Trigger warning: Mentions of transphobia
Written by: Ritushree
In India, we do not talk openly about issues like sexuality, gender or even sexual health and education. Anything that doesn’t fit society’s mould of ‘normal’ becomes taboo and you can’t talk about it. When it comes to transgender persons, people don’t talk about us, or when they do, their biases show up, quite clearly.
There is a gap in the idea of trans persons. People do not know what trans persons go through but more importantly, they don’t even want to understand. There’s a clear lack of willingness. The same people who are unwilling and don’t understand are also part of our workplaces.
At work, everyone has conscious and subconscious biases that need to be identified and unlearned. Organizations mostly fail to provide an environment that is conducive to learning and unlearning. Almost all companies have professionals for Learning and Development (L&D) in the HR Team but in my experience, training the workforce to be more gender-sensitive hasn’t exactly been a priority. To add to that, the lack of visibility for trans people in the workplace adds to how incomplete and inaccurate such processes turn out to be.
When companies talk about Diversity and Inclusion (D&I), they only talk about the inclusion of the Cisgender Heterosexual Woman. Some may go ahead and include persons from different sexual orientations but when it comes to trans folks – such inclusion is rare.
If companies really want to start a process to include more trans people in their workforce, they need to do three things: the willingness to accept that there is a serious bias against trans folks, fix biased processes in recruitment and ensure trans employees have visibility, psychological and physical safety at their workplace. These steps need to be undertaken not as part of CSR but as a business priority. There is an established business case that proves that a more diverse and inclusive organisation is better positioned than its competitors to make profits.
Before any of that can happen, organisations first need to start a conversation on trans inclusion. Unless you start the discussion, you cannot move forward. Even in an organization without a D&I policy, a discussion should be started with cisgender heterosexual employees to know their views.
The problem: Indian corporates do not provide a free space for discussion and arguments. Conflicts are healthy and good organizations should build and allow for such a space. A safe and fearless space where everything can be discussed is a must because brushing everything under carpet is not the solution, it is a recipe for destruction.
A safe workplace should be non-negotiable. Trans folks should be able to come to the workspace as themselves because people can only thrive when they are their true selves. Organizations need to understand this and they need to start working on this.
My personal experiences with trans inclusion and the workplace have been horrible.
I am a non-operative transgender woman and still not out at the office. I tried a couple of times but the transphobic and homophobic environment at work dragged my feet back to the closet. I am now open to most of my family, thankfully.
When I spoke to my family about my gender, the first thing I did was tell them that I wasn’t going to get married to a woman. It was easy at home but not in the workplace. I feared losing my job. My colleagues, when they came to know that I wasn’t going to marry – they started mocking me. Words like ‘beech ka’ and ‘meetha’ are part of my life now. The washroom dilemma is there as well.
I constantly watch myself – how I sit and talk and what I am wearing – just to avoid unwarranted comments from colleagues. On many occasions, I have confronted them about their transphobic ways. That said, I am always scared about losing my job.
A lot of the time people don’t say things to my face but well, they talk behind my back and I can’t help that. I can’t stop them from talking shit and I can’t stop waxing my body. I can’t tell anyone about my grievances as the management is of no help.
The organisation that I work at has no D&I policy. When I tried to push for one, I faced resistance. As per the management and most of the employees, LGBTQIA+ inclusion is against our ‘culture’. They rejected the idea of inclusivity as if I was talking about genocide.
Being a trans woman and going to work as a cisgender male and pretending to be someone I am not has taken a toll on me. The work environment is so transphobic that I’m constantly aware of rude remarks. I can’t also revolt beyond a certain point as financial independence is important, and of primary concern to me.
These experiences at work were what led me to start reading up more on D&I. I have also begun to look for opportunities in other organisations that at least have a D&I policy. Even in organisations that claim to be champions of inclusivity, the visibility of trans persons is negligible and that concerns me a lot. In my experience of being from a marginalized group, it feels like hell working in the Indian corporate system where I can’t be my true self. Some organizations have come up with inclusive policies but a lot still needs to be done.
In my opinion, as long as organisations don’t start practising D&I for all groups and do away with pinkwashing, nothing will really change.
To conclude, I would say, D&I is not about merely implementing an anti-discrimination policy. Policies on D&I should aim to make the workplace safer so that folks can come out without fear and be their true selves. Organizations should understand, at the end of the day – a happy employee is an engaged employee.
About the author: Ritushree is a transgender woman (she/her), corporate lawyer, D&I campaigner, and LGBTQIA+ activist.
This post was originally published on Ungender, here.