Say No To Tokenism: LGBTQAI+ Inclusivity & The Indian Hospitality Sector

For Representational Purposes Only
For Representational Purposes OnlyImage Courtesy: Kitty Su

June was pride month and many corporations across the country were celebrating the LGBTQAI+ community in various ways. However, I did notice a distinct lack of visibility and awareness in the hospitality sector. Pride flags always pop up during June and I feel there is a risk of misusing the flag or ‘rainbow washing’ when establishments and companies do it to get on a trend and that it’s just exploitative. It gives a false sense of security to minorities and is counter-productive. Pride month may be for 30 days but the message of inclusivity, safety, community, equality and celebration should be a focus for everyone 365 days a year. With more and more people and allies supporting and leaning toward socially conscious brands and establishments, there is a need for restaurants and bars to truly integrate such aforementioned factors into their overall marketing, employment and training initiatives.

There are a number of establishments in the hospitality sector that have taken a pledge to be more LGBTQAI+ friendly. While it is encouraging to see some restaurants and hotels show support, it is even more important now for businesses to show they continue to nurture this sense of inclusivity. Incidents of discrimination, bullying and harassment continue to occur and having LGBTQAI+ policies in the workplace is crucial for setting the guidelines on how to be more inclusive and avoid discrimination. Even though our society is slowly becoming gender sensitive and tolerant toward different sexual orientations, we still have a long way to go.

The hospitality industry has a number of SOPs in place and some even take a one size fits all approach for their diversity training. However, with increased awareness and the need to be socially conscious, specific training and sensitization workshops are more important than ever and should be incorporated into any restaurant or bar’s SOPs as a core part of their equality and diversity policy. What establishments don’t realise is that such training makes a difference to their overall well-being and productivity which in turn results in an increase in revenue. This is because diversity training can help increase empathy and communication between employees and even customers and training helps people learn to embrace their differences and work together more effectively.

As a member of the LGBTQ community myself who also works in the hospitality industry, I wanted to touch upon a few things we can do in our establishments that can help make our industry more inclusive and sensitive.

One of the first and foremost measures that a restaurant or bar can take is to have a company employment policy that really drives an equal opportunities sensibility. More than anything else, most of the members of the community are looking for professional growth and are overlooked or not given such opportunities based on their gender, sexual identity and perception in society. There are several NGOs that are tirelessly working to educate and sensitise the hospitality industry to this issue and we as an industry need to recognise this and be proactive in providing employment and advancement to deserving candidates, irrespective of who they are or where they come from.

As I mentioned above, establishments need to adopt a definitive LGBTQAI+ inclusion policy and training program along with all their other SOPs. Offering LGBTQAI+ training in the workplace as part of equality and diversity training can be a powerful way to educate everyone about LGBTQAI+ issues. Training helps ensure your policies are heard and understood across the organisation. Restaurants and bars should be clear about what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour and lay down procedures for dealing with people who violate such policies and processes. Employers need to make sure that any allegations of discrimination or harassment are taken very seriously and that they are seen to actually follow through with their procedures and policies.

Support your LBGTQAI+ staff and customers by understanding that everyone is different. Perhaps one of the most important things to do is to make everyone feel safe when they’re in your establishment. Set time aside to get to know your team and create a safe space for them to share any issues they’re having, if they wish to. Make customers feel welcome and throw out all pre-conceived societal notions that have been the norm for decades. Establish a culture which shows that inclusion is something that is a part of the company’s DNA by taking small but tangible steps like having gender-neutral toilets or by displaying a sensitivity to personal pronouns. This is important because language matters. It can help people feel heard, empowered and protected. When we are ignorant or flippant with our language, it can leave people feeling small, stigmatised and excluded.

The best way to do this is to make a list of inclusive terms to help your team use the right language in such situations. It is our responsibility to cultivate compassion and empathy within our team and we must recognise that these changes do not happen overnight.

Make your allyship visible. By allyship, I mean someone who supports the LGBTQAI+ community and their movement. Make sure you write about your allyship in your bios on your social media platforms and websites. Have maybe a sign or a small flag at the entrance of your establishment which tells people that this is a safe space and is friendly towards all people, irrespective of sexual identity, race etc. It may seem frivolous, but trust me, a little goes a long way.

The thing that I have noticed is that even if an establishment or employer has good intentions and considers themselves to be allies, they just may not know enough or have enough awareness to be able to devise policies and conduct training by themselves. The good news is that there are plenty of experts and members of the community with experience (such as this writer) who do know, and you can rely on them. You can find plenty of LGBTQAI+ professional organisations and NGOs that can provide resources such as training, advice, help with crafting policies, and more.

Another important and effective way to show sensitivity and support is to celebrate! We celebrate Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Women’s day and a whole bunch of different festivals all year round. Celebrate Pride, Trans Visibility Day, and Spirit Day. By getting involved in these events, you’re signifying your commitment to LGBTQAI+ rights and sending out a message of support to your employees and the community at large.

We all realise that it does take time to change people’s preconceived notions regarding age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and disability. Nothing happens overnight and we as an industry and society at large have long-held beliefs and biases that employees may not even be aware they hold. This is why developing a strategy for implementing diversity training in the workplace is key and urgent. Nothing can happen overnight and in the same way we cannot force someone to ‘come out’ we cannot force people to change their mindset. It’s a journey that we are all on together.

The only thing we can ensure and do is to communicate. Communication is at the heart of having an LGBTQAI+-friendly workplace. You need to find effective ways of communicating the establishment’s commitment to inclusiveness and you also need to foster respectful communication among employees and your customers. Inclusivity and LGBTQAI+ measures should not be performative. We have many corporations who jump on the rainbow bandwagon during pride month but then disappear for the rest of the year. We need more people in the hospitality industry to take the pledge and make realistic strides towards bringing awareness, sensitivity and action into our spaces and set an example for others to follow.

The most important thing to me is very simple; treat people with respect and treat people the way you would want to be treated. If you see someone different from you, that doesn’t mean they are any less of a person or any less important. If we learn to treat each other with more respect, understanding, and grace, we all would be better for it.

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