A study by IIM-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) and MDI, Gurgaon indicates that the removal of Section 377 has yet to result in radical inclusiveness in India Inc as most still choose to hide their sexual orientation to their bosses and went on to live. double life fearing a negative impact on career prospects. On the positive side, in-depth interviews with gay and lesbian executives and managers by the researchers revealed that they can now confide in their supportive colleagues.
The study, “From Fear to Courage: Indian Lesbians and Gays’ Quest for Inclusive Ethical Organisations”, was authored by Ernesto Noronha and Premilla D’Cruz of IIM-A and Nidhi S Bisht of MDI Gurgaon . It was recently published in the Springer Group’s Journal of Business Ethics. The study included the experiences of 40 gay men and lesbians working with some major India-based companies. This is one of the few studies that examines the working lives of gay men in Indian corporate structures.
The interviews provided rare and poignant information – one, for example, was that most of the interviewees led double lives, involving the projection of straight selves. Their social media accounts were different, even for their friends, colleagues or family. Those interviewed said they were often part of the heterosexual crowd – a security tactic known as “direct action” – fearing ostracism and even intimidation.
Almost all of them have often come across questions about their marriage, social life, and girlfriend or boyfriend.
The researchers said that some of the respondents confided in their colleagues whom they found to be trustworthy and understanding. Respondents said they first had to gauge potential responses from colleagues by quietly addressing topics such as LGBT rights or queer films.
Professor Noronha, who teaches organizational behavior at IIM-A, said the study was among the first to focus primarily on the work experiences of gay people in India. “It took us a long time to find respondents. But once we got them, it provided a courageous perspective,” he said. “Several of the respondents exited, albeit cautiously.”
“The study also makes the case for inclusive HR policies, not just for LGs [lesbians and gay men] but for everyone in general so that they feel safe,” he said.
Professor Noronha said the study highlighted the fact that lesbians face more challenges when dating than gay men.
The study showed that since few companies have an inclusion policy, only a tiny proportion of respondents had told their bosses about their sexual orientation. They fear that such a revelation could hurt their chances of getting pay raises or promotions.
When it comes to an inclusive workplace, the study said the consensus among respondents was that it was an office that “…would not allow name calling, bullying or domination of the heteronormativity, but would value everyone’s contribution equally”.
The study said: “Inclusive organizations that were open to the idea of diverse sexual orientations and went beyond the male and female pairing were seen as trustworthy, safe, secure and, therefore, ethical.”
“First step taken”
Sylvester Merchant, founding member of Lakshya Trust working with the LGBTQ community, said the impact of the legal change will take some time to be reflected in the corporate world. But he said the situation is surely changing, as far as Gujarat is concerned.
“We have organized awareness raising workshops and seminars for several business groups in Gujarat over the past couple of years,” Merchant said. “They include a cargo delivery giant, a department store, engineering companies and an FMCG MNC.” Merchant added, “We don’t know how many of them have actually adopted policies, such as extending medical benefits to same-sex partners. But the first step has been taken.”
In Their Own Words: Gays in the Workplace
– The whole community is portrayed in a certain light. It is believed that a gay man will pounce on any straight man he sees
– A homosexual…would take the company bus…and some people would whistle him. So he took the car to get to work. It was quite expensive… so he quit in four or five months
– I am not immediately open to the people I work with…because the perception of being gay will negatively impact my prospects for promotion or performance appraisal or how I am perceived as a colleague
– Because my gender expression is feminine, I could pass for… a straight girl. So they have no problem knowing who you are if you’re not open about it.
– In the end, work is important to you. So you’re trying to live a double life. They will keep pushing you with questions like when are you getting married
– I think one of my colleagues… had this confusion about my sexuality, and one day he sent me a message asking me: ‘Do you think you are gay?’ I said, ‘Even if I am, it doesn’t matter to you, does it?’
– Most of my colleagues know my sexual orientation and are ok with it