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Rainbow Of Progress: Harnessing LGBTQ Potential In Indian Inc

India lost billions of dollars in revenue as a result of discrimination against the LGBTIQ community, as per the study done by American economist M.V. Lee Badgett for the World Bank in 2013. The study suggests that homophobia cost India's GDP anything between 112 billion and 1.7 trillion rupees (USD1.9 billion to USD 30.8 billion)

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Imagine the Indian corporate landscape as an empty canvas, ready for change. Picture the evolving LGBTQ rights movement as the stroke of a brush that could shape workplace inclusivity. As the colours of progress paint new horizons, the evolving LGBTQ rights movement intertwines with the fabric of workplace inclusivity. Moreover, the fluttering rainbow flag over our evolving nation holds the power to unlock the latent potential of LGBTQ workforce engagement, reshaping the Indian business landscape.

Homophobia and transphobia can result in job loss, discrimination at work or in school, bad health and poverty, which affect a sizable portion of the population. India lost billions of dollars in revenue as a result of discrimination against the LGBTQ community, as per the study done by American economist MV Lee Badgett for the World Bank in 2013. The study suggested that homophobia cost India's gross domestic product (GDP) anything between Rs 112 billion and 1.7 trillion (USD 1.9 billion to USD 30.8 billion), which accounts for a loss of between 0.1 per cent and 1.7 per cent of India’s potential GDP.

The study also explained how homophobia contributes to high rates of depression and suicidal conduct, both of which have an impact on the economy. 

Inclusive Commitments In India Inc.

In India Inc., LGBTQ+ commitments are becoming more vocal, at least on paper, thanks to a younger and more socially conscious consumer base and talent pool. A January 2022 study by HR services firm Randstad India showed that 9.5 per cent of the surveyed organisations had made significant efforts to be LGBTQ+ inclusive, of which the majority were MNCs. Additionally, it was stated that 60 per cent of MNC CEOs actively pursue inclusiveness goals in their leadership.

Parmesh Shahani, Head, Godrej DEI Lab and Author, "Queeristan: LGBTQ Inclusion in the Indian Workplace," highlighted the advantages of inclusivity, "Companies in India have come to realise that there is absolutely no downside to being inclusive—there are only advantages. First of all, it is an ethical thing to do: your organisation should look like the society it operates in. Secondly, there has been loads of research over the years talking about the economic, innovation, and human capital advantages of inclusion," said Shahani.

Shahani who himself is an out and proud gay man added that in terms of innovation, there have been studies by organisations like Deloitte that indicate that organisations that are more inclusive are up to eight times more innovative than those that are not. Finally, from a talent perspective, if one looks at Gen Z and millennials all over the world, including India, being LGBTQ-inclusive is the norm. They want to work for and buy from companies that respect LGBTQ people. Organisations that embrace inclusion will have better talent working for them and also committed customers.

Challenges In Leadership Representation

Animesh Bahadur, Professor, TA Pai Management Institute (Tapmi), Mahe emphasised the role of culture and leadership in diversity efforts."The interesting thing here is that culture and leadership tend to outweigh the need for a formal policy of diversity. It reinforces my view that it is the commitment to the principles of diversity that matters more than a formal policy," Bahadur added.

The professor who himself belongs to the LGBTQ community, goes on to highlight the progress made, conveying that any company today understands the significance of inclusive queer spaces and is working towards both policy and attitudinal change.

The study by Randstad India also revealed that most of the conscious LGBTQ+ hiring takes place at the junior (33 per cent) and middle levels (31 per cent). Positive cultural change often starts at the top. While being an ally and exercising sensitive leadership are powerful, few LGBTQ+ people get hired for senior positions where they can influence policy.

Shahani emphasised the lack of visible role models for younger queer employees due to the scarcity of senior leaders in corporate India. "The data, echoing findings on women's workforce participation, underscores the motivational impact of seeing individuals like oneself in positions of senior power. This underscores the need for a greater presence of LGBTQIA individuals in senior leadership roles," he noted.

Tracing Historical Discrimination

In its 2018 report, the National Human Rights Commission noted that 96 per cent of transgender people were refused employment opportunities and 92 per cent were barred from engaging in any kind of economic activity. Furthermore, the majority of employment settings do not cover insurance terminology like HIV, oral chemotherapy, mental health, maternity, and LGBTQAI coverage. The situation is more gruesome for the members of the trans community since they challenge the very construct of gender.

While homosexuality is becoming more accepted among young people in India today, expressing one's gender preference can be challenging because of social conventions at the family, home, and school levels. Reported instances reveal that some Indian households come up with their own methods for addressing LGBTQ individuals beyond the glare of pride festivals and online discussions. Many force LGBTQ people to participate in so-called "corrective" therapy and even go to the extent of severing relationships with them.

Swaja Saransh, Facilitator for Workshops (gender and inclusion), In Vaarta Communications, underlined the role of legal action in active inclusion, mentioning that legal action becomes the basis for active inclusion of any minority at the workplace, it has been no different for LGBTQ folks. Saransh also comes from the LGBTQ community.

They noted, "Even in the late 2000s, bullying and slurs were quite common even in spaces that one would have considered progressive, all because of the kind of masculinity or femininity that people considered acceptable. What the legal change has done is that it has created this room for conversation that may lead to different degrees of acceptance in different places."

Legal Action And Policies As A Catalyst For Inclusion

The Supreme Court affirmed transgender people's rights to self-identification in 2014, establishing affirmative actions like education and employment reservations. Guidelines from the Ministry of Corporate Affairs encourage businesses to adopt LGBTQ-friendly policies, and anti-discrimination policies in schools to improve equity for the LGBTQ population.

The Indian Penal Code's Section 377 was partially struck down by a five-judge bench in 2018, decriminalising same-sex relationships between consenting adults.

Shahani, reflecting on the impact of the 2018 judgement delineated, "There were many progressive companies that were on their LGBTQIA inclusive journey even before 2018. But what the 2018 judgement did was enable the fence-sitters to finally get off the fence and do the right thing! They started sensitising their employees, hiring from the community, collaborating with LGBTQ NGOs, and more."

Further, on the scope of improvement, Shahani said that there has been a lot of good work, but honestly, there is so much more to be done because there are so many smaller private sector companies as well as many public sector ones in which policies, programmes, and processes still need to be changed.

Bahadur highlighted progress in institutional spaces and inclusive definitions and expounded, "On the positive side, a lot of action has happened to make the institutional spaces trans-inclusive, which has also created greater awareness of gender diversity."

Bahadur commended the courts and agencies for making the definition of sexual harassment more inclusive, like the UGC for not just providing guidelines for an inclusive space but also for making the definition of sexual harassment (a major challenge for queer persons that often goes unnoticed) more inclusive.

Navigating The Path Ahead

The LGBTQ community in India faces a confluence of social and legal difficulties. Even though same-gender relationships are legal, they are not entitled to important rights like property or custody because marriage and civil partnerships are not recognised.

The issue of same-sex marriage was discussed in the judiciary recently until the Centre informed the Supreme Court on May 3 that it is willing to form a committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary to consider administrative measures for addressing "genuine, human concerns" faced by same-sex couples in their daily lives in areas such as banking, insurance, etc. without delving into their plea for legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Saransh emphasised the ongoing trend of change and stated, "It is no longer just the MNCs, cultural and creative industries, and the social sector that provide safe and inclusive spaces. Many companies today understand the significance of queer-inclusive spaces and are working towards both policy and attitudinal change. The change is a product of social mobilisation, progressive judgements, and increasing awareness of the business case for diversity. I see this trend extending further in the coming days."