Your values influence everything you do as a company, from the way you recruit staff,
nurture talent, do business and drive growth.
What happens when you want to work with clients or in countries that don't align with
Do you simply walk away?
I'm Georgie Frost, and this is the so what from BCG.
It's in settings like these, when the role of businesses becomes even more important.
So if there is a company which can create a local embassy of inclusion, you know, where
at least within the four worlds of the company, it actually becomes a huge and lock because
you're tapping into talent.
Today I'm talking to Kushal Kanda, Global Pride at BCG Manager, and responsible for shaping
the company's global LGBTQ diversity, equity and inclusion strategy.
So if we look at it, values are part of the DNA of the company.
They actually set the tone and the narrative of how employees, as well as customers and
vendors and all external stakeholders, engage with the company, values are the starting
There's often things that are open to questioning on whether we should do X, whether we
should do Y.
I think values are non negotiable, and that becomes the guiding light for how we operate
and conduct ourselves on a day to day basis, as well as at moments of very critical strategic
It's one thing to have them written down and to pay lip service to values, but how can
you ensure as a company that they are ingrained in everything that you do, that they
filter down throughout your company culture?
Let me sort of answer that with an example, right?
Like for us at BCG, diversity is a value.
On the one hand, it is embedded in our discrimination, et cetera, policies, but that also
needs to be extended to a whole range of offerings that we can give employees, right?
Like does the company have the relevant policies in place to support them?
So I think that's one part of it, which is very real substantial offerings and benefits
And then there's a second very important part, which is also the daily lived experience
of people, like while interacting with colleagues or clients or vendors, are people from
that community feeling included, do they feel they are part of the team, do they feel
they are appreciated or even celebrated for the unique identity and diversity they bring
into work on a daily basis?
So I think that values actually play out on a day to day basis as well with every single
interaction that takes place in a company.
So then, it not truly follows, should companies be working with clients or in countries
that fundamentally don't align with the values that you have as a company?
Yeah, people often ask me if a country is not LGBTQ friendly, should you even do business
there, should you even have clients there, right?
So very, very valid and legit question, my perspective there is, you should absolutely
work in those countries as well, there's two ways of engaging in a conversation.
One is you either just don't be part of the conversation and you know, walk away from
the table and the second is you actually be part of the conversation and try and influence
the local narrative and the decision making locally for the clients as well as the local
context you're operating in.
And I think it's also worth asking what is the benefit of each, right?
If let's say a company decides to not work in a country, will that space be occupied by
someone else and if that is the case, have you actually lost the opportunity to influence
the client or other stakeholders with your values?
So I think for me being part of a conversation is very important and I personally am supportive
of companies working in different countries because it gives them the opportunity to become
an embassy of values within that country, you know, which may not fully align with the
broader social context.
One to ask you if you don't mind about your own experience growing up, but as part
of the LGBTQ plus community in India, now this is a country where only up until just
2018, consensual homosexual intercourse was a criminal act where the identity of transgender
people has only been recognised in law since 2019.
I wonder what that experience was like and how you think it's shaped the way that you
That's a very profound question, you know, I think these are such integral and profound
parts of our personality and I think it's impacted me and I know a lot of people as well
in very, very deep ways, profound ways, it's difficult sort of actually put towards
how that plays out in me today, but I mean, maybe if I were to give you some examples,
just how, you know, I would carry myself as a kid or even as an adult, right?
Like for instance, whenever I would pull out a shirt to wear to office on Friday and I would
love wearing pink colored shirts, light pink shirts and I would always have this thought of
my mind, you know, sure I actually wear this and I think this is a very small example,
but if you think about it from a broader work context, right?
All the dinner conversations you have about, you know, what he did over the weekend,
in addition to that, even when he presenting to clients, right?
Are you looking masculine enough, you know, are you conducting yourself in a way which, you know,
the clients will appreciate that there are all these thoughts which operate on so many levels
and sort of permeate everything you do, which takes a huge sort of psychological toll on you.
It's a huge way to carry. So I think having gone through the entire cycle, I personally have seen
first hand the benefits of not having to cover up so much and how there actually has a very
tangible impact in the way I function at work as well. So I think it's been a profound change for me
and that's why I'm a huge advocate of inclusion and just for the context of the audiences
where I like before I took on my current role, I used to be a management consultant.
In the first six years I worked with clients advising them across multiple countries
and I think through all of it, I realized that after I came out, just the amount of ease with
which I can handle a certain meeting versus before is just phenomenally different.
You work now in London, but of course you have worked in the past, in countries where you,
as a member of the LGBT community, would be viewed as a criminal.
Yeah, yeah. Clearly it's not an easy choice and I think in those stages there's also
difference between what a company does versus what a person does, a company can't take itself
to a certain country, the sort of, you know, be part of the conversation,
at a person level it always is a choice which is sort of made on a parameter of what your risk
assessment of a certain country is, right? Now, I've firstly worked in a few conservative countries,
the sort of thing that worked in my favor then was the fact that I was actually not out then,
so I think being part of those countries didn't directly put me in any risk, so to speak.
But at the same time, I do know a lot of people who still work there, it's very important
and I've realized to my own experience, like you mentioned, you know, being gay was criminal
in India until 2018. It's in settings like these when the role of businesses becomes even more
important because, you know, LGBTQ people exist everywhere. The only question is, you know,
how can companies support them, right? So if there is a company which can create a local embassy
of inclusion, you know, where at least within the four worlds of the company, they promise
inclusion, they promise non discrimination and an environment with a suitable for everyone.
It actually becomes a huge unlock because you're tapping into talent and they actually have so much
to offer in terms of creativity, new ideas and innovation as well. Working is clearly not easy in
such countries, but if these people find their way to the right places of inclusion, it can actually
be a huge unlock and I would rather work for a company which was inclusive and providing me
that environment in this company rather than having to work for another company, which, you know,
did not give me that environment because, you know, there was also a point of time in my life
when I did not have the choice to move to a country which is liberal, giving someone a choice
to be able to stay in your home country or whatever country they choose while providing them
an inclusive work environment is something that we should all be proud of. It's more than
align with their values. I mean, you're talking about making sure that staff are kept safe within
the four worlds, but do you want to be sending staff to countries where they actually may not be
physically safe? Yeah, exactly. That is exactly the conversation that needs to be had and
companies and I think it's a very, very valid point. People can choose to work in certain countries,
but having said that, if anyone has given an opportunity, you're asked to move to a different
country. I think it's extremely important for that person to be able and to feel empowered enough
to say no, you know, it's not just a question of safely. It's also their personal values
may not align with the country, right? Irrespective of the company values, I was once in a
country, but I was asked to work for an industry and the values of the industry didn't align with
my values. So actually, said, I will not do this project because I just don't want to work
for the industry. The response I got is, sure, you know, we have another case for you. Do you want
to work there? This is where values matter and this is where values expressed by senior people matter.
You know, when I said that as well, I wasn't very confident, but I knew at least I had a few senior
partners who had my back. I had been told very explicitly in previous different contexts,
you know, in NLCPDK context and other contexts. Whatever your values are, we will support you in
living them. And I think that was the top level message that I got, that again brings me to the
conversation on how is a company in calculating and spreading values that it affiliates with
because that can actually empower or disempower a person to be able to speak up about issues like these.
So I think it's very important to provide that environment. And I think providing that itself as a
huge step in towards inclusion because not all companies have that. It's one thing to communicate
internally and you spoken there about having role models, having networks. But what about the external
message? The way the investors or customers will look at that decision. How do you communicate
that sort of a decision externally? On the external front, I'd also sort of fully understand that
there's many ground realities, which make the external communication difficult. And I think in
though, in some cases like that, I think it's also very valid to not fully communicate or also to
not sort of be an advocate externally before getting your internal house right? So I think in many
countries, it's also totally fair for companies to say, you know, we've made taken a call to be very
inclusive within our environment. But I don't think we are yet ready to express these values externally
fully because of the local laws. And I think that's also a very valid choice. Where did you draw
the line, though, when isn't it valuable to be at that table to have that conversation? Yeah,
absolutely. So I think that is a tough call to be taken. And I think there's two sort of
tracks that a company can take. One, of course, you know, being part of a conversation also
has its limitations. I think that's perhaps what you're saying. You know, after a certain point,
a company may also realize that the fundamental values are so different. They can never be scope
for change there. Or we may create more value by not being part of the conversation. In which case,
you know, it is a very valid decision to actually withdraw as well. Many companies have done that as well.
Very much in the recent history as well in this year where people pull out of a country because
their values didn't align with that country. It's important to identify about the tipping point
is because I think people often tend to tell towards, let's not be part of the conversation.
When the only things are my perspective there is, that should be the last resort. And there's
many things that can be done leading up to that decision. Do you believe that companies can influence
a country? I do believe it. I just don't believe it. I've seen it as well. So I think it's very
much possible for companies to influence the local culture in companies. Earlier this year in March,
we were actually invited by the British High Commission through open for business to actually present
the economic case for LGBTQ inclusion to sort of business leaders in Kenya. So we actually had a
BCG delegation presenting to you know, 1015 people to explain to them the importance of LGBTQ diversity.
And I think it's examples like these, which make me realize that change is possible through business
and by partnering more broadly with civil society organizations. It was just a perfect example of,
you know, there's someone from civil society, someone from the corporate sector, someone from the
government sector, all of them coming together for a common cause. And I think that for me
wheels magic and that can actually cause change. One of the examples I saw was actually a colleague
who was the first woman to enter our and work at a client location. You know, it's so normal for
us to see men and women sitting together at the same table doing work. And here was a company
which didn't have a woman's toilet. The billings infrastructure was discreeted for men, right?
That for me was a real eye opener to see this kind of change we can make.
I think in addition to that, this multiple forums as well, right? One is direct client work.
The other thing also is using your expertise as companies to influence decisions, right?
Like for instance, we are management consultants. We work very well with data, insights and
problem solving. You know, we channel our energy towards doing research within the LGBTQ's fair.
You know, so I've got the reports in the past as well, where we actually put in data to show
there is economic value for LGBTQ inclusion as well. And there is a cost if you are not inclusive,
right? Like that is using our own expertise to help build the narrative. People walk up to me and say,
you know, we've used your report to have a conversation in our company to get certain policies
in place. You know, and I think that again is an agent of change for me and that's how companies can
help. And a third thing also is civil society organization. You know, as businesses,
that is definitely a lot of where we have in terms of financial capacities as well as intellectual
capacities. You know, we are partners for other coalitions like open for business,
world economics forums, partnership for LCPTI equality. So by lending out support to these organizations,
but actually also equipping the broader movement. And you know, they are the experts and specialists
in these fields. So by partnering our resources, that's actually also an agent for broader societal
change. Do you think that values have become more important for a company nowadays than they ever have
been? Yeah, I absolutely think that is the case. I think consumers as well as employees and potential
employees are becoming more and more aware of their own values and they're becoming more and
more demanding of companies as well. So I think it is becoming very relevant to the point where I think
the economic case for it also, you know, in addition to the moral case, which itself is very compelling,
cannot be denied. Lay that out for me, the economic argument. So I think, for instance,
you know, specifically when you look at LGBDQ or just diversity in general as well, right?
There is data to show that companies which are LGBDQ inclusive have better indicators of economic
performance, speech enterprise performance, bottom line performance, they're better access to
international markets, they're better access to talent attraction, as well as retention,
and I think there's a whole range, you know, there's actually I think more than 20 propositions,
which have been laid out by open for business, that you can actually go across, you know, the social
aspect, the economic aspect, the talent aspect, all of these things, and there's actual economic
value that can be described across the spectrum. What do you put that down to? Is it just more
talent available or do you put it down to a cultural thing or people can bring themselves to work?
I mean, I think it's a combination of both, right? I think people are realizing that, I think
especially after the pandemic, people are realizing that they really want to work in an environment
which gives them a sense of purpose and which makes them feel included. And secondly, there is
clearly, you know, talent is not easy to get, right? If you want the best talent, there is a huge
competition. It is a place where talent is demanding this as well. You know, if this is not available
in a company, they have many other options to go to. So I think it's cultural as well as driven
by all these other factors.
Kishal, thank you so much. And to you for listening, we'd love to know your thoughts.
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