BENGALURU: On Thursday evening, the conference hall at The Lalit Ashok Bangalore was full of enthusiastic chatter and conversation, and yet, there was no sound in the room. Taking the lead was Shashwati P, senior programme manager at GiftAbled, who taught the participants present the right way to indicate words like queer, sexual attraction, lesbian, gay, drag queen and more, in sign language.
This was just one of the sessions organised at the 2019 Out & Equal LGBTQI+ India Forum, which was a collaboration between The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group and Out & Equal Workplace Advocates. Through the day, multiple sessions and other panel discussions looked at solutions that could be incorporated to make workplaces more inclusive and a place where everyone feels respected and accepted.
For example, Shashwati’s session was one such attempt at including people with hearing impairments into the conversation as well. “It’s not like people with disabilities aren’t gay, lesbian, trans or queer. We talk about being a good ally and supporting the community but sometimes we forget that people with disabilities have sex lives too. So, learning such words in sign language is just one small way in which we can make a change,” she explains.
At the session called Queering The Pitch, four queer employees of The Lalit Ashok – Naina Dasan, Mohul Sharma, Alex and Kiara Narayan Iyer – shared their experiences and journeys with the audience. According to Kiara, events that allow people to share their experiences are always helpful, since “People might take something back with them, share these experiences with others and help an organisation grow more inclusively.”
Agreed Mohul, who added that employers shouldn’t just focus on educational qualifications, and instead give everyone an equal chance if they have the capabilities to succeed at a job. “There are other changes we need in place too. For example, I haven’t changed my name on my documents but I identify and work as a male employee. We need more companies to allow such changes,” explained Mohul.
According to Naina, while sensititsation programmes are helpful, senior management employees must still be willing to take strict action against those who continue to discriminate or harass even after such training programmes. This point was also echoed by Sudhir Jain, co-head, Bank of America’s India LGBTQ Ally Employee Network, who said that the biggest way in which one can be a good ally to the community would be by keeping their mind open to learning. “Even if you don’t know how to react to a situation, it’s okay, as long as you’re willing to learn,” he said.
Concurred Kaku Nakhate, India president of the same bank, who felt companies have to realise the importance of allowing someone to bring their whole selves to work. “Companies need to allow an open debate before they can provide the special ecosystems to include people across the diversity spectrum. We need a change in thought processes for that,” she echoed.
All hope, however, is not lost, said Sandeep Nair, programme manager at Community Business, at another panel discussion on being a good ally to the community. According to him, even small changes such as including gender neutral washrooms is a good step ahead. “And such changes in bigger organisations inspires smaller and mid-sized firms to also adopt the same, since they consider the bigger ones to be thoughtleaders,” explains Jiby Joyce, who conducted the session along with Nair.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of change for the better also comes from the fact that it isn’t just ground level staff, but also leadership employees, who are starting to come out in the open. “Which is why platforms like this that allow people across levels to talk about what the measures they are taking helps. It helps other organisations realise what they could also implement,” said Joyce.