When CEAT recruited Shilpa Singh for its manufacturing plant in Bhandup, Mumbai, three months ago, she was worried about being accepted. The 35-year-old from Haryana, part of CEAT’s accounts department, is one of the seven transgender candidates recently recruited as part of the company’s pilot programme on trans inclusion. She needn’t have worried. “People have been quite supportive,” says Singh, for whom this is her first full-time job. Like CEAT, in December 2021, Tata Steel recruited its first batch of transgender trainees—fourteen of them—as heavy earthmoving machinery operators in its West Bokaro mine. They hired twelve more this February to operate cranes in the Kalinganagar plant.
This is the first time legacy Indian companies like RPG Group, which owns CEAT, and Tata Steel have inducted transgender employees. What’s also notable is that they have been placed in facilities that are predominantly male-dominated blue-collar workplaces, which are generally not seen as the most gender-sensitive ecosystems. In both cases, the companies undertook months of sensitivity training to dispel misconceptions about the trans community. They also ensured supportive infrastructure, including trans-friendly policies, medical facilities tailored to their needs and gender-neutral washrooms. In Kalinganagar, for instance, they have a dedicated resource person to support trans-employees, says Jaya Singh Panda, chief diversity officer, Tata Steel.
At CEAT, too, the hiring process was preceded by employee sensitisation. “We didn’t want to do things for the sake of doing it,” says Milind Apte, chief human resource officer, CEAT. There were a lot of conversations on organisational readiness, maturity and understanding of the typical challenges other companies had faced after recruiting trans employees. His team also sought support from the employee union at the Bhandup manufacturing unit.
So far, the trend of hiring trans candidates has been largely led by multinational and new-age tech companies, but now Indian companies are catching up by inducting trans employees across hierarchies. Since January, Neelam Jain of PeriFerry, which focuses on creating employment and training for trans people, has witnessed a rising interest among organisations, especially MSMEs, in hiring trans people. “Many MSMEs with 50 to 200 employees have been reaching out to us on their own,” she says, adding that MNCs still comprise about 70% of all their clients.
Srini Ramaswamy, the co-founder of Pride Circle, a diversity and inclusion consultancy that conducts annual job fairs for the LGBTQI community, agrees. “Diversity of roles is definitely increasing with companies looking at different teams and tech, non-tech, pharma, R&D, etc.,” he says.
Hiring from the transgender community cannot be mere tokenism; it’s also important to give them a clear career path, including leadership roles. Zainab Patel, a representative of the National Transgender Council, who has taken over the mantle of leading inclusion and diversity at Pernod Ricard India, says, “It’s important to have diversity candidates in positions of power where they can make decisions and be seen as enablers of decisions rather than just a diversity candidate.”
As she points out, trans inclusion in the workplace is still a relatively new phenomenon; despite proactive and protective legislation, the number of people actually hired is still not high. “When you put a person from a marginalised background in a position of visibility and power, you give the person the privilege to enable change in all business functions.”
While the needle is moving, it’s quite slow, says Jain, who thinks that a major push like a government mandate asking Indian companies to consider trans candidates for job roles is required for more numbers to be absorbed in corporate India. Legal lacuna and administrative red tape continue to be a major issue, says Patel. For instance, there could be a mismatch between name and gender identity, or educational records may still be in a name and gender, which the person may or may not currently use. Inclusive medical insurance is another concern, as it influences the leave policies and benefits packages. “If a person is on hormone replacement therapy, it comes with nausea and blackouts. The leave policies need to consider giving personal time off or sick leave for such individuals,” she says.
While it’s easy to be swept by the excitement of being seen as a progressive organisation that hires trans people, it is also essential to ensure that they are well-integrated. “Don’t recruit with the intention of publicity and immediate profits. When it becomes less about the person, it will not be sustainable in the long term. Besides friendlier policies, it’s important to understand the socio-economic background of the trans person you are hiring,” says Patel, adding that some hand-holding may be required for six months.
Speaking from experience, CEAT’s Apte says organisations need to invest time, patience and resources. “Start small and scale slowly; else, it will cause a rupture in the organisation. There is no point in doing that.”