With organisations striving to be more inclusive in their conduct and policies, we trace the underlying sociopolitics of doing so -- understanding how LGBTQ rights are viewed in association with business goals, and examining the different layers of inclusion.
As we approach June, typically celebrated as Pride Month, society is gearing up to celebrate the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ+) community and increase the visibility and support surrounding it. With this time of year emerges a trend popularly termed ‘rainbow-washing’: wherein companies release slogans, collections and products that are dedicated to the LGBTQ+ cause (referencing the movement’s symbolic rainbow flag). Companies or institutions that otherwise lack queer representation, or inclusive policies, might co-opt pride as a temporary show of support. Whether these are acts of genuine allyship or profit-churning performance is usually left for consumers to discern.
This year, in India, pride month follows a landmark hearing in the Supreme Court, with a consolidation of petitions aimed at legalising same-sex marriage. In a statement that caused ripples across the spectrum, the chief justice DY Chandrachud was quoted as saying that “the very notion of a man and a woman is not an absolute based on genitals”, questioning the necessity of binary spouses to a marriage. The Centre, in opposition to the petitions, refers to them as representing “urban elitist views for the purpose of social acceptance”.
In relation to the western world, India has arrived at this juncture quite late, fighting a battle that has already been won in other socio-legal spaces. This can be read using social theorist Jasbir Puar’s idea of ‘homonationalism’, wherein LGBTQ+ rights have come to serve as markers of existing binaries (civilised/uncivilised, progressive/backward).
Taking the example of the International Monetary Fund’s It Gets Better campaign, queer politics theorist Rahul Rao highlights how it can be viewed as an example of pinkwashing - in its “implicit yoking of its neoliberal economic mission with a ‘civilising’ anti-homophobic project”. Set against this backdrop, how are Indian organisations striving to implement diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives, and on whom does the burden of ‘diversity work’ fall?
Grounding his research in queer labour and inclusion policies in the Indian private sector, Lars Aaberg observes a common argument for the equitable treatment of queer employees in the workplace: that desirable economic outcomes stem from diversity and inclusion practices. D&I has begun to be framed as a means to an end, with the end being an image of modernity and progress that attracts more business. Business scholarship then appears to support this construct. Reports by McKinsey and Gartner suggest that companies higher on gender-diversity are more likely to generate above-average profitability, and more inclusive teams lead to better performance. A Boston Consulting Group report claims that apart from the moral imperative of becoming more diverse, there is a business advantage to it - “increase diversity and win the race for talent”, they say. As put forth by Aaberg, this discourse then articulates LGBTQ+ precarity by tying human rights to business imperatives.
In addition to the adoption of the ‘business case’ for LGBTQ+ rights, employees are often made responsible for their own inclusion. Referred to as the ‘double shift’, employees from minority groups are tasked with educating their colleagues on discrimination, sexism, racism and ableism. They are called upon to recruit more diverse employees, or put their experiences on display in company forums; what should be a shared responsibility turns into an added burden on the underrepresented.
What Aaberg refers to as ‘managerial unknowing’ eventually leads to third party organisations like non-governmental organisations being brought in to do the heavy-lifting when it comes to D&I work. In India, however, a majority of LGBTQ+ DEI advocates happen to be visible, successful, cisgender men with upper-caste privilege, leading to the exclusion of significant intersectionalities from the inclusion discourse.
Rest of World, anchoring their research in the spaces of queer Facebook groups in India, highlight how existing social stratifications seep into other forums as well i.e. upper-caste, english-speaking males from urban India consistently dominate content and conversation. While intersectionality has become a buzzword in the recent past, engaging with it in the Indian context is tricky. Writer Nivedita Menon argues that the global popularity of this concept, specifically its adoption by the global north, dilutes its radicality.
“The term queer has from the beginning in India gone beyond sexuality. Queer politics sees itself as complicated at its point of origin by class, caste and community identity, and is self-critical to the extent it is unable to engage with this complication,” claims Menon.
Extrapolating her analysis in the context of feminism to the topic at hand: the base form we deal with is that of a ‘person’, and this ‘person’ then navigates the politics of their identities as ‘gay’ or ‘Muslim’ or ‘women’ in line with the circumstances that highlight their saliency. The success of a movement, then, lies in its ability to allow people to claim this identity across contexts.
Identifying as queer in a corporate framework, therefore, should be possible to do without the associated stigma, the expectation to educate people around you, and the suturing to business imperatives. Equality in the workplace is still an aspiration, and while steps are being taken to ensure it, it must include the nuance of the who and the why.
Written by Ananya Damodaran, Researcher at LagomWorks. Contact email@example.com for any queries on this article.