LGBT as part of the workforce? India Inc. is not interested

Everyone’s equal?
Everyone’s equal?
Image: AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal
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Last week, an overwhelming majority voted in favour of same-sex marriage in Ireland—the first nation to legalise it by a popular vote.

But in India, which still criminalises same-sex acts, even among the most affluent, educated and global class, there is a seeming reluctance to acknowledge homosexuality.

In a report by the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and Biz Divas, a diversity and inclusion consulting firm, as many as 98% of companies surveyed said that they have not taken any concrete steps to make their workplace lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)-friendly—or hire people from the community.

The report called “Inclusion in India Inc.” surveyed 21 companies—15 multinationals and six Indian companies with or without a presence abroad—from eight different sectors, including IT consulting and services, engineering and pharmaceuticals, real estate, telecom, among others, which employed between 260 and 56,000 people.

These 21 companies were among 90-odd companies that agreed to accept the invitation to participate in the research.

Only two companies mentioned LGBT as one of the focus minority groups, and had policies—such as childcare leave regardless of gender—to support them.

Beyond the pale

There are two main reasons why companies do not talk about homosexual employees.

“One, the Indian legal stand is still not clear. So companies are a little wary and unsure about making it very open through policies. If someone puts up a hand and says it’s illegal, then it becomes a legal case,” Sarika Bhattacharya, co-founder of Biz Divas Foundation and a co-author of the inclusion report, told Quartz. So, even if certain multinational companies have LGBT-friendly policies in their offices abroad, they are not implemented in India.

“Two, LGBT as a community is very small in terms of the people who are out of the closet, and are open about it,” she added.

Besides, there is another common bias that is at play against LGBT employees: People in India who choose not to marry are not treated the same way as those with families.

“There exists an unwritten discriminatory reward system in some organisations around appraisals and bonuses against single people,” said Pallav Patankar of Humsafar Trust, an NGO that promotes LGBT rights, in the report.

“A lot of LGBT people who do not wish to get into trouble are unable to explain that the marriage is never going to happen. Does that mean: ‘I am going to get a horrible posting and am I going to get a sad bonus, because somebody out there doesn’t think I really need it because I am not married and I don’t have children?'”