June has come to be known as the month of celebrating love and diversity. As queer communities across the world gain strength, visibility and acceptance, many individuals and corporates have started to promote Pride Month and social media has acted as a platform for some truly inclusive, rainbow coloured initiatives.
But what after June when the celebratory colours of Pride Month fade away? For, though it may be convenient (and financially profitable) for corporates and individuals to show 'support' for queer rights with a rainbow logo or special discounts during Pride Month, much of it remains in the realm of empty tokenism and gesturing.
With that in mind, some LGBTQIA+ activists have initiated 'Vivivdh', a job fair of sorts for the queer as well as other vulnerable communities.
Vividh - From Visibility to Acceptance
Initiated by 6 Degrees, a LGBTQ++ growth network based in Mumbai, 'Vividh' is a one of a kind job fair aimed at promoting diverse talents from the queer community as as well as other marginalised groups such as persons with disability, acid attack survivors, and more. According to Praful Baweja, the co-founder of 6 degrees, Vividh as "not a job fair, but a diversity fair".
Speaking to News18, Baweja said that the idea for a diversity fair had been on his and his colleagues minds for some time now. "Ever since the decriminalisationof Section 377, the question was, 'what next?' What can we do to further strengthen vulnerable groups and communities?" Praful added that that's how the idea for Vivivd came about. According to the young marketing professional and entrepreneur, visibility had earlier been the point of focus. "So far, we had been concentrating on making the queer people in India visible. It involved encouraging people to embrace their sexuality, coming out to parents, etc," Praful said. "But now, it's time to start talking about acceptability in tangible terms". He meant by providing the community equal access to education and jobs, something that many corporate brands have so far failed to do, despite their so-called commitment toward LGBTQ rights and equal love.
Speaking to News18, equal rights activist Harish Iyer said that it was time corporate organisations realise that "diversity is the strength, not weakness".
"They have put up their TV advertisements, they have shared posters on social media," Iyer said. "Let's hope they will also take to this initiative that actually looks at improving equal rights for all in the work place," Iyer added.
Vividh is an opportunity for those companies who think so to come out and hire diverse candidates.
Diversity is Profitable
While diversity may look decorative on paper, it is not just about hiring certain people to fit a certain bill such as hiring female employees or token LGBTQ representatives. Corporates need to step up and make diversity hiring and sensitization within workplace a part of official policies.
A 2013 Deloitte study cited that "when employees think their organisation is committed to, and supportive of diversity and they feel included, employees report better business performance in terms of ability to innovate (83% increase) responsiveness to changing customer needs (31% uplift) and team collaboration (42% increase)".
Realising the importance of diversity may be vital for India Inc. as 5-10 percent of India Inc's workforce is made up of queer employees, among which 56% of white-collar LGBTQIA+ persons have reported discrimination. Much of it ensues from lack of concrete diversity policies.
In a previous interview with News18 prior to the decriminalisation of section 377, Executive Director of the Lalit Suri Hospitality Group that owns the Lalit chain of hotels, had said that even foreign companies tend to not follow through on their standard diversity policies in India due to a lack of focused laws. Suri himself is one of the pioneers of bringing in diversity and inclusion policies at workplace and several companies such as Tata have followed suit.
Losing out on diversity is not just harmful to the victims of discrimination but also company profits.
The World Bank in 2016 reported that India was losing $32 billion, or 1.7 per cent of its GDP due to homophobia, in terms of wages lost and health cost. A 2018 McKinsey & Company report based on data from 2017 found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.
Not the end of the road
However, hiring queer employees and glorifying diversity is not the end of the road but only a starting point, Iyer pointed out. "This is just the beginning, the larger goal is to bring in inclusion to a degree where being different is not a flaw or disadvantage anymore."
To do that, corporates may need to rethink their approach to diversity as a long-term plan that not only looks cosmetically colourful on paper but one that aims to lay the groundwork for marginalised groups to enter and perform in an equal and safe space. Case in point of what not to do is something like Adidas selling a "pride pack" to celebrate Pride Month in 2018.
On the other hand, the same brand was a major sponsor of the FIFA World Cup 2018 that took place in Russia, a country with fiercly homophobic laws. An example from closer home of how a company's approach toward diversity needs to go beyond ostentatious displays is the case of Zomato, which often is at the forefront of celebrating equal love through creative social media and ad campaigns.
Recently, the food delivery portal faced flak from the queer community after a couple in Hyderabad were denied entry into a restaurant listed in Zomato on grounds that it did not allow gay couples. The incident that took place in November 2018, culminated into a petition in April this year on Change.org, urging Zomato to a "LGBTQIA+" tag to their restaurant listings. In May, the company announced that it would add a 'LGBTQIA friendly' tag to restaurants listed under it in Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Pune.
The incident brings to light the importance of a holistic approach to diversity inclusion and engagement in the corporate sector. This kind of dichotomy can only be avoided, Harish Iyer stressed, if companies stopped looking at diversity as a fad to mint money off of and start looking at these communities as actual people and talent pools that are beneficial beyond their diversity value.
Vividh is scheduled to be held on July 28 in Mumbai. The organisers said that several companies have shown interest so far, adding that further details would be confirmed in time.