The umbrella of diversity encompasses many different kinds of individuals and communities. While gender diversity has been accepted as a common agenda for most corporations, it is the rest of the diverse talent that ends up yearning for recognition in the corporate world. They include the queer community, the disabled and the aged among others. The Essar Group has taken initiatives for one such community through its multiple initiatives.
While the transgender community has been a topic of discussion, it still remains to be accepted into the workplace due to the lack of actionable policies and programmes across organisations. Moreover, the community still finds it tough to be accepted in the society.
Deep-rooted stigma has unfairly marginalised the transgender community. Its members struggle to be included at every level of the society — right from homes to corporate offices. Before India Inc. can open its gates to the transgender community, society at large needs to open its mind, and accept them, and realise the value they can bring to the table.
Not only at our workplace, but also in our community outreach efforts, we want to eradicate the marginalisation of the hijra community, by allowing them equal opportunities to grow, train and become eligible for mainstream professions
Essar Group has taken baby steps towards transgender sensitisation at the workplace. It took its first step in the right direction in 2018, during the festival of Diwali. Taking a cue from NGOs, it associated itself with Tweet Foundation, a self-help group for transgender welfare.
Transgender members of Tweet Foundation set up a handicraft stall at Essar’s corporate office at Essar House, Mahalaxmi, Mumbai. The stall served a dual purpose. While the community members felt a sense of pride in showcasing their talent, it was also an opportunity for the employees of the Group to appreciate how Diwali can be celebrated in a more inclusive manner.
In India, the transgender community maintains a secretive subculture within the larger gamut of the LGBTQ+ spectrum. As a result, most of the members, despite being keen, are discouraged from exploring mainstream corporate jobs because of the unwritten norms of the community.
The apprehensions about joining mainstream society stems from the years of discrimination the community has faced. This has also resulted in a distrust for corporates, even when they approach with an intention to help. In such a situation, approaching the community through NGOs proved to be helpful. Since there are multi-layered challenges in terms of mainstreaming transgender persons, each and every intervention counts.
Tweet Foundation, Kineer Services and other similar NGOs and SHGs are doing their best to encourage members from the community to educate and empower themselves with corporate job opportunities. However, there’s still a long way to go.
Kaustubh Sonalkar, president HR, admin and CEO, Essar Foundation, says, “At Essar, talent is at the centre of business growth. We enable the development of our most promising talent into comprehensive leaders. Needless to say, the so-called ‘gender parameter’ does not exist, and we are of the firm belief that it should not exist. Not only at our workplace, but also in our community outreach efforts, we want to eradicate the marginalisation of the hijra community, by allowing them equal opportunities to grow, train and become eligible for mainstream professions.”
Over the last few years, India Inc. has acquired a fresh perspective towards gender neutrality. With societal perceptions of gender changing at a more accelerated pace than before, gender neutrality at the workplace may soon become a norm, and the hope is that more transgender people will be drawn towards the corporate sector.
Since 2018, Essar has been taking continuous steps to eradicate the marginalisation of the transgender community.
The Group ensures that festivals are celebrated inclusively within the organisation. In-house platforms are provided to showcase the entrepreneurial talent of transgender persons. Through another initiative, called ‘Sattar Minute’, employees proactively participate to support transgender training and development projects.
Sattar Minute is a blend of employee engagement and community outreach. It is a platform inviting employees to contribute towards community outreach either in an individual capacity or in association with the Essar Foundation, the CSR wing of the Essar Group. The programme also straddles multiple initiatives, especially in the areas of adolescent girl health and women’s empowerment. Each employee is expected to clock at least (if not more than) 70 minutes of volunteerism, which is how the initiative got its name.
The organisation has a flagship transgender sensitisation umbrella programme, called the Rainbow Project. Under this project, its partners with NGOs and SHGs to carry out activities for the welfare of the trans-community. Recently, it partnered with Kineer Services India a self-help group for transgender people, to provide hands-on training on professional housekeeping services and a workshop on interview techniques and resume writing, which were quite well received by the community. This was followed by a job fair, where Essar collaborated with other organisations to provide scope of employment to the community members.
Through The Rainbow Project, the Company has been able to ease transgender people into openly discussing their issues and queries pertaining to full-time employment and the corporate environment. While some took up the job offers made at the fair, others opted for self-employment, such as opening up beauty parlours and saloons. Companies, such as Sodexo and Barclays pitched in to interview the candidates. The organisation has also promoted ‘Dancing Queen’, the first transgender persons’ drama troop, and help the members showcase their talent across the city.
While the intention of doing something for the transgender community is right, the road is difficult, given the multiple challenges that arise. Integration of the trans-community into the larger society and the workplace will take some time. It is only with small, but definite steps that the initiative can be taken forward. Essar Group understands this quite well and has been taking small but firm steps to accomplish its mission of sensitising and including transgenders in the corporate world.