By Vrinda Saxena
With the backdrop of the dynamic scenario of LGBT rights in the world, the latest Open for Business report was released earlier this week, in Davos, Switzerland. The report, encompassing diverse perspectives, geographical foci and globally relevant themes, focussed on worldwide LGBT inclusion and other policies which affect business interests and economic development.
So far, so good; then why analyse?
In the current context of a talent-hungry industrial sector, the theme of inclusion of the LGBT community poses the right questions—can economic development thrive concurrently with discrimination against these communities?
The report presents an actual picture of the growing acceptance and, sadly enough, hatred for these communities in different parts of the world. Now that employee satisfaction and related concepts are mainstream ideas with a direct correlation to higher growth rates, it makes sense to examine ideas such as global laws for these groups, conflicts and harassments.
What is interesting to note is that the survey report suggests that nearly half of the candidates voted negatively about issues like working in countries and companies with anti-gay laws, holidaying there and other things like international aid for such nations. So an obvious conclusion follows: Business trends are affected by LGBT inclusion and studying those helps answer the ‘how’(s).
Economists Richard Florida and Charlotte Mellander found statistical data correlating economic development and LGBT inclusion. Results indicate that positive attitudes towards these groups are directly linked to indicators of growth such as overall level of satisfaction and well-being, entrepreneurship, urbanisation and human development.
A look at the Indian picture
The report talks about the solidarity expressed on the Indian corporate scene, in December 2013 when the Supreme Court struck down a 2009 law decriminalising gay sex. Big names including IBM, Google, Dell, Cisco and Microsoft inter-alia, gathered at the Bangalore campus of Goldman Sachs to discuss their own strategies for the situation.
Companies like Infosys and IBM, with a considerable section of employees belonging to the LGBT community, and a concern for harassment-free work environment alongside farsighted business approach, spoke against the outrageous move. For instance, Infosys which has its own LGBT network called Gays Lesbians and you (IGLU), issued a statement, “We do not foresee any changes to the policies we have.”
Garnering support for the mainstream inclusion, companies like Google have joined the wagon. Google, through its campaign, Legalize Love, has “taken a call to decriminalize homosexuality and eliminate homophobia around the world.”
All is not as calm everywhere
While it may seem that acceptance is the norm, the grim reality remains that homosexuality is still looked down with contempt in not one but many parts of the world. To make matters worse, contempt is not the end. In parts of the world, homosexual activity is deemed punishable by hanging, whipping and stoning to death. The extent of the hatred has mapped forced conversions, treatments like hypnosis, lobotomy, electroconvulsive therapy and even chemical castration. Resorts like “corrective rape”, documented from South Africa and other countries; riot police being deployed for rainbow parades in Istanbul, and the likes have very effectively contributed to shackling and restricting the community’s very basic right to a dignified life. It certainly then cannot be astonishing enough to know that in Uganda, a tabloid published the names and photos of what it claimed as the country’s “top homos” alongside a banner –“Hang them.”
The role that societal perception plays
It is about time we discussed how personalities in popular media get away with comments addressing the homosexual groups as “unnatural and disgusting.”
It is about time we discussed where we are headed, as a society, when sexual orientation deems you “unfit” for that very society. So is it only a concern for public morale that should drive us to address the issue? Surprisingly enough, no.
Citing a few business-wise prudential reasons might help the case. Firstly, research has proven an upward sloping curve for LGBT inclusion and the various parameters of economic progress. This can be attributed to factors as mentioned: LGBT inclusive countries definitely attract more talent since they have lower barriers to entry of human capital, diversity spurring innovation and entrepreneurship. Furthermore, surprising as it may sound, corruption and homosexuality intolerance are suggested to share a link. The Economist, for example, has found a direct correlation between Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index and the UN’s Human Development Index. While causation may not be implied, a strong link does indicate a possible area for introspection. Also, societies tolerant towards LGBT groups are proven to attract more FDI, because the stakes are estimated to be high in such societies which are diverse and more compatible with innovation.
More so, global supplier codes of conduct now necessitate non-discrimination on grounds of sexual identity and gender. Hence, liberal societies that don’t snatch away homosexuals’ basic rights, in many senses, make themselves the top contenders for global business.
Besides, health concerns are not far behind. A World Bank study conducted in India estimated that health disparities in India due to homophobia cost India’s economy as much as 1.2% of its GDP in 2012. In addition, there are growing concerns that the fear of public outrage and social-exclusion may prevent groups like these from coming out and seeking medical intervention for cases like HIV/AIDS and others, thereby crippling the country’s fight against these.
What is to be done?
Considering the heteronormative society that exists currently, each day is a laborious task for the LGBT groups in India. This comes as no surprise when people with a different sexual orientation have to dodge questions regarding their personal space and sexuality, especially when the stakes are as high as costing someone their job.
As part of the change, the corporate sector is now looking to address the elephant in the room. Perhaps, the first cause and effect of that would be a greater presence of these communities on the scene. A higher presence can wield higher (or in some cases, even the first) level of representation and decision making prowess. With the same spirit as that of a democracy, it is possible then that the discrimination and social ostracism would negate.
Alongside that, an efficient and structured complaint redressal system at the workplace, we believe, will go a long way in helping the homosexuals speak up about their rights. Fear, as they have long used, does help in some cases to prevent harm. Hence, while the system will, on one hand, emancipate the LGBT groups, on the other, it will establish the foundation against violence meted out to them.
Smaller initiatives, like even substituting ‘he/she’ with gender-neutral pronouns and opting for gender-neutral global symbols for bathrooms also contribute significantly. The aim, ultimately, is to reduce and then eliminate the hostility stemming from homophobia. Conversely, a warm environment for these groups can also bridge the imaginary gap between “straight” and “the rest”.
Finally, education and awareness regarding the same would impact the situation like none other. What is unknown and unfamiliar is always greeted with suspicion. The solution, thus, lies in making them as one with the others—one step at a time.
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