Being transgender, intersex, non-binary or genderqueer (henceforth transgender+) is a challenge to finding and retaining education and employment in India. The few individuals who manage to acquire education and access to employment opportunities constantly face a choice between affirming their true (gender) identities and staying in long-term careers.
Many workplaces in India are already likely to have transgender+ individuals working with them. These individuals, who may have been recruited through mainstream recruitment channels and are actively contributing to the business, may not openly identify as transgender and are perhaps living and expressing in the gender assigned at birth, and are forced to conform/pass as cis-gender. Some others may be transgender and living in their preferred gender(s), without disclosing their gender assigned at birth.
Very few employers in India are known to be inclusive of transgender+ individuals and/or allow/support their gender affirmation within the company. Keeping in mind all these, two community collectives, Orinam in Chennai and Diversity Dialogues in Bangalore, have launched a guide for employers who seek to make workplaces inclusive and welcoming of transgender employees, and support employees who are choosing to come out as transgender.
Orinam believes that “Organizations committed to diversity and inclusion need to create a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment for transgender+ employees, both existing employees and new recruits, to be recognized in their gender, and create channels for requesting support if and when required.”
“Affirming the gender of transgender employees, with respect to inclusive policies and benefits, is an essential part of creating an inclusive environment. The resource guide from Orinam and Diversity Dialogues is an attempt to encourage HR professionals or business leaders to implement the guide and build inclusive practices towards the transgender+ community,” said Diversity Dialogues.
“As transgender+ persons we go through unnecessary scrutiny at interviews or otherwise. People sometimes think it is their right to ask deeply personal information about our genitalia, about our sex lives, about our transition surgeries. While all they should be caring about are our names and pronouns, treating us like regular individuals. The guide provides essentials about culture and acceptable behavior required for organizations to be transgender+ affirmative,” says Aditya Batavia, who works at an Indian retail conglomerate, and identifies as a man.
“As a transgender person and IT professional, I have had to refrain from potential job opportunities, faced micro-aggression, and been denied client-facing moments because of my identity/expression. The anxieties and fear of discrimination, difficulties in finding another job, and risk of losing livelihood prevent many of us transgender+ people from revealing our true gender and force us to live dual lives. Post- the NALSA and 377 verdicts it’s the right time for business community to pitch in and address discrimination faced by transgender+ community in their organizations as they now have moral and legal obligations to ensure a safe, inclusive and healthy workplace,” says Kanaga, a transwoman working as Domain consultant for a large Indian IT services provider.
The guidebook lists down 8 policies for a transgender+ friendly workplace. These include safety and protection of the job, gender neutral policies and communication, inclusive recruitment practices, use of proper names and pronouns, insurance policies/covers, sensitisation of employees and policies on dress and washroom use for trans people. It further lists down guidelines for companies on how to support a gender transitioning person.
“Understanding issues related to transgender identity at work place (just as other issues related to diversity and inclusion) is a layered matter which will have to be revisited and updated from time to time and experience to experience. An open and embracing attitude and kindness is the key. I feel this document clearly shows the sincerity and hard work put into recognizing core issues related to transgender persons’ inclusion at workplaces and is very beautifully put together,” says Shyam Balasubramanian, an assigned female at birth transgender, transmasculine person, who works as a DFT engineer in the semiconductor/chip design industry.
Most of the recommendations in this guide are relevant to all institutions: corporates, not-for-profit NGOs, government departments, public sector undertakings, or any other. The guidance around acknowledging self-identification of transgender persons flows from the directives of the Supreme Court of India’s landmark 2014 ruling on transgender rights in National Legal Services Authority vs. Union of India and Ors.
The guide is dedicated to the memory of Anannya Krishnan, a transgender woman in Chennai who was part of the Orinam collective. Despite a promising career as a pharmacologist in the drug safety vertical of a Chennai business, Anannya faced numerous struggles to find a place to live, and have her family acknowledge her gender identity. These struggles proved too much to handle, and she took her life on Dec 30, 2017.
Diversity and inclusion is an intent and can be implemented by every organization, irrespective of nature of work, size, scale or anything else. The recommendations in this guide urge organizations to embark on this journey.
The whole guidebook can be downloaded here.