5 reasons and ways to be an effective LGBTQIA+ ally at the workplace
“What the LGBT community want is [for being LGBT] to be ordinary so that you are seen to be valued on merit. When our employees don’t have to think twice about struggling for the same benefits, recognition, or aren't afraid of being safe, then productivity goes up.”
– Claudia Brind-Woody, VP & Managing Director, IBM
In previously featured 'TBD Diaries' articles, we have often discussed, researched, and acknowledged ways to inculcate a work culture of inclusion, collaboration, and balance - regardless of size or gender. In the following article, we go further along the same journey.
Over the course of the last few months, we have been having one such conversation to better understand the experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community in Indian workplaces. We have been fortunate to talk to kind and amazing people, who were generous with their time and lived experiences.
Through their voices, we were directed to do the research, ask the hard questions, and introspect on how we can all collectively contribute to making the workplace and in extension, our society, an inclusive space. The following content is a part of this exercise.
Here are five FAQs we've curated with excerpts from our community conversations to illustrate ways and reasons for being LGBTQIA+ allies in Indian workplaces:
1. What are some of the most apparent challenges faced by those who identify themselves as LGBTQIA+ in Indian workplaces and why do these spaces need more allies?
The workplace in India is a complex and layered space that is often tricky to navigate for LGBTQIA+ individuals. While there is certainly a general lack of acceptance and inclusivity in the Indian mindset, it is also important to acknowledge that this lack comes from misinformation, misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the community over a disproportionately long period of time.
An absence of proper, legally tendered HR policies that serve to hold those who actively discriminate responsible, and even the absence of a basic mail or acknowledgement of the community’s presence in Indian corporate spaces; makes it very difficult for many to be open, speak up or deal with these issues without fear. This attitude and clear lack of basic understanding mirrors the glaring gaps in our societal and educational structures for the same.
Merely two years ago, Indian law took a monumental step towards protecting and upholding the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community in the 21st century. The decriminalization is undoubtedly a historic win, however, it is also the very first step down a long path. Much work remains to be done in establishing an inclusive environment, equal protection and opportunity, diverse representation, societal understanding and general education of the masses when it comes to the LGBTQIA+ community. This, however, is the macro-level.
On a micro-level, it becomes absolutely essential for each one of us to have these conversations, normalize education and representation for the community in our own ways. Friendship, ally-ship and the acceptance of those who support without pressure or judgment of any kind, are connections that are a source of great strength to LGBT and queer persons.
These day-to-day interactions make a world of a difference to their lived realities, be it at home or at the workplace. The goal of fostering truly diverse teams, genuinely inclusive work environments, and safe spaces for all employees is incomplete without the systemic overhaul required to ensure that LGBTQIA+ experiences and voices are taken into account. Thus, to achieve this goal, it is extremely important for all those who are not a part of the community to do their best to be actively involved as a listening ear and an effective ally.
2. Who is an ally? What does it mean to be a LGBTQIA+ ‘ally’?
Allyship is defined as “The action of working to end oppression through support of, and as an advocate with and for, a group other than one’s own.”
In broader terms, an ‘Ally’ is someone who uses their privilege and voice to stand up for those who do not have the same considerations because of ignorance, discrimination, and a lack of acceptance towards their identities.
In the LGBTQIA+ sphere, creating an inclusive work culture requires advocates to go way beyond fighting for rights through laws and legislation. Ally-ship is a vital component in helping impact change in society. An ally’s efforts must unequivocally translate into de-stigmatization, normalizing acceptance of the vast spectrum that LGBTQIA+ folks identify with, and helping organisations and societal segments adopt a listening ear towards their concerns.
3. What are some ways to be an effective ally to the LGBTQIA+ community at the workplace?
Based on rigorous research and continual conversations, we have come up with a list that we think is a good starting point to being an active ally for LGBTQIA+ colleagues and team members at work:
Know your privilege - Those of us who do not belong to the LGBTQIA+ experience are indeed privileged as we do not have to go through as much and do not face LGBTQIA+ issues at the workplace. This privilege is best used in advocacy of issues such as starting conversations with HR over an on-paper policy that protects the community against discrimination, actively calling out micro-agression that make the work environment toxic for LGBTQIA+ people, and to encourage awareness and stand up for what’s right when required.
Walk the talk - Ally-ship goes way beyond performative celebrations during Pride Month and there is much to be done. Internally, having a no-tolerance policy for bullying, calling out discrimination, backing colleagues from the community, and giving a collective strength to their voice is of utmost importance.
Have a listening ear - To be a good listener, to try and understand the diverse perspectives of LGBTQIA+ individuals is vital. All good communication starts with listening and it is the most effective way to stay in the touch with the learning curve, generate more education on the issues that matter within self, and encourage the same in others.
Advocate for LGBTQIA+ talent - 92% of India’s transgender people are unable to practice any economic activity. Creating equitable opportunities, encouraging hiring for those from the community, celebrating their milestones as fellow colleagues and advocating for LGBTQIA+ talent within the professional sphere can not only be life transforming, but also empower the organization itself with top-notch quality and contributions.
Use preferred pronouns - If it's important to them, it is important for us! The simple act of using preferred pronouns can help cultivate an environment of true acceptance within which everybody can flourish.
Keep learning and unlearning - Keep asking yourself the hard questions as an ally - learning is a ceaseless process. At the same time, it is equally important to unlearn many unconscious biases, undoing social conditioning and putting in the hard work as an ally to look out for these thought patterns and actively make the effort to undo them as they are spotted. It is paramount to understand that putting in the effort as an ally to learn and unlearn is a process one has to solely embark on their own & it is not the responsibility of the marginalized group or affected individuals to teach and train.
4. Why is ally-ship needed on an organizational and individual basis?
It is immensely vital to the success of any institution, that all talent and every employee be treated with the same respect and consideration. The companies that see true long-term success have more often than not adopted an inclusive approach.
One such example is Tata group, which is known for its esteemed and inclusive HR policies. Under their expanded diversity and inclusion (D&I) policy and initiative, they have also extended benefits to partners of their LGBTQIA+ employees. With such conscious social evolution, it is no wonder that companies under the Tata group have for decades seen unmatched employee loyalty and satisfaction as compared to other spaces in corporate India.
On an individual level, by exercising active allyship, you would be fortifying the sense of empowerment that comes with using that privilege to help your fellow colleagues in a positive and meaningful way. Your words and actions matter immensely and your discussions as a genuine ally help normalise and de-stigmatise identities beyond the sphere of the community - taking a step forward in building a better world.
5. Why should a straight, cis-gender, heterosexual person care about LGBTQIA+ inclusion at the workplace and operate as their active ally?
Eloquently, but bitingly put in Kayla Chadwick’s Huffpost article, “I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people.”, there are no easy answers and a host of difficult conversations to be had when convincing people why they should care about fundamental rights for all human beings. It is an anomaly that there is even a debate as to whether or not non-judgmental and unconditional acceptance of LGBTQIA+ people’s identities and their right to equal opportunities in their careers and life, constitutes as a belief held by a ‘good’ person.
Nobody's perfect and we are all human beings with many varied differences across the spectrum of existence. To refuse or invalidate the existence of any other human being, regardless of sexual preference, gender, race, religion or any other factor, is deeply harmful and traumatic - first to those who are being discriminated against and then also to the ones doing the discriminating, whether they realize it or not.
In the middle of the current global crisis, we as a society and as human beings are becoming increasingly introspective and learning to spot systemic failures in how we operate and how we treat each other as a collective. These conversations are important today, more than ever.
Join us in our ongoing learning journey if you are an ally (we must all strive to be one, as demonstrated above). We would love to hear your thoughts and reflections and welcome other voices from the LGBTQIA+ community to join in the conversation.
Until next time, let's keep growing together in support and solidarity!
1)Delta app: An LGBTQIA+ focused networking application, helping like minded people connect and interact in a safe space.
2) YouTube: Here's an insightful video taking up a discussion on LGBTQIA+ inclusivity in corporate India. Also, watch Mr. Parmesh Shahani from Godrej and his take on the same topic (this video was made pre-decriminalization.
3) The Keshav Suri Foundation: Founded by Mr. Keshav Suri, a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and the youngest executive director at The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group, The KSF has a 3-fold objective: 1. Provide employable skills opportunities to the LGBTQIA community. 2. To sensitize workspaces to accept diversity as a way of life. 3. To work towards gender neutral policies & benefits.
4) Wiki: Click here for a comprehensive wiki on the LGBTQIA+ community in India- Support groups, NGOs, prominent Indian personalities and more.
5) Movies & Series: A few entertaining stories, important mirrors to reality and though-provoking performances from around the world, that account for substantial community rep: 'Aligrah' - Prime Video, 'Kapoor & sons' - Netflix, 'Love, Simon'- Prime Video, 'Sex Education' - Netflix, 'Made In Heaven' - Netflix, 'Dear Ex' - Netflix, 'Ru Paul's Drag Race' - Netflix, 'Queer Eye' - Netflix.
Here's a link for 5 LGBT support groups, Humsafar Trust Helpline number: 011-46016699, click here for mental health & prevention hotlines, Sahaay community and helpline.