Pride Month: In Conversation with Praful Baweja, Founder 6 Degrees

Pride month interview

Pride Month: In Conversation with Praful Baweja, Founder 6 Degrees

1723 1437 Mita Mandawker

Though the Pride month has ended, we thought it would be great to catch up with a business leader who works tirelessly to level the playing field for the LGBTQ community professionally.

We invited Praful Baweja, Founder, Six Degrees, and Innovation Lead at The Event Studio to share his thoughts on Pride month, what it means to him, what is inspiring and how companies should create a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ community.

Here are the edited excerpts for the interview, you can watch the full interview below.

Shortlist: What exactly does pride mean to you?

Praful: Personally, Pride means being me and not really shying away from celebrating everything that is me. So there are multiple nuances to being who we are, right? So sexuality might be one of the layers. Intellect, ability, class, caste, everything. They’re all that it takes to make up a person. It is about being proud of all that there is to each of us, you know, as we are who we are.
It is embracing, flaunting, celebrating oneself. All of it – celebration comes along with embracing who we are; it’s part of that whole journey.

Shortlist: Can you tell us a little more about the work you do for the LGBTQ community?

Praful: The work I do has two aspects because I am part of the community, so, everything I do reflects for the community as well.

I am a Marcom professional majorly in marketing communication that I have been doing for 18 plus years now, so I am a kind of dinosaur 😊 For about 15 odd years I have been working closely with the organizations in an individual capacity on Mumbai Pride. That was my first interface way back in 2008 when the first Mumbai Pride happened, I could walk as myself. Then almost for ten years, I worked behind the scenes.

After almost a decade-plus of working behind the scenes as a volunteer, bringing things together, I started a professional network 6 Degrees, for LGBTQ++ professionals – a business network, but it’s called a growth network because it is not only a business perspective, there is mental health that is important for people, peer learning that is important for each of us. It is helpful in going forward and growing as a person, as a community. Industry leaders and people who are on top of their game – sharing one hour from them with 40 people who are struggling, would change the course and pivot it around. We have seen it time, and again, that pure skillset and insight into their process goes a long way.

It has been three years since we have been having monthly meetups. We have grown immensely. We have Vividh which is India’s First Diversity job fair in Mumbai. We had a showcase at a seminar where we spoke about how there are openings in the public sector which people with disability can apply – whole reservation and people do not know about how to go about actually a) finding and exploring and, b) utilizing what is available to us. And this information is not easily available outside, so getting those experts onboard.

Shortlist was a part of one of the meetups and great support. Shortlist presented a report and we were privileged to have good partners on board for that.
We have Queeroes where people who work behind the scenes for the LGBT community, majorly allies, and people in the media, are honored. We have been doing that for three years now. This year we partnered with Thailand Tourism who brought, a drag Broadway show from Pattaya.
We have created a first-of-its-kind program – NH7 Weekender, which is as you know, is a very large and popular music festival. We created a program for sexual assault prevention, mental health which we implemented with a set of counselors and with help of Humsafar Trust because their domain knowledge is epic with 25 years plus into the whole spectrum. I know how to design modules and they know how to implement programs on the ground. We got a great response for that.

We will be announcing 6 Degrees in a new format soon. It will not be networking only. It will be a whole lot of – skillshare, having good conversations because sustenance counts not just hiring. So, we will be looking at it from the career perspective and where, who is in their career trajectory, what’s required for a leadership role, what’s required for an intern, what kind of toolbox can be created. We are working on that so a whole lot of new things, as you will see.

Shortlist: You have done so much work for 6 Degrees and behind the scenes with other initiatives. Now, why is this work so important to you?

Praful: I am privileged in my own ways. So many of us are. It is not about being an apologist. It is not about trying to level the playing field etc.

But this dream about you know, understanding where you are and operating optimally from there. There is a whole lot of bullying, trauma around people being who they are. It is taboo in so many ways.

Personally being labeled a criminal for something as basic as exercising my rights as a person, as a human, to select who I can love and who I can express my love to and how I am being in my bedroom, was not great.

A lot of straight people did not know how it affects them as well. There is a taboo speaking about sex and sexuality and thereby about gender, which causes an imbalance in the social spectrum at home.

What is it that we can change? Everybody has their own way of doing it. I had that outlet which was personal. It is something that affects me daily. So, changing that is important.

Shortlist: Who inspires you?

Praful: Let me be vain and say it is me. Self-care is a big part, and I have ignored it for a long time.

There is somebody who takes Pride permissions for 12 years, there is three months plus work that goes in it. Somebody with a meager salary of 20-25,000 and a groundworker at Humsafar Trust who does it beautifully, diligently.

He knows each new officer, old officer that is on duty, how sensitized they are, where they come from, their conscious bias, implicit bias, how to deal with them, which language and what kind of intervention is required.  And this person is effeminate, this person speaks Marathi more than anything else and I feel honored that we could at least show a token of our appreciation and give one of the first three rows to him.

There is this person, then there are parents of LGBT people; my own parents were there at Vividh manning a stall along with my sister. I see them walk, petition, support with donations, produce movies and so much more. It is always a humbling experience. I think what is it that we cannot do if they are doing all of that, right? So, at that age, with their schedules, priorities, and everything.

When I see TikTok and see somebody not privileged and doing their best and being a top of their game, I get inspired. I think I take inspiration from everywhere, but these always remain – workers, parents, me.

Shortlist: What do you think are some of the tangible things which companies can do to create a very inclusive culture for our LGBTQ community and in general?

Praful: Dialogue. Not talking about it, ignoring it, is living under a rock. If you are not inclusive, it’s nobody else’s loss. It is the firm’s loss.

The UN has three policies; they are very simple. One is no discrimination in whatever communication you put out in the world. Two, employees, whatever your employee conversation, your employee interaction should be non-discriminatory, and third is on the vendor front. These are wise, tangible policies. It is clear yet there is a lifetime of work to do.

These three will always remain your back-end- as suppliers, your employees, and then finally the world. If all three are inclusive at whatever level, you will move from diversity to inclusion to belonging, you will do that journey.

However, whether you want to be an ally, whether you want to be a person who doesn’t like labels, and says, okay all identities are not there, all hierarchies are not there, we treat everybody as just the professional tag that they are. Yet, are you pushing things under the carpet, or are you practicing it? These are the parameters with which you can actually gauge.

Praful shared more things about his 20-year picture, what he loves to read, and do in his free time. Watch the complete interview below.

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