Almost one-third of a person’s life is spent at work, and workplaces have a significant role to play in shaping the attitudes in the society at large. The World Economic Forum says businesses have the transformative power to make the society more open and inclusive. Also, a diverse workplace is good for business.

So, how can workplaces be more inclusive themselves? The answer lies in grooming leaders from different genders, diverse cultures and backgrounds, creating equal opportunities, and safe workspaces with sensitive employees, according to executives speaking at a panel at the Rise conference in New Delhi on Saturday.

“The message needs to come from the top,” says Tim E., EVP and managing counsel-international, American Express, at a panel discussion called Inclusion means Business: Taking it from the Top, which was a part of an LGBTQI job fair, conference and marketplace organised by the Pride Circle. The panel was moderated by Fortune India editor Sourav Majumdar.

A study by the Boston Consulting Group says that companies with above-average diversity on their management teams reported 19 percentage points higher innovation revenue compared with companies with below-average leadership diversity—45% of total revenue versus just 26%.

In September 2018, the Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality by striking down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. However, a lot is yet to be done to make workplaces more welcoming and supportive of LGBTQI employees. Majumdar points out that while some multinationals are at the forefront of conversations and action on inclusion, Indian companies are still behind the curve. A survey conducted by TimesJobs found that 57% Indian employees believe that their company will never hire any LGBTQ+ or specially-abled professionals in senior leadership roles, while 65% did not see a change at their workplaces after the apex court’s decision. Executives, however, believe that India is at a turning point and change has started to happen.

“The decriminalisation of homosexuality in India has had an impact in terms of the appetite both for the LGBTQ community to speak as well as for business leaders to say that it is time to move this forward,” says Tim E.

Pavan Vaish, head of central operations (rides), India & South Asia, Uber, said that there are inherent biases and companies have to ensure they not just get a good mix of people but also ensure that the mix works. He spoke about a programme run by Uber called Bhavishya which aims to bring diversity to the marketplace, which in the ride hailing platform’s case is through its driver partners. Uber Bhavishya is Uber India and South Asia’s programme to onboard more women and gender-diverse partners. "We want to transform mobility, we want to ignite opportunities in that space and you cannot do this unless you ignite opportunities in the workforce,” says Vaish.

The other aspect of a diverse workforce is diverse leadership. With an almost negligible number of out CEOs and executives at large and small businesses, there are few examples that LGBTQI employees can emulate. The panelists believe senior leaders should openly support inclusion and set an example for their employees and colleagues in order to push the cause. “It is incredibly important...When you are in a leadership position, you have a privilege and an obligation and an opportunity to make a change,” says Tim E.

“We can find plenty of LGBT talent. People have the the skills, people have the a gay leader myself, I look back at my history and think I always had the skills too; what I lacked was the confidence. I lacked the sense of whether I belong here,” he adds. Amex, he says, has a programme in place to groom leaders from different backgrounds, sexual preferences, and cultures.

The company works with OutLeadership, which create summits, talents accelerators, and insights for companies who want to "realise the positive business impacts of inclusion”. The company, says Tim E., is working with OutNext, a professional development programme for the next generation of LGBT leaders and executives.

Various companies, including Uber and Accenture, allow employees to choose their preferred pronouns; some also allow their employees to disclose their sexual preferences on internal databases so they can avail benefits like health for their partners.

Sensitising employees to ensure safe working spaces merged as another key aspect. The first step towards achieving that, says Vaish, is having an open conversation. He says Uber started a programme where every employee is encouraged to register and say how they would like to be addressed, in terms of pronouns. "When you have these conversations and when you are able to recognise people from the LGBT community who are performing well , it becomes the new norm... You just have to be diverse. People are looking for diversity, superior businesses are happening because of diversity,” says Vaish.

Diversity is also important for companies that operate in multiple geographies. “If you don’t have a diverse mindset, you cannot operate,” Vaish says. It is also important for companies to share best practices and collaborate to make workplaces more diverse and inclusive, he adds.

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