There are no official demographics for the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) population in India, but government data from 2012 suggests that around 2.5 million people in India are homosexual. These figures are only based on individuals who have spoken up about belonging to the community to the Ministry of Health.
Despite the 2018 landmark judgement of the Supreme Court decriminalising homosexuality, introducing ‘third gender’ as an acceptable option, more LGBTQ+ friendly spaces, and open conversations, India has a long way to go before we can truly say that it is an inclusive and welcoming country for all.
And one of the most important aspects of life is the workplace.
Ankita Mehra, a 20-something girl from MTV’s Roadies Rising, first made headlines for coming out on national television. Now, the head of Q-rious initiative at Equiv, she is creating equal job opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community in India.
Equiv, founded in early-2017, is a Bengaluru-based job portal focussing on diversity in workspaces. It recently launched the first edition of ‘Q-rious’, its event platform that seeks to broaden the diversity and inclusivity mandate for LGBTQ+ people to have safe, accepting, and fair workplaces.
YourStory caught up with Ankita to know more about her life, her role at Equiv, and career-related challenges for the LGBTQ+ community in India.
Ankita Mehra: What has been the most difficult thing for you so far? How have been your support system?
YourStory: I have a family of four – father, mother, sister, and her husband. My sister was always supportive of me since the very beginning. She is the one who helped me identify my true self. My brother-in-law too supported me.
During our conversations, I have spoken about how one of the most difficult things is understanding and finding your true self. For me, that was indeed very challenging – accepting who I really am. Along the way, I was afraid to interact with people, mainly because I was often discriminated.
This ultimately affected me and my mental state, driving me into depression. I was constantly battling negative thoughts in my head – thoughts that would mean ending my life. I was in a dark place. I decided to open up to my father, writing a 16-page letter that brought him to tears. I feared whether he would accept me or not, and thankfully he did.
Today, I am happy that my father loves me for who I am, cares not of who I love and what I choose to do. There will always be people who will never fully understand what this feels like and how much it affects one’s mental state, but I am blessed to be surrounded by a family of acceptance and love, allowing me to live my life the way I choose to.
AM: It’s been six months since you joined Equiv. What are your observations about career opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community in India? And what do you think should companies in India do more?
YS: There are two challenges – one is transgenders who aren’t educated enough having a hard time getting employed, and another is when talented and educated people of the community struggle to find an accepting corporate environment.
It’s very important that corporates come up with sensitised environments for employees to be understood and accepted the way they are.
I would say after the legalisation, corporates have been more open about talking and accepting it. A lot has changed and I’m very happy that companies are finally opening their doors to hire members of the LGBTQ+ community.
YS: How are you leveraging your role at Equiv?
AM: Equiv aims to solve diversity issues in workplaces. We have four verticals under Equiv – ‘Women Changemakers’, a career fair exclusively for women to facilitate gender diversity; ‘Enablers’ to include people with various disabilities in corporate spaces; ‘Frontiers’ for veterans to get back into the workforce; ‘Q-rious’ catering to the needs of the LGBTQ+ community.
Through these initiatives, we aim to sensitise corporates enough to bring about diversity in workplaces. So far, it has been a success with all the companies we have collaborated with, and we are motivated to keep moving forward.
I am the Director of Events and Community at Equiv. However, I don’t restrict myself to this role. I do everything I can to be of assistance, which includes motivating my team.
As a part of Equiv, I am motivated to make corporates more understanding and accepting of people from the LGBTQ+ community, hence the ‘Q-rious’ career fair. At the fair, our main focus is to connect corporate companies with members of the community and understand their concerns and challenges.
We just wrapped up the first edition of ‘Q-rious’ in Delhi, where we had companies including Societe Generale, Thoughtworks, Optum, StayUncle, Lalit, JLL, Flipkart, and more participate. It was very pleasing to see how understanding and cooperative the companies were towards the initiative and I look forward to many more across the country.
YS: What are your career goals and aspirations?
AM: I aspire to make Equiv known to the people of India and help provide solutions to people looking to feel included and involved, regardless of genders, preferences, and physical limitations.
As an organisation, we find success in people finding their way through our career fairs, and I’m confident that the day we will be able to call our workplaces diverse is nearing.
Women, the LGBTQ+ community, the differently-abled, and others – no matter who you are, you deserve to be included, and we aim to facilitate that.
YS: What are your plans for 2020?
AM: In 2020, we have planned 14 events for women and seven for the LGBTQ+ community.
‘Frontiers’ is a career fair we plan to execute in March, where we will be targeting veterans looking to get back in the workforce.