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How India Inc. is trying to become more inclusive

With increased emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion, companies are finding new ways to build a more supportive workplace culture

Only a small share of the 4.9 lakh (as per the 2011 Census) transgender community manages to join the corporate workforce.
Only a small share of the 4.9 lakh (as per the 2011 Census) transgender community manages to join the corporate workforce. (iStockphoto)

While working at a multinational few years ago, Rashika Maity, a trans-gender woman, faced a lot of discrimination. “They (Maity’s team members) would not teach us anything, often underestimating us and thinking we are incapable,” recalls the 26-year-old. Colleagues excluded Maity and another worker, also a transgender, from internal conversations as well. For instance, their entire team was invited for a colleague’s wedding, except the two of them. “I understand and respect the person’s decision, but we felt bad because they would plan the wedding arrangements around us.” After two years, Maity decided to move on. She’s now working at an international recruitment firm in Bengaluru as an executive assistant, and has not experienced any kind of discrimination till date. This perhaps indicates a gradual shift in workplace inclusiveness.

In the competitive corporate world, it can be quite challenging for marginalized communities to gain acceptance and appreciation. But transgender persons, individuals whose gender identity, expression or behaviour does not conform to that typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth, struggle to even reach the door. For the few who do manage to enter the corporate race, it can be a lonely and unwelcome environment.

Also read: Pride becomes a minefield for big companies, but many continue their support

“Today, more organizations in India are supporting hiring of trans people, more investments are being made through CSR programmes and there’s an increased visibility of trans people in the corporate world,” says Tina Vinod, founder and CEO of Bengaluru-based DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) consultancy, Diversity Simplified. “But transpeople are one of the most marginalised communities and do not have access to education and learning that most of us have. Just opening positions for hiring does not empower them. Having a ‘train, intern and hire’ model is crucial,” says Vinod. Her wishlist includes gender-neutral POSH policies and trans inclusion Employee Resource Groups to help the community’s concerns be heard and addressed.

With an increased emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion, some organizations in the country, are making efforts to create more inclusive workplaces. Employee sensitisation, anti-discrimination policies, gender reassignment surgery insurance, employee resource groups, and mentorship programmes, are some of these initiatives.

A long road ahead

Only a small share of the 4.9 lakh (as per the 2011 Census) transgender community manages to join the corporate workforce.

A 2018 National Human Rights Commission study showed 92% of Indian transpeople are denied participation in any economic activity. Around 50-60% of the respondents never attended schools. Those who did faced extreme discrimination, with 52% of them discontinuing their studies. Only 6% at the time were employed by NGOs or the private sector, a majority earning between 10,000-15,000.

Even with the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019, prohibiting discrimination or denial of employment, the reality is far from ideal. Some organizations are trying to bring a change.

Over the years, there have been some pioneering efforts towards transgender inclusion in corporate India by organizations like Infosys, IBM India and The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group.

More companies are now following suit. Capgemini India, for instance, has transgender employees present across business units, grades and roles, beginning its LGBTQIA+ inclusion journey in 2017.

“We have come a long way with regular policy updates, review of internal practices, and launch of engagements to initiate conversation and sensitization around this topic,” says Sreya Ghosh Oberoi, Capgemini India’s senior director (diversity and inclusion).

These include gender-affirmation surgery leave and insurance; all-gender washrooms in all offices; employee networks that drive awareness of differences in sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression; and systemic changes like the additional option of “Other” in the gender field of Capgemini’s main database.

“We believe the transgender community needs wider representation and equal opportunities in the corporate world,” says Kavita Gopal, executive sponsor for JPMorgan Chase India’s Pride Business Resource Group.

The organization has an internship programme for transgender candidates, combining eight weeks of classroom training with their non-profit partner, and a 12-week internship at the organization’s corporate centres.

“The programme focuses on introduction to the firm, role clarity, on the job training, and soft factors like manager and team sensitization,” says Gopal. The second batch began earlier this year. Most candidates from the 2022 batch became full-time employees across HR and operations within the organization.

Several firms emphasize on training and upskilling. Ernst & Young India’s focus, for example, “is on the integration of the transgender population into the mainstream workforce, extending mentoring support, upskilling and hiring,” says Sandeep Kohli, EY India talent leader. This includes mentoring sessions to help transgender mentees in creating a career plan and learn industry-specific skills.

What companies need to learn 

Many organizations are well-intended in their efforts, but they often need guidance and long-term support on executing and sustaining their LGBTQIA+ inclusion goals.

Since they began in 2017, Bengaluru-based PeriFerry, one of the pioneers in this space, has helped sensitise over 30,000 employees, and helped 410 transgender persons land jobs, with 70% of them in entry-level positions (their work experience ranged from 0-five years), earning an average of 30,000-35,000 a month.

Corporate volunteers and leaders provide professional guidance to transgender persons through PeriFerry’s mentorship programmes, and, in the process, gain insights into the experiences of their trans mentees.

“Shaping the market has been our key contribution so that more organizations come forward, not only in hiring and sensitization, but more DEI-focused companies emerge to help large corporates in this area,” says PeriFerry founder and CEO Neelam Jain.

While anti-discrimination policies and sensitization trainings help fight prejudice, how are companies helping their employees overcome biases and understand the transgender community better?

“As part of building awareness, we organize conversations with colleagues to challenge stereotypes and taboos about the community. Our Pride Network hosts an ongoing conversation series with trans community members,” says Jyothi Sivaramakrishnan, London Stock Exchange Group’s head of people service delivery, India.

“We have a Reverse Mentoring programme to bring together colleagues from diverse communities and leadership to facilitate the exchange of ideas and expertise, aiming to raise awareness of the challenges faced by members of underrepresented communities,” adds Sivaramakrishnan. They also run campaigns and internal interview series that feature their LGBTQIA+ talent and leaders sharing their experiences to foster a sense of kinship. PeriFerry’s Jain believes personal connection is the only way to comprehend differences.

Jain explains: “Corporates have a role to play in not just improving their organisations, but making the larger society better. Supporting non-governmental organizations and social enterprises in this space through funds and grants for their efforts is essential.”

Maity wishes for colleagues to be more welcoming of trans employees, and for companies and leaders to encourage and include them in various activities and functions.

“For members of the transgender community, I suggest they be more open, eager to learn things and seek help if needed,” she says.

Reem Khokhar is a Delhi-based writer.

Also read: A matter of pride: Bengaluru’s first food truck run by LGBTQIA+ community

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