I Have No Pride Left To Give

Written by
India Ashok

What is your idea of an ideal morning? Mine begins with my dog’s slobbering kisses and a strong cup of filter coffee.

I had just such an ideal morning on a random Tuesday. I remember walking into work all excited about a new project, only to be bombarded by a confetti of cliche-dipped rainbow decorations. 

Siri, Play ‘Over the Rainbow’ by Judy Garland

That was the first time I would experience Pride Month as a full-timer in corporate India. It was also the first time a very well-meaning, middle-aged female colleague asked me whether she should colour her hair blue and how she could do so without people thinking she was gay. A question to which, I still have no answer. 

You see, I wasn’t openly queer at my workplace. I wasn’t in the closet either. I had blue hair at the time, which was enough of an external marker of queerness for people to (incorrectly) assume that I was gay. 

I suppose I too, had incorrectly assumed that how I looked, behaved, and interacted at work was “normal”. My neurodivergent brain likely wasn’t effective at picking up on social cues. My illusion shattered when I realised the employee engagement activities that I had helped brainstorm and design the previous month were, in fact, for the company’s Pride Month “celebrations”. 

Now, I had a new problem - was I assigned this task because my team and manager perceived me as a capable employee or was it because I was perceived as queer? Should I be masking even more at work? Should I use my privilege to advocate more? Should I just eat more KitKat?

If you’ve faced something similar at work, I have a few suggestions for you. First, eat some KitKat - it helps. Next, talk to someone. If you’re uncomfortable bringing this up with your manager or HR, consider discussing it with a friend or your therapist. Sometimes a good rant can lead to epiphanies.  

If you’re a manager or leader reading this, I have a few suggestions for you as well. Engaging with LGBTQIA+ employees shouldn’t make you feel like you’re navigating a landmine. Have regular and honest conversations with your team about how they’d like diverse and equitable practices to be implemented within the team. Co-create policies!

Siri, Play ‘True Colors’ by Cyndi Lauper

I’ve been lucky enough not to have experienced openly hostile situations at any of my previous workplaces. But that didn’t mean I was comfortable coming out to my manager or even those I considered friends. 

I’d observed how my fellow LGBTQIA+ colleagues were treated when they attempted to be their authentic selves at work. If they were lucky, they became the official/unofficial mascot for all things queer. But if they made any waves, they’d be relegated to the “difficult to work with” and “too woke” dark corners of the office. 

A February 2023 Deloitte survey found that in urban India, among LGBTQIA+ individuals who are out, only a third are comfortable being out with select colleagues at work. What is more, 40% of respondents cited concerns about career opportunities as the biggest barrier to being out at work.

Siri, Play ‘These Boots are Made for Walkin’ by Nancy Sinatra

Do you know what the most common course of action is in India when LGBTQIA+ employees report harassment? More than 50% of cases lead to HR asking the employee who reported harassment to leave the company. 

My question to leaders making and implementing these policies is - How is this an effective, long-term resolution? 

Why alienate your LGBTQIA+ employees in this manner, especially at a time when talent acquisition and retention is already draining resources? 

Per Deloitte, almost three-quarters of Indians (yes, even those who don’t identify as LGBTQIA+) want to switch jobs to find a more inclusive organisation. This number is over double the global average. 

Siri, Play ‘Faking It’ by Calvin Harris

It saddens me that we need to play this cat-and-mouse game with our employers in the first place. If an organisation’s policies were designed and implemented to make a person feel safe at work, then an LGBTQIA+-specific DEI initiative wouldn’t be necessary. 

The average rate at which LGBTQIA+ employees in India currently experience non-inclusive behaviours is 70%. In contrast, the global average is 42%. If these numbers are to be believed, then corporate India’s DEI investments have failed spectacularly.

Instead, most employees likely perceive current DEI initiatives as annoying little chores. I remember an ex-manager of mine regretting being out at work. They admitted to feeling frustrated and singled out because every Pride Month, they were expected to conduct an icebreaker session with new joiners. 

Is it any wonder that 70% of Indian women in tech believe that the DEI measures undertaken by their organisation are mere marketing measures? 

And why wouldn’t employees perceive corporate DEI measures this way when they continue losing out opportunities to their male counterparts? 

I recently had the privilege of speaking to some bright, young students when I visited one of Bangalore’s most prestigious business schools. A lovely and smart young woman came up to me and told me how she and her male batchmate had interviewed for a role within a multinational corporation. Despite having the same academic achievements and similar extracurricular records, she wasn’t offered the role. 

Nasscom reports that in 2023, 80% of Indian organisations reported having a formal DEI policy, while 98% reported tracking their gender diversity. 

So, in 2024, why are some students still losing out on professional opportunities to their male counterparts during placements? 

Siri, Play ‘I Want to Break Free’ by Queen

Do you know what my ideal workplace would look like? As a queer and neurodivergent person, I want to work for an organisation that fairly compensates my skills and efforts, and provides me with opportunities to learn and grow. 

If that sounds similar to what every other regular person would like, that’s because IT IS! 

All anybody wants is to feel valued, respected, and accepted. Regardless of our gender, sexuality, ethnicity, caste, class, or beliefs, we all just want to feel “normal”.

Siri, Play ‘Take Me to Church’ by Hozier

So, how can an organisation normalise concepts as complex and nuanced as diversity and equity? It’s not that difficult. 

Organisations effectively cascade values such as integrity, collaboration, innovation, etc. all the time. Are these not complex values? Do they not require a nuanced approach toward organisational integration? Yet, organisations have been able to effectively inculcate these tricky concepts and cascade them as core values. 

Have you ever had to fill out a survey that helped your company qualify for an award that recognises it as a wonderful workplace? Now, imagine this survey asked you questions about:

  • Tools you’d like to use to simplify your daily tasks 
  • Problematic language and behaviours you’d like to encounter less frequently at work 
  • Policies you’d like tweaked to help you comfortably be your authentic self

What if your company invested just as much time and resources into converting your inputs into actionable measures as it does to earn the wonderful workplace badge of honour? 

When leaders and organisations stop perceiving diversity and equity as “initiatives” and instead begin embedding them as core organisational values, we’ll live in a new era of labour-led equity and sustainable business prosperity.  

Now, that would be something to be Proud of!

Work-life conversations that question the status quo.
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Work-life conversations that question the status quo.
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