Nivedita Nanjappa, Project Lead, Zinnov
Priyanka Kumar, Engagement Manager, Zinnov
Mohammed Faraz Khan, Principal & Head - G.A.P Practice, Zinnov

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