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Rainbow And Beyond: Do India’s Tech Startups Offer LGBTQ+ Inclusion At Workplace?

Rainbow And Beyond: Do India’s Tech Startups Offer LGBTQ+ Inclusion At Workplace?

More than a year after India’s Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality, startups have started working towards policy changes to encourage inclusivity.

Flat hierarchy, open communication, flexible timings, employee ownership, open plan seating, Friday happy hours — this and much more defines startups today.

When Tata Steel recently announced that it has introduced a new human resource policy that allows its employees from the LGBTQ community to declare their partners and avail all HR benefits permissible under the law, we wondered how startups fare when it comes to inclusion. Here is what we found out.

Are Indian Startups Inclusive When It Comes To LGBTQ+?

In June 2019, Flipkart introduced an industry-first initiative FlexBen Policy, that offered greater flexibility and freedom of choice in selecting and funding employee benefits. The policy allows employees to customise their benefits package based on their individual needs.

The programme offers policy coverage for LGBTQ+ employees and their partners and was designed to be universal and inclusive.

“We know that our success as a company depends on the success and satisfaction of our employees,” Smriti Krishna Singh, chief human resources officer at Flipkart told Inc42.

“Recognising the fact that today’s workforce is diverse and can have varied personal and professional needs, we have recently introduced the FlexBen programme, which is specifically crafted based on feedback from our employees,” she added.

“The programme will offer greater flexibility and choice in selecting and funding employee benefits, allowing them to customise their benefits package based on their individual needs,” she added.

Through this plan, the company also offers choice of additional childcare or parent care coverage for single employees. “Our FlexBen programme is designed to give each employee the freedom of choice and is another step forward in creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. We are one of the first few companies in India to do this,” Singh added.

The initiative is a result of an engagement survey Flipkart conducted among its employees to understand how they see the issue, and aims to provide them the freedom to choose benefits based on their individual needs, including both insurance and non-insurance options. The survey revealed that around 50% of Flipkart employees choose benefits and policies as an important attraction and retention driver.

Edtech startup Ufaber has also introduced policies on similar lines. To help fulfil its objective of creating a more diverse, tolerant and inclusive workforce, the startup recently earmarked 1% of hires for individuals belonging to the LGBTQ+ community.

“As we scale and expand onto having a larger team of trainers, we will maintain and improve this ratio. It is not merely about providing work opportunities for this community, but we are also proud of the fact that we can attain another goal of providing them a safe work environment,” said cofounder Ufaber Rohit Jain,

The startup was founded in 2014 by Jain and Anirudh Swarnkar with an objective to provide hyper-personalised education at affordable costs. Ufaber offers courses in transformational domains like IELTS, PTE, UPSC, GATE and english communication. uFaber currently has over 1200 registered trainers and over 50,000 students.

Jefferies and Bain, a Reputation Risk Management startup has taken a stance and committed to having a 5% reservation for members of this community so that they feel welcomed, appreciated and accepted.

With a view of reducing the disparity towards the LGBTQ+ community, the startup currently is welcoming distinguished interns that belong to the LGBTQ+,” Archana S, senior partner and cofounder of Jefferies and Bain told us.

The startups believe that employment and opportunities should be provided on the basis of skills and accolades, irrespective of a person’s race, religion, appearance, stance or sexual orientation.

Some of the startups may not have such an evolved HR policy yet, but they ensure they do not force employees to address questions of gender in their joining formalities.

“Everybody is welcome at our company. We do not look at gender or sexual orientation or ask about it in any of our selection process,” Lalit Keshre, cofounder and CEO of digital investment platform Groww told us.

Inclusivity Beyond Paper

Almost more than a year after the Supreme Court overruled a law that criminalised homosexuality earlier in 2018, startups are slowly but surely making changes in not just HR policies but in the way they function. Uber India says as part of its endorsing inclusivity, it partnered with India’s first LGBTQI+ job fair by RISE in Bengaluru in July this year.

“We leveraged this partnership to come out in full support of the LGBTQI+ community as residents of Bengaluru city woke up to rainbow-coloured routes on the app. We had an attractive experience booth at the fair where people could share and record their views on what ‘equal opportunity’ meant to them.This job fair came extending the choice of sexual preference to all,” said Uber in a blog post at the time.

In February this year, the ride-hailing giant initiated the introduction of the ‘Pride Heart’ emoji by engaging Unicode Consortium, which governs the introduction of new emojis.

“We want to provide every community with the opportunity to express love, universally. In today’s work environment, companies should focus on not only supporting but actively implementing policies that promote diversity,” said Vishpala Reddy, regional HR director, APAC, Uber.

Startups have been working towards hiring the community not only to support the cause of equality but to motivate the existing employees. Various studies suggest that millennials prefer work places that are liberal in approach.

Interestingly, food tech giant Swiggy appointed Samyuktha Vijayan, a transgender woman as the company’s principal programme manager in April this year. Vijayan who hails from Chennai has completed her Bachelors in Engineering (electronics and communication) from PSG College of Technology. She had previously worked in Amazon.

Rainbow And Beyond: Do India’s Tech Startups Offer Inclusion At Workplace?
Samyuktha Vijayan

Though a long way to go before the startup community can be called liberal, there have small steps towards ensuring LGBTQ+ employees feel safe and equal at the workplace, For instance, NestAway, a home rental startup, has a black and white sign on the doors of every restroom.

The signage on the doors read ‘Anyone can use this restroom regardless of gender identity and expression.’ The startup, founded in 2015 was founded in January 2015 by Amarendra Sahu, Smruti Parida, Deepak Dhar and Jitendra Jagadev. The company is an online marketplace for home rentals that turns unfurnished houses into fully-furnished and managed apartments and rents them to pre-verified tenants.

Though the efforts by startups are laudable, it’s a long way to go before we build fully inclusive workplaces in India. Speaking to Inc42, many of the startups listed ways that organisations can support the various communities that make up civil society.

  • Anti-discrimination policy that includes gender and sexual orientation
  • Eliminate bias in the hiring process
  • Partner benefits such as health insurance
  • Infrastructure which has gender inclusive restrooms
  • Conduct events like pride parades and festivals

While some startups are working towards setting an example towards inclusivity, there are some working only for the community. Chennai-based PeriFerry, founded in May 2017 by Neelam Jain, and is India’s first ever social startup for transgender upliftment. The choice is up to individuals on whether to make the society or break it say PeriFerry, while adding that it has chosen to make a society of equal opportunities.

“We basically support placement. We do it in three ways, by helping them set up their own business, finding employment for them and by running sensitisation programmes in corporates,” said Nishant Agarwal, chief of operations, PeriFerry. The startup has placed around 125 people and sensitised 35K people on the issue and set up four businesses till now.

PeriFerry’s hiring scheme has a simple structure. The first step is identifying interested job seekers from the transgender community, who reach out to the startup through various platforms like team field visits, online portals, word of mouth etc. Then the candidates undergo screening or background verification, any required counselling or mentoring. After that the company tries to align the interests and skill sets of the candidates with the client requirements to ensure job satisfaction and amplified productivity, PeriFerry’s Agarwal said.

“We are a core team of four people and two of them are from the community itself. As we hire, we don’t see the gender, caste or not even education. We only look at the skills one possesses. I believe every company should have gender neutral policy wherein same sex partner benefits should be there.”

Note: We at Inc42 take our ethics very seriously. More information about it can be found here.