June 2020 | 874 words | 3-minute read
Let me begin by addressing the disbelievers. I have, in my small time on earth, been witness to a fair few miracles. There was a time, about five years ago, I lay on my bed on a floor, pills in my hand, contemplating if swallowing them would finally release me from my bodily cage. It was a release I craved dearly.
Suddenly, as if from a haze, I awoke and heard a voice — ‘If you give up now, the world shall never get to know this beautiful person you have inside you, and what a loss that will be!’
This was my story, my life, before I began my journey of transitioning socially, medically and legally to be a woman and came to be known as Anubhuti, a name that surmises it all — an experience, a realisation, an epiphany.
The journey was one for the books, this ‘beautiful person’ came into the world tentatively, painfully and shamefully at first — battling years of conditioning in which we are taught not to own up and express one’s sexuality, something that we all struggle with. But a series of miracles kept me moving, as I found more and more believers.
Not only were the costs of my gender transition borne by Tata Steel, but I was given holistic support to grow and express in the organisation. I got a transfer to another location, so I could start over.
My transition was a public affair at the workplace, as such transitions often are. But it was the support I received from MOSAIC, Tata Steel’s Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) initiative, that I will never forget.
Then, in 2018, we managed to start a resource group for LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) employees called Wings, which I was to lead. It also invested in sensitising our colleagues and other stakeholders. Tata Steel was not just acknowledging, but also beginning to understand its LGBTQ+ employees.
The company evolved fast. By December 2019, Tata Steel crossed a milestone in expanding its D&I policy with a new LGBTQ+ inclusive policy.
Highlights of the policy
- Tata Steel has enabled LGBTQ+ employees to declare their partners and avail all HR benefits permissible under the law.
- Reimbursement of medical expenses for employees undergoing gender re-assignment surgery and special leave for it.
- Same sex partners to be covered under company policies and company sponsored medical benefit schemes.
- Adoption leave, new-born parent leave and childcare leave for gay/lesbian couples and transgender couples.
- Inclusion in honeymoon package; domestic travel coverage for new employees; temporary transfer policy; transfer and relocation, which allows partners to travel and familiarise themselves to a new place.
- Benefits available under the company’s Take-2 initiative, a diversity initiative for career comeback meant for spouses, now extended to same-sex partners.
Let me take you a little into the past to understand the need for it, the lives it has impacted, and the hope about the lives it will continue to impact.
While I was going through my journey — expectedly alone — barely a few walls away, a story quite like mine was unfolding. Another employee, my neighbour in the officers' flatlets of Jamshedpur (who wishes to remain anonymous), was going through a journey of his own. He had always known he was attracted to men, but he didn’t know if he would ever be able to express this side of himself. While people around him never batted an eyelid in speaking about their lovers, from the opposite sex, he felt he could never do the same. His mental strength was giving way due to the lack of a community and/or a sympathetic ear.
It was then, having closely tracked my progress and having heard of the strides that Tata Steel was taking in this direction, he reached out to me. He not only found empathy and support from the management, but was also able to open up to many of his colleagues. He tells me today that his despair and depression are almost gone, and he can give his best at work.
Once the Tata Steel LGBTQ+ policy was ratified and passed, it was a moment of remembrance and celebration for employees like us. Our experiences were now part of the company canon, and LGBTQ+ employees in the future will have a policy structure that stands by them, offering them equal terms of expression and respect as all other employees.
Not just that, for the first time, we started hearing our colleagues discuss LGBTQ+ issues, for the most part, in a positive sense. We have also had LGBTQ+ people from corporate India congratulating us. While there is still a lot more to be done, this policy stands as a bold first step in making LGBTQ+ people feel welcome in the workplace of tomorrow.
On a personal front, it is Valentine’s week as I write this, and I can finally add my girlfriend as my partner in the HR system, so as to avail the facilities that Tata Steel provides. A privilege that was unimaginable before.
The author, Anubhuti Banerjee, is a manager at Tata Steel’s analytics & insights division and was involved in Tata Steel’s industry-leading policy for LGBTQ+ employees.