LGBT community symposium seeks a level playing field at workplace

Kathmandu (Pahichan) May 27 – The ‘out and proud’ founder and head of Godrej Culture Labs, Parmesh Sahani, pretty much set the theme and tone for Friday’s symposiumon the ‘LGBT Workplace — Expanding the Dialogue in India’ when he spoke about his company’s policies on diversity, suggesting they could be implemented in other businesses as well.
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“Godrej goes beyond following a non-discrimination policy. Our employee benefits from insurance to family policies include people of every sexual orientation. We strive to create a culture that makes every individual feel free and equal,” said Sahani. “To put it quite simply, even if you’re heterosexual, we will treat you equal,” he laughed.

The symposium, the first of its kind in Chennai, sought to bring together employers, employees and activists to address challenges faced by the lesbian gay bisexual intersex transgender or queer (LGBTIQ) community in India. It was hosted by analytics firm RELX in association with the Amsterdam-based Workplace Pride Foundation and the Bengaluru-based Solidarity Foundation.

Panellists debated whether being LGBTIQ was part of Indian “culture” as well as the legalities and interpretations of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which “criminalised homosexuality” — lawyer Poongkhulali Balasubramanian saying the law speaks of carnal intercourse that is unnatural but does not state that the idea of being gay is illegal.

Michiel Kolman, a senior vice president at Elsevier, spoke about the three models that most multinationals followed diversity at workplace The first, he called, the “when in Rome” policy, when firms adhere to the norms of the country they are in; the second, the “embassy model”, where within the walls of the company they were pro-diversity, but outside, they followed the norms of the country they were in; and the third, the advocate model, where companies openly stuck to the pro-diversity policies.

Sunil Menon, founder of NGO Sahodaran, said companies need to sensitise not just the executives and managers but every employee about inclusivity. “For someone who is gay, queer, lesbian or trans, just walking into a corporate setting can be scary. The manager may be welcoming, but the same employee may find his first obstacle at the gate when the security guard looks at him funny,” said Menon.
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