With Pride Month nearing its end, we sat down with Ankit Bhuptani to discuss DEI policies in workplaces, and how organizations can be more supportive and inclusive of employees belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community
Ankit Bhuptani is a seasoned public speaker, Human Rights advocate and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) professional with 10+ years of experience in the diversity and inclusion space, recognized for working well with people from different backgrounds with a primary focus on LGBTQIA+ community.
He was awarded with ‘Global Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Award’ by the World HRD Congress & has addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
Let us dive into the interview to see what he shared with us.
Describe a little bit about your work and what you do.
Ankit: My career started over a decade ago and I am a LGBTQ+ rights activist. I am passionately working on diversity, equity, inclusion, and the belonging of the LGBT community within education, workplace, and faith.
I have conducted sensitization sessions for various stakeholders including but not limited to corporate houses, law enforcement agencies, educational institutes, lawyers and influencers on national as well as international forums.
I employ advocacy tools such as public speaking, gender and sexuality workshops, panel discussions, film screenings, webinars and collaborations with brands/celebrities.
Everyone talks about “diversity and inclusion”, but there are many out there that don’t really understand it. What does it actually mean, especially in the context of organizations and workplaces?
Ankit: Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is not a philanthropic act. By ensuring DEI is established in your business you are guaranteed to have a diverse pool of people working together for a common purpose.
Firstly, with diversity comes different experiences and perspectives to handle problems are encountered at work. When establishing diversity you also make room for inclusion. It is assumed that 6% to 9% of the population is made up of the queer community. Taking into account the allyship that exists between the queer community and rest of the population, we can quite comfortably say 15-20% of your market share belongs to queer community and the people who support them.
Secondly, ignoring DEI or not even talking about LGBTQ+ rights as a company means that you are going to be turning away a good chunk of potential buyers and handing them over to your competitors.
While this might not be the only reason to disregard your organization and its products, it is however one of the major factors to head over to organization that support queer values.
Thirdly, it is not just the LGBTQ+ community that cares about workplace inclusion, but the straight Gen-Z population and millenials that will soon make up the majority of workforce round the world and more vocally advocate for the same as opposed to their previous generations.
With this in mind, there are multiple benefits for companies who act as early adopters of D&I at their workplaces such as improved financial performance, better innovation, reduced attrition and a more engaged personnel.
So, to wrap it up, DEI in the workplace can have an impact on recruitment to retainment of talent, innovation, providing new solutions, capturing the market, profitability, and goodwill as well.
Is heteronormativity and cisnormativity within the workforce common today? If yes, what can we do to work towards changing that? If not, why do you think so?
Ankit: The only way to bring about change is to lead by example. When this happens, more and more organizations decide to make a change and hence this leads to normalization of a concept or an idea.
For example, when I travel I stay at hotels such as Lemon Tree Hotels or at the Lalit Ashok hotels which are know to be all inclusive and even employ queer community as part of their front desk. By doing so they are sensitizing the population of people that go to their hotels.
With this, more and more companies that start to foster such culture and practices will allow for moving away from heteronormativity and cisnormativity to an all inclusive work culture.
What do you think is the need of the hour when it comes to educating employees about the LGBTQIA+ community and individuals that identify as part of the community? And how do we become a better ally?
Ankit: The journey starts with an open mind and open heart. Let go of all kinds of prejudices and come to the table with genuine questions and queries. Start with getting them answered either from queer people or with the help of authenthic resources you can find online.
There are a tremendous amount of resources available such as books, TV series, movies, webseries and more. Taking the step to educating yourself is one of the best ways to break away from the stigma that is associated with community.
One of my favourite reads is a book called Queeristan by Parmesh Shahani which describes LGBTQ+ inclusion in the Indian workplace. For anyone looking to understand the queer community and how it translates into the Indian workplace, this will be your bible.
Finally, armed with understanding the community, you can become a better ally. How do you do that? Simple. Stand up for the community when you see discriminations against anyone and stop someone from bullying.
There are innumerable instances of people passing (even unintentionally) homophobic/transphobic remarks in conversations, in workplaces and otherwise. When allies find themselves in situations like these, what should they do?
Ankit: While there is no one size fits all answer to this question as it depends on a lot of factors such as people you are with and their relationship to you, the environment in which the situation arises and more.
Having said this, regardless, it is quite important to politely tell them that it is not an appropriate statement to make and stop the conversation from proceeding.
In situations where you cannot stop the conversation due to lack of courage or other outstanding factors, then please do not continue to be a part of it.
If you cannot speak out against them, then the least you can do is exit the conversation. Even a silent approval encourages a bully to continue their bullying.
Take this one step further, if the derogatory comments have been made in front of the queer person, please do check in with them and see if they are okay. Sometimes all anyone needs is a listening ear.
What are some of the major things organizations can do to make their workplace more diverse + inclusive and combat homophobia/transphobia?
Ankit: Firstly, they can start with changing their policy and code of conduct. All companies have a code of conduct that says they will not discriminate based on caste, gender, nationality, race, and so on and so forth.
They need to actively talk and state that along with all this, they will not discriminate based on gender identity, orientation, and expressions.
Secondly, They need to have active workshops where managers and reporting chains understand that the company will not discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community. Another important step that needs to be addressed is understanding their internal biases and actively working to change them. This can be achieved by inviting people from the queer community to your workplaces and get them to share their journey. Simply extending an invitation for them to talk at your company is not enough, you must actively get your employees to ask them questions as well.
Thirdly, let’s talk a little about the benefits provided to employees such as insurance, vacation time and more. All such benefits that are family-centric need to include queer families as well. Look for insurance companies or banks that are all inclusive so the queer community within your workplace are able to avail these services as well.
Lastly, companies can make sure to include gender pronouns in their emails or meetings so as to respect everyone’s identities.
For all the strides forward that the world is making in terms of diversity and inclusion, we still see entire countries taking a step backward. For example, recently, Hungary decided to ban LGBTQ+ content for minors. What are your thoughts on this?
Ankit: Currently the UNHRC’s 47th meeting is going on, and they recently released a statement against Hungary, because their recent ban of LGBTQ+ content for minors is against EU values and global standard of Human Rights including a lot of UN recommendations.
While we cannot push the covers beyond one boundary, what I can say as an external party is that Hungary needs to review their decision.
In a larger context, we need to prepare age-appropriate content for school kids to understand LGBTQ community. Even with this, there is no “one size fits all” answer. This is because we as a society need to take a call in terms of exposing children and teaching them about the queer commnuity.
We come from a wide variety of cultural, regional, historical and geographical diversities and realities. What works in one part of the world may not fly in another. So collectively as a country we need include the voices of the queer community when it comes to educating the children regarding the same.
Anything else that you want to specifically talk about/mention?
Ankit: As an activist, I am an optimistic person. I believe that the world needs more activism of care and not of hate. What I mean by this is that, the whole idea of activism comes from the idea that someone is the oppressor and I am the victim. This can take you only so far. Beyond it, it fails to achieve what it started out to be.
This needs to change. We need to approach it from the space of understanding the background of the oppressor and their point of view and try to engage with them with their perspective and come back to the platform of conversation to further discuss why they hold such views and how we can provide a different perspective on the same.
Another thing is we need to stop the blame game and come from a place of accommodation, conversation, and openness not only from their side but also from you, only then can we start to change and make a difference.
Finally, do you have any other bite-sized advice you want to share with our readers?
Ankit: I would like to leave you all with a quote of mine – Allyship is nothing but being open to the dialogue of diversity.
Only with the openness to discuss and converse about diversity that exists in the world, can inclusion occur.
With awareness and support for the LGBTQIA+ community at an all-time high, having a DEI policy at your workplace is no longer an option or something you can overlook. If you want your company and brand to be perceived as inclusive and welcoming of people from all walks of life, showing solidarity and actively working on showing people that you care, and that you don’t discriminate is a non-negotiable.
We hope to see companies across the globe build truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces everywhere. Happy Pride Month!