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June has been the month to #CelebratetheRainbow. Much has been spoken about what organisations and institutions are doing to create an inclusive culture at work. However, how does it unfold for the many employees at work who do not belong to the community? What does inclusion mean beyond Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) policies and practices as outlined by the organisation?
Consider your own example, if you are not a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. At work, do you consciously think about being understanding and supportive of diversity in your organisation? Are you careful about the language and the terms that you use during your workplace interactions? Are you mindful of not letting any unconscious biases come in the way of your decision making process especially around talent management?
As Aruna Newton, Head, D&I, Infosys Ltd. says, “Bias/preference is an inherent part of the mental make up of every human being. It is created through one’s experiences, learning, cultural influences, genetic typing even. It is possible to shape these through new knowledge and learning, but tough to change completely.”
“The impact of biases can be minimised with awareness. However, we have a long way to go given that many of our perceptions and biases are very deep-rooted and will require constant reflection and awareness in order to bring out long-term behavior change.”, says Pooja Shahani, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Consultant and previously, D&I Head at Goldman Sachs (India).
To embark on this journey of inclusion, here are ten ways in which you can support your LGBTQ+ community colleagues at work:
You may be inclusive in your thoughts but you need to display it upfront, more so, with your LGBTQIA+ colleagues. However, tread with caution here as you need to do this without appearing to be intrusive. Often people at work can be very probing when it comes to understanding about the sexuality of a person who appears to be from the community and yet has not come out in the open. As allies at work, refrain from being speculative, and point it out if you find others doing it. One way is to talk about global scenarios and the various movements of change across the world. Build your equity as one that can be trusted and ensure that you listen respectfully when your LGBTQIA+ colleagues share their stories.
Aruna correctly states that, “Beyond creating change in ecosystems, I think the urgent need is to attend to the emotional and psychological needs of the community members themselves and not push that under the carpet.” Be this person.
Suresh Ramdas, LGBTQ Lead at HP India and Mr Gay India 2019 says that the behaviours at work that he really appreciates are being understanding of his preferences and letting him be expressive in any way he wants to be, just like all others. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community are no different from any others when they expect trust and compassion being shown towards them. As their colleagues, being mindful to not gossip and have the ability to keep the sexuality of your colleague confidential if required, as simple ways of becoming an ally at work.
To be able to understand the perspective of a LGBTQIA+ colleague, you need to look at the workplace the way they do. Remember the nervous jitters that you got on your first day at a new office, imagine if that happens to you everyday! The questioning glances and the judgmental stares are all there…and for the members of the community, these may happen frequently.
Empathy is an essential virtue that needs to be displayed by both employees and employers. Dr. Anindita Banerjee, Practice Head, Diversity & Inclusion, Renaissance Strategic Consultants Pvt. Ltd. says, “Policy makers need to indulge in specialised qualitative studies that give deeper lever insights into what it is like to be an LGBTQ+ employee in the organisation. These insights can then be the foundation for designing D&I initiatives specific to this group.”
This is easier said than done, especially in a situation where you are dealing with colleagues from the LGBTQ+ community. Here, sensitivity is involved both at verbal and non verbal levels. Suresh Ramdas explains this part and says, “One thing that I expect from my work colleagues is the acceptance for who I am, in their talk, facial expressions and overall involvement with me.”
“Becoming open to differences is the key. Don’t judge people for being different. That is a judging mindset with ‘my way is the only way’ kind of attitude. Be open to seeing things from a different perspective without judging others”, is the advice from Dr. Anindita. Almost all the experts of the field believe that overcoming one’s own judgmental mindset is the first level of victory for any organisation trying to create a diverse and inclusive workplace.
Our own assumptions are a reflection of our childhood conditioning and the many biases that are passed on through the society and family.
“Let’s be honest and reflect on our own biases and assumptions about LGBTQ+ people. For example, our assumptions towards a man making certain hand gestures; or a transgender person at the traffic signal, a woman with short pixie hair. We make assumptions every second and it’s important to pause, reflect and be aware of how our assumptions are impacting the way we feel and interact with people”, says Pooja.
Each individual needs to spend some time to reflect upon these assumptions to prevent them from hurting any other individual and from coming in the way of rational decision making.
As non-LGBTQIA+ community and as employees, we look at the organisation to create policies and structure for carrying out inclusion at work. We may not believe or connect with the subject, yet go through the motions of procedures just because the organisation requires us to do it in a certain way. To be an ally, this needs to change. The change has to start at an individual level possibly through influential leaders who address the mindset at a micro culture level of their respective teams.
Aruna Newton, very rightly points out that the change is needed at a micro cultural level. She says, “Micro cultures are important. This is where the ‘experience’ actually happens. I would say, respect each other and be kind. There is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us that it hardly becomes ‘any of us’ to talk about the rest of us – is an old adage we learnt in school. And the other one, ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’
It begins with individuals, moves to managers, their teams, their function and then to the organisation. Expecting this to happen upside down is the approach that needs a jolt.
How many of us actually know about the success stories of people from the LGBTQIA+ community like those of Arundhati Katju, Ritu Dalmia and others? Once in a year, we celebrate PRIDE month and participate in organisational initiatives around this subject but what about the rest of the year? To be an ally, you need to learn and read more about the community and familiarise yourself with the struggles they face.
Pooja Shahani reminisces, ”I remember that until I spoke to a transgender man, I had never questioned which restroom I choose to go to. It was a decision that I made every day without any thought or stress associated with it. However, I realised after my conversation, that this is a decision that causes a lot of anxiety for transgender individuals and that too, more than once a day. To this day, I’m still learning.”
Using the right language to address our LGBTQIA+ work colleagues is important. Ask them how they would like to be addressed. Including pronouns in the signature of all employees at the workplace is a common way of driving inclusion. Use gender neutral terminology in all your textual and written conversations. Avoid homophobic jokes at work and be mindful of using derogatory words that are common in many languages. Educate others to do the same, correct them if they falter and do not tolerate sexist jokes around sensitive matters concerning the LGBTQIA+ community.
Pooja says, “An ally is someone who personally advocates for equal rights and fair treatment. At present, I think allyship is a buzzword. Being an ally has its own journey and it’s critical to understand why one is an ally and what that means for each individual.” The overall definition of an ally at work would be of a supporter and a confidante. So, be that person!
“It is often observed that if a member from the LGBTQ+ community talks to someone in the organisation for advice before actually coming out, the information becomes common knowledge and a matter or gossip in no time,” says an HR manager working in a MNC who does not wish to disclose her identity.
We need to understand and respect confidentiality around matters of sexuality, orientation or preferences of members from the LGBTQ+ community. Breach of trust is the worst blow to the confidence of a member belonging to the community.
Dr. Anindita emphasises the need to be a responsible manager. She says, ”Demonstrate inclusion in meetings and socialisation. For example, during meetings, as a manager, you can encourage colleagues from LGBTQ+ community to participate. Address them by name, ask them for inputs, allocate them critical tasks or projects etc. Team leaders/managers should have one on one (outside their scheduled appraisals) with the diversity candidates to understand their specific challenges. Managing a diverse team requires higher-level skills and the need for empathy.”
Being an ally to your workplace colleagues from the community is the first step. Internalising the cause, acting appropriately and consciously eliminating biases as a work colleague will help young managers at work to become inclusive leaders of tomorrow.
While much is spoken about the LGBTQIA+ community in the month of June, what remains to be seen is that will we follow through all that we spoke about in the remaining part of the year? Will we walk the talk and will it reflect in our behaviour permanently? No one knows the answer for sure, but one thing is certain that it needs to be a conscious effort to begin with.
At the organisational level, the beginning has been initiated, it is time to bring in the change at an individual level too!
Image via Pexels
Ruchi Verma Rajan is a woman on a mission of self-discovery.
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