When it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, this decade has seen a raft of positive change. Increasing awareness of the community’s rights, their growing but long-overdue acceptance as equal members of society, together with the rising chorus in support of diversity has begun to drive a sweeping change in attitudes across the board.
The corporate sector has very much been a part of this wave of change. Several companies today are taking a stand, championing the cause of the LGBTQ+ community in particular and diversity in general. What’s more, they are backing the talk up with concrete action in the form of strict workplace policies and codes of conduct protecting the rights, opportunities and sentiments of the various diverse groups their workforce comes from.
These range from inclusive leave policies such as adoption leave for single LGBTQ+ individuals in lieu of maternity leave to compassionate leave availed by employees in the event of the death of a family member, including the employee’s same-sex partner; medical benefits which extend to same-sex partners as they would to a straight employee’s spouse to counselling services and also counselling services to help LGBTQ+ employees cope with the various pressures they may go through.
True, companies have come a long way putting in place policies that protect diversity.
But, there’s still more that can be done.
There is still social stigma associated with being a member of the LGBTQ+ community. A lot of LGBTQ+ employees still prefer to disclose their queer status to their employers on a strictly confidential basis.
One of the reasons for that is because while companies may be inclusive, fellow employees may not always feel the same. Individual attitudes built up over generations of conditioning can be hard to break down.
According to a survey titled ‘The Business Impact of LGBT-Supportive Workplace Policies’ conducted by the Williams Institute, LGBTQ+ employees who feel the need to hide their identity in the workplace often feel greater levels of stress and anxiety, causing health issues and work-related complaints.
Cognizant of this, companies are going beyond simply drafting policies. Through a combination of rules mandating acceptable workplace behaviour and programmes aimed at sensitising their employees to be more accepting of diversity, they are building workplaces that are truly inclusive in spirit.
Take Mahindra Logistics for example. The company has a strict code of conduct requiring employees to use the right language and vocabulary when dealing with or speaking about their LGBTQ+ colleagues. Moreover, the code of conduct advises employees to attempt to understand how LGBTQ+ colleagues describe their own identity, gender, partners and relationships and then reflect this in the way they address them.
Companies are taking extra cautions to make the LGBTQ+ employees more comfortable and safer in the environment. In a few organisations, the employees are expected to use parliamentary language and acceptable vocabulary while dealing with or talking about their coworkers that belong to LGBTQ+ community. It is advised that employees attempt to understand how their LGBTQ+ colleagues describe their own identity, gender, partners and relationships and the same needs to reflect in their choice of language.
The company also has strict anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies in place aimed specifically at rooting out harassment and bullying of LGBTQ+ employees in addition to the sexual harassment policies already in place.
It is commendable to see how far we have come as a society. Companies are taking effective measures to build workplaces that are inclusive and accepting of diverse groups. It should be every company’s utmost priority to create policies that support all communities and provide equal opportunities to all employees regardless of gender, race, sex or caste. LGBTQ+ employees should never feel compelled to hide their queer status whether with colleagues, customers, or other stakeholders. We have made a good start. But we must keep working, as a society, as individuals, as a company to normalize diversity.
This article has been authored by Mehernosh Mehta, Vice President, Human Resources, Mahindra Logistics Limited