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Harish Iyer on Queer Rights at the Workplace – IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

Harish Iyer on Queer Rights at the Workplace - IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

Savleen Kaur

A five-day immersive online certificate training course on Beyond Binaries: Understanding Sexual Identities and Queer Rights Issues in India was launched by IMPRI (Impact and Policy Research Institute) in collaboration with the Gender Impact Studies Centre (GISC) in honour of pride month.


The session was led by Harish Iyer, an independent policy consultant on queer rights at the workplace and the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion at the workplace. He began the session by explaining the intricate meaning of the terms ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ through an age-old Hindi song. He explained how diversity simply refers to a situation in which different components of the society are distinct from each other and inclusion unlike presumptions of many not only means existing in harmony and obedience with one another but living together with friction despite the differences as these friction and differences amongst the society are the catalyst of change.

The first major issue taken up by him was the two-restroom debate. Despite being officially recognized as a third gender, transgender and queer people often witness the absence of restroom services even within the most reputed and pioneer organizations. He further shared his own personal experience at his workplace where he faced similar unavailability of gender-neutral restrooms. One way of resolving these issues of unavailability and resistance by the members of an organization is compliance and instructions by the top management of the organization.

Another major obstacle faced by the queer community in the workplace is the stringent dress code policies implied within the organization. There are often no provisions for gender non-conforming, bon binary people, queer people or the transgender community when it comes down to the traditional dress codes for men and women. He further elaborated that in order to push the traditional boundaries within the workplace it is not necessary to remodel the entire set of rules altogether but to provide people with the freedom to dress as either of the genders that they comply with.

Harish Iyer conveyed the two encompassing policies which should be a mandate for every organization to create a more equitable and fairer environment. The first is a human rights policy which is a way of offering a grievance redressal mechanism to all the employees within the organization.

Additionally, he explained the importance of mentioning the various categories such as caste, ethnicity, sex, sexuality, and gender identity and how a mere mention of such categories enables people to identify with them and create a more accepting and inclusive environment.

Impact on Workers

This human rights policy must be overarching i.e., it must not be limited to those working within the organization but also to those who the organization engages with on a regular basis including labourers, vendors, contractual workers and more. The second policy is the diversity, equity and inclusion policy which relates to the discriminatory acts within the organization and includes an adequate redressal mechanism for the same. Thirdly, the code of conduct policy includes the issues related to sexuality and the complaint portal for the same.

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He further reiterated how organizational structure is going to be dominant with certain castes, religions, and genders and when it comes to combating these hurdles organizations always step foot within a comfortable space. He shared that every organization must have a diversity, equity and inclusion council to redress the issues of the community and frame rules and regulations for the same.

However, just the framing of these policies is not sufficient unless it is backed by a practising environment. In addition to this special committee steps must be taken to achieve the objective of diversity in all spheres of the organization. Harish Iyer shared his own personal experience of how the cafeteria committee of an organization initially consisted of all cis-gendered men.

However, as they gradually began to include cis women and gender-fluid people, they noticed a structural change in vendors and suppliers who now included more women and gender-fluid people. This shows how these are the major segments of an organization that are in need of change to create a more inclusive and diverse environment. In other words,” the onus of inclusion lies in those who are included, not those who are excluded.”

The session continued with more instances of lack of communication and discrimination faced by the transgender and queer community in the workplace and organizations. The only way to improve these circumstances is to engrain acceptance within the managerial bodies themselves because once the management stands up for the community by improving their training and selection procedures it will enable a more inclusive environment. Though a complete elimination of discrimination might be difficult to achieve, it will help to build stepping stones towards the ultimate goal.

Way Forward

The session was finally concluded by Professor Vibhuti Patel who shared her own experiences and witnessed discrimination, abuse and violence in some of the renowned universities in India. She further questioned the practicality and functionality of gender-inclusive university guidelines and policies in real life.

The session concluded with exhilarating discussions among the speakers and participants. Harish Iyer conveyed that change arises from conflict and one cannot expect a new and better world without friction, with this the session came to an end.

Read more session reports from Day 3 of Beyond Binaries: Understanding Sexual Identities and Queer Rights Issues in India.

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