Corporate India's LGBTQIA+ Inclusivity Odyssey: Satyaki Chakrabarti's Trailblazing Leadership

“I know that deciding to 'come out' is personal and can be challenging. Luckily, I haven't faced many problems with it. I'm open about it so that people can see and know about us. Surprisingly, more of my colleagues in the company have also come out after I did.”
Corporate India's LGBTQIA+ Inclusivity Odyssey: Satyaki Chakrabarti's Trailblazing Leadership

Pune- Tech and the corporate world can be a difficult space for queer people to navigate, owing to the lack of acknowledgement of gender and sexual minorities. Lately, more so after the Navtej Singh Johar vs Union of India judgement of 2018, which decriminalized homosexuality in 2018, organizations are joining the charge to be more inclusive.

In 2019, Blind, an anonymous chat app for workplaces, surveyed 7,000 Silicon Valley tech workers about LGBTQ sentiment in their companies. While most felt their workplaces were safe, nearly 40% observed LGBTQ colleagues experiencing harassment. Notably, over half of LGBTQ employees at Facebook, Oracle, LinkedIn, and Netflix reported witnessing such incidents. The survey by Blind provided insights into how Silicon Valley workers perceived their companies' treatment of LGBTQ employees.

The previously mentioned data is old, and there's no current information for India. This situation leads us to speculate on potentially disheartening statistics for our nation. The Mooknayak spoke to Satyaki Chakrabarti, an openly queer corporate employee and the leader of the India chapter of their organization's Pride Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) in five different locations. The conversation covered challenges in the field and his positive experiences, which could serve as inspiration for others.

Talking about the complexity of steering through corporate, which is steeped in heteronormativity, Satyaki remarked, “Tech spaces lack understanding because many people there come from a science background. Unlike fields where more people study humanities, there isn't as much talk about gender and sexuality in tech. But there are just as many LGBTQIA+ individuals in tech; they often stay hidden because they worry about not being accepted due to a lack of awareness.”

According to him, “that is where it becomes the responsibility of such organizations to create such resource groups and training so people from all sections feel belonged. Many companies are joining business mandates to be more inclusive. Maybe that is being done to be ‘woke enough’ but at the end, it is helping many.”

“When we say there is a lack of awareness, the next question is how to create that. The simple answer is to have constant sensitizations where queer people are in the forefront and not just in the audience. I tend to believe people are inherently good. It is just that not many have seen queer people around them, so they do not know how to act. That can change if organizations put in the required work.”

Some LGBTQIA+ people might avoid certain jobs because they could face discrimination, like jokes, mean comments about looks, or even violence or harassment. Understanding the difficulties these employees go through every day is key to making a workplace truly inclusive. Just saying a place is inclusive doesn't mean it really is. Seeing LGBTQIA+ individuals in visible and leadership roles is a positive sign that the industry is changing for the better.

But every identity occurs in intersection and cannot be isolated from each other. Chakrabarti explained, “Sensitivity training is not specific to caste but to gender and sexual minorities. There is not much intersectionality in terms of training when we talk about caste and gender, but caste did not come into the discussion. Anti-discriminatory policies around caste and religion do already exist so LGBTQIA+ is an added topic. Caste is not specifically brought up in the sensitization sessions as they are already in place.”

On a personal note, Satyaki also explained to The Mooknayak how a corporate structure empowered him to acknowledge his queerness. He revealed, “I began working with a tech company back in 2013. For someone who identifies as queer, the process of coming out happens gradually and continues over time – it's an ongoing journey. I initially opened up to my family and close friends about my identity in 2018, well after I had started my job. As time passed, I eventually shared this aspect of myself with my colleagues at the company.”

“When I entered the corporate world in 2013, I felt a strong sense of security. Unlike my experiences in school and college, where I faced bullying due to certain 'quirks,' the professional environment in the tech space was different. There was a strict anti-harassment policy in place, even though it wasn't specifically aimed at the queer community. This policy gave me confidence that someone who had been bullied in their earlier years now had a tool to ensure nothing harmful would happen again. It provided me with a reassuring sense of security.”

The ERG lead further spoke about how 2018 proved to be a year of change for the LGBTQIA+ community in India. He said, “The corporate space is a part of society, and initially, there wasn't much awareness about the LGBTQIA+ community. However, after the 2018 judgment that decriminalized section 377, conversations began to emerge. Around 2019-2020, companies began establishing Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) specifically for the LGBTQIA+ community. Policies were implemented that allowed us to include our civil partners in insurance benefits, and they introduced medical benefits covering 'gender reassignment surgery.' These positive changes made me feel encouraged and supported.”

“Initially hesitant, I observed positive changes in my workplace post-2018's decriminalization of section 377. By 2022, the company organized its own pride march, and the overwhelming turnout, including allies, left a lasting impact. During a quiz, I answered a challenging question, confidently introducing myself as ‘Hello, I am Satyaki Chakrabarti, a community member using he/him pronouns.’ The experience reflected the positive strides and acceptance within the corporate culture.”

Satyaki further talked about his work and the importance it has held not only for the organization but the community as well. He acknowledged, “That's where my journey began in working on LGBTQIA+ inclusion, and it's been two years now. I'm proud of the contributions I've made, such as ongoing sensitization efforts, increased support for gender reassignment surgery, and the installation of gender-neutral washrooms in all our offices, focusing on trans inclusion.”

“Realizing the significance of visibility, I once asked my straight friends if they knew any queer individuals before I came out to them, and most said no. This highlighted the importance of being visible. I understand that 'coming out' is a personal choice and exposes oneself to vulnerabilities. However, I've been fortunate enough to navigate this without much impact. If not me, then who? I'm out so that we are visible, and people are aware of our existence. Interestingly, more individuals in my organization have come out since I did.”

Navtej Singh Johar vs Union of India Judgement

Navtej Singh Johar vs Union of India judgement overturned the colonial section 377 that had been around for 158 years, making intimate relations between same-sex individuals no longer a crime. The court explained that this law violated various articles in the Constitution. This significant decision acknowledged the LGBTQ community's right to be treated equally, which the old law had taken away. It emphasized that the LGBTQ community should have the same rights and respect as everyone else, and discriminating against someone based on their sexual orientation is hurtful to their dignity and self-worth.

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