Positive change can be challenging, and with that comes uncertainty around how best to put diversity and inclusion (D&I) workplace strategies into practice.
Tools such as equality indexes can help to make genuine and meaningful changes by holding companies to account, tracking their progress and encouraging positive competition in the space.
In a recent edition of the DiverCity Podcast, I was joined by Ram Sinha, co-founder of Pride Circle, and Vicky Hayden, head of global partnerships at Stonewall, to discuss equality benchmarking, standards and indexes.
Many of us are fortunate enough to work with international partners and colleagues, including in places where legislation lacks inclusivity or, worse still, is enforced with oppression.
For example, the legal system in India denies LGBTQ+ citizen’s rights, with Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code only being stricken in September 2018. Issues persist and LGBTQ+ marriage is illegal.
But new digital tools have been introduced, designed to monitor the progress of LGBTQ+ inclusivity in Indian workplaces.
Launched in December 2020, the India Workplace Equality Index became the country’s first comprehensive benchmarking tool for businesses to measure their LGBTQ+ inclusion credentials in the workplace, and over time, can be used to evaluate their progress.
The index was the result of a collaboration between UK-based LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall, the Keshav Suri Foundation (a foundational organisation supporting the LGBTQIA+ community in India) as well as Pride Circle which has been supported by the ICCI in India.
“The idea was to help organisations provide a framework to measure how they’re doing and to identify areas they have overlooked,” said Singha. “It also helps them to measure progress year on year so they can visualise it and how they benchmark with competitors. I think a friendly bit of competition helps to raise the bar higher collectively because inclusions are, after all, a collective initiative.”
Hayden, who looks at measuring workplace equality on a global scale, says the three main advantages and uses of an index for workplace or LGBTQ+ equality are guidance, critical self-assessment, and competition.
She explained that as a tried and tested tool, organisations that are introducing changes for the first time can use an index to make it less daunting.
“It’s an opportunity to hold up a mirror, to invite an external critic to share industry best practice and to share with your organisation the things that you have been doing really well at, and the things that you need to ramp up effort on,” she said.
It’s also a competitive tool. It tells onlookers, external stakeholders and audiences that if you’re LGBTQ+ and looking for an inclusive workplace, these are some of the best options for you. “Or if you’re a business seeking your next supplier or business partner, you can confidently identify those organisations that uphold inclusive, LGBTQ+ values to collaborate with,” said Hayden.
How businesses use an index will depend entirely on where they are in their D&I journey. Change is, of course, complex, and for financial organisations unsure of where to begin getting the right advice can be difficult.
Sinha’s guidance? Engage.
“Look at what other organisations are doing in the space. But also engage in dialogue – ask people in the LGBTQ+ community and reach out to experts like Stonewall, to people who have been doing this for a long time and who understand what is feasible within your cultural, social and legal context,” said Sinha.
Hayden added, however, that businesses must be more proactive when planning their responses to change.
“A knee-jerk reaction to a change in law or to civil unrest, for example in the form of boycotts, can shine unnecessary light on the very people you’re trying to support,” she said.
But as ever, context is imperative. Upholding LGBT inclusion values in a country that suppresses pride parades and protests is a challenge for businesses domiciled in both the UK and abroad, but practical steps can be taken to ensure that the journey towards inclusivity progresses.
Hayden says that businesses “need to be much more proactive in planning for these conversations” with responses and stances agreed upon as part of a wider plan to foster momentum towards inclusivity.
As ever, the journey towards inclusivity is nuanced. But with a duty of care to employees and partners across the world, it is up to us all to encourage and foster the attitudes that deliver both meaningful change and positive business relationships.