This CEO Built LGBTQ Friendly Workplace

‘The focus is on to cultivate a culture of respect.’

The global LGBTQ community will celebrate Pride Day on June 26.

June, in fact, is recognised internationally as Pride Month.

While most people in the community are proud of their identities and society, by large, have accepted them as they are, the ground realities are not always welcoming.

Queer individuals struggle to find accommodation and secure jobs among other struggles of harassment and criticism.

Among those who have acknowledged their struggles and taken affirmative action is Raghunandan Saraf, founder of Saraf Furniture.

Last year, the 37-year-old entrepreneur recruited about 200 people from the LGBTQ community in his company.

This year he plans to recruit 300 more LGBTQ professionals.

The reason for his inclusive policy is to “have diverse kinds of people working together for the betterment of the company.”

Saraf Furniture was started by Raghunandan’s father in the early nineties.

Raghunandan, who grew up in a small village in Rajasthan, is a commerce graduate with a master’s degree in global business operations.

After he joined his father’s company in 2010, they improved their online presence, set up new stores and expanded their business both in India and abroad.

In 2021, Saraf Furniture’s turnover was ₹97 crore (₹970 million) . Their target is to hit ₹170 crores (₹1.7 billion).

Raghunandan Saraf, pictured left, below, spoke to A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com about his business, how he takes care of his employees and offers tips on how to be a sensitive, inclusive employer.

When did you decide that Saraf Furniture would be an inclusive employer?

We had decided that from the very beginning. We were waiting for the right time.

It has been three years since we started employing LGBTQ professionals.

The idea was to include more kinds of talent among our employees.

We needed people with different mindsets, with different opinions and ideas.

Last year, for the first time we had a large scale hire (from the LGBTQ community). We had freelancers working for us before that.

We intend to hire and train 500 professionals in two years.

Last year you hired 234 people from this community of which 198 were retained. Could you explain why the rest could not continue?

It was normal attrition. There was no particular reason.

While hiring, what are the qualifications and skillsets you are looking at? Are there any age restrictions?

We normally get applications from the age group of mid 20s to mid 30s.

We are looking for candidates for marketing profiles.

After you hire them, do you also train them?

Training is a part of the hiring process.

What is the average salary across various roles?

Salary depends on experience starting from about ₹45,000 a month.

How has the LGBTQ community, especially your recruits from the community, reacted to your initiative?

There is no difference between them and other employees.

Do you sensitise your staff towards the LGBTQ community?

Yes! As this is new and different, I spoke to my employees and told them about it, how we are looking for more talent.

Our society in general views the LGBTQ community through a different lens.

With your experience of having employed them, and of working with them, what would you like society to know?

What is important is how they do their day to day work. Their problem solving ability, the quantity of work they do, the value they add to the company and to themselves.

You have also made provisions for your women employees.
Could you let us know what they are and what prompted you to take these measures?

Women in the work place add more discipline.

The provisions are there to make sure they can contribute to the work place.

Women professionals can take four days leave (in a month) when they want to.

Expectant mothers and mothers with young babies can work flexible hours.

What is your policy for gender affirmation and to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace?

The focus is on to cultivate a culture of respect.

We have to respect their boundaries. We must try to listen more.

If you don’t agree with something — you have to explain why you don’t agree in a logical way.

Overall, how many people do you plan to hire this year? What is your attrition rate?

Attrition rate has been high for the past two years as people are still recovering from the pandemic. This year we are planning to hire 300 people.

How did you stay afloat during the lockdown?

During the lockdown we were working from home and manufacturing continued. Post lockdown, business is back to normal.

What is your company’s current presence in India?

We have one office and five stores in different cities.

We have more than 1,500 employees, 198 from the LGBTQ community, a little more than 200 women and the rest are men.

We have shops in Pune, Mumbai, Coimbatore, Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram. We plan to open stores in Guwahati, Kolkata and the North-East later.

We plan to include more stores in India and two abroad in Oman and Singapore.

What are your future plans for the LGBTQ community?

We will be hiring from the community regularly depending on their talent.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

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