This article has been sponsored by Accenture.
“If I change my name to something girly, people will treat me fine, sure. But I want them to think that this is Shoaib, and Shoaib can look like this.”
These are the words of Shoaib, a transgender woman, who has never shied away from leading her life the way that brings her happiness. She has a simple motto — When you start accepting yourself, the world begins to adjust itself for you.
Shoaib identifies with every person who has feared coming out to their family. Having spent 25 years worrying about it herself, she realised she was only prolonging her agony.
And so she decided to end the waiting game.
When she finally did, she found acceptance in her mother, who assured her she loved her just the same. While the family was slowly beginning to accept this new reality, Shoaib had acceptance issues to deal with in her professional life as well.
“I lost my job due to the pandemic,” she recounts, adding that even though she got offers from leading banks, it came with a hindrance.
“They required me to change my gender identity. I didn’t give in.”
While some corporates shunned Shoaib’s blunt courageousness, it was applauded by others, such as her workplace Accenture.
It is her firm stand for authenticity that has won her praise.
Speaking about why inclusivity in the workspace is important, Shoaib says, “We don’t want any special treatment or behaviour. We yearn to be treated equally. That’s what helps people change the notion that we are different.”
And she says this is where the culture of equality at Accenture makes all the difference.
A fair world for all
While Shoaib found a great workplace that accepted her for who she is, many are not so fortunate. According to a study titled ‘Getting to Equal: Visible Growth, Invisible Fears’, more than half (57 per cent) of LGBTQ+ employees believe their gender identity and expression or their sexual orientation has slowed their progress at work.
This figure is alarming, and corporates worldwide need to step up for change.
Accenture believes that creating an inclusive work environment won’t just benefit the employee, but will create a win-win situation for everyone on board.
Kalyani Roy, Managing Director, Accenture Technology, India concedes. “We’ve been able to learn from our Global Pride Program across the world and have had takeaways from this.”
She explains that the most impactful changes that the company has brought about are first to empower the community within the organisation. “Our Employee Resource Group creates a haven for people to have discussions, converse with like-minded people and get insights.”
Why this works, she says, is because it creates an environment of comfort and this finally drives change within the organisation.
“All the policies that we have been introducing are based on the inputs we are getting from this group,” she adds.
Advocate for policy changes
The professional adds that along with creating such micro-ecosystems, another beneficial way of promoting inclusion in the workplace is giving people a platform to speak. “People want to be heard and want to tell their story,” she says, adding that they have seen this as part of a program at Accenture.
“Hues of the Rainbow is one such program where people are encouraged to come forward and tell their coming out story, and this has humanised the struggle and reality that people face.”
While these are initiatives by the company that encourage diversity, Roy adds that the company encourages change at the daily routine level too.
“Take dress code for example,” she says. “A lot of these things are antiquated and dated, and there are efforts at the organisational level to make it more inclusive.”
Additionally, the company’s life insurance benefits policy allows LGBTQ+ employees to nominate their partners. Another such inclusive policy is that of parental leave, which has widened to include primary and secondary caregivers, regardless of gender identity.
According to the employees at the company, these go a long way in making them feel connected with the organisation. “Having a level of understanding and true acceptance is so important,” says Roy, adding that when people can be their authentic selves, teams become more collaborative and creative in solving problems.
But, circling back to why an inclusive workplace is a win-win for everyone, Roy says it is because when trained to show kindness and empathy to a certain section of people, employees begin to be more empathetic as a whole. And empathy in the workplace goes a long way toward company growth.
Five steps to inclusion
Roy suggests that corporates need to focus on both creating inclusion-driven practices at the team level as well as introducing policy changes.
Recruitment, promotions, and retention of employees, along with transgender health benefits, are areas to focus on, she says.
A study conducted by the company found the top-five cultural issues that employers should address to create a workplace where LGBTQ+ employees, in particular, can not only rise but also feel supported, heard and understood.
Here’s what corporates need to hear.
It all starts at the top:
“True acceptance that begins from the organisation’s top leaders is what we start with,” says Roy. “People can thus see a great opportunity in the corporate market.” Open dialogue leaves no room for stigma.
Training employees to be non-judgemental:
The leaders at Accenture believe that “sensitising people right at the start as they are becoming part of the organisation, is crucial to avoid unconscious bias that may be prevalent”.
No one should feel left out:
The workplace should be an empowering environment where employees who are different from the majority can settle in quickly and thrive. No matter their background, or gender, all employees should feel welcome. Roy elaborates on this, “Our support staff and facility people come from many different backgrounds. The training done for them is in local languages, so it becomes a lot more natural.”
It all starts with a changed mindset:
“When we speak to our managing directors and have training programs to sensitise them towards diversity and inclusion, we are leaning towards 40 years of unlearning. Our conversations are aimed at two things; changing the mindset of the leaders and making them more vocal,” says Roy.
Lastly, a workplace where employees feel safe is one they will want to stay in. Employees should feel safe raising concerns with (and about) leaders, especially when it comes to harassment and discrimination.
In addition to these five, Accenture believes the onus is on the workplace to create an inclusive space.
Steps include having employee networks that are available to address concerns. Along with this, showing support to the community not just at the level of the office but also at global forums goes a long way. Another thing to do is to strengthen intersectionality among employees.
It is only when these things are done, and steps are taken in this direction that a workplace will be able to achieve its goal of inclusivity.