Godrej India Culture Lab releases manifesto on 'inclusion at workplace'

Updated: Dec 15, 2018, 11:28 IST | Hemal Ashar | Mumbai

A manifesto on 'trans inclusion at the workplace' urges corporate India to walk the talk and make good on fashionable phrases such as 'inclusiveness'

(From left) Abhina Aher, Parmesh, Shahani, Zainab Patel, Anubhuti Banerjee, Neelam Jain, and Pearl Daruwalla. Pic/Suresh Karkera
(From left) Abhina Aher, Parmesh, Shahani, Zainab Patel, Anubhuti Banerjee, Neelam Jain, and Pearl Daruwalla. Pic/Suresh Karkera

It was Vikhroli vive la difference on Thursday evening, as the Godrej India Culture Lab, at the Godrej headquarters, released a manifesto on 'trans inclusion at the workplace'. Very broadly, transgender or trans people have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex. Transgender people are sometimes called transsexual if they want medical assistance to transition from one sex to another.

Lab head Parmesh Shahani, was erudite, funny and somber at the right times in his deft handling of the event, which began, with the apt Freddie Mercury number, 'I want to Break Free' resounding in the auditorium. Nisaba Godrej, chairperson Godrej consumer products, said, "Godrej was part of India's swadeshi movement, we were always about equality. We need to reinvent while keeping the equality mantra in mind."

Keshav Suri and Radhika Piramal
Keshav Suri and Radhika Piramal

Business sense
Godrej married pragmatism with idealism, saying, "We are aware that a manifesto is not going to change the world overnight but about taking one step at a time." For Nisaba, being inclusive in the corporate space is not just about the, "right thing to do, Godrej is not a non-profit" she reminded the audience, "but it makes good business sense, too. Today, investors are looking at businesses that are inclusive."

Shunned within
Lalit Suri, executive director of the Lalit Suri Hospital Group, who just married his French partner, garnered congratulatory applause as he took the podium. Suri said, "Trans persons are also discriminated against within the gay community." Suri spoke about his team at his workplace that included trans persons. "Including trans persons at the workforce makes good business sense, they feel they are accepted, and when they experience that, they give 100 per cent to the company."

Queer and corporate, "that is what I am," said Radhika Piramal, vice-chairperson and executive director, VIP Industries Ltd. Piramal urged that, "we need to see real implementation of trans inclusion in the coming year, moving on from white papers and policy changes." Corporates, queers and trans persons then came together for a discussion.

Zainab Patel, a trans person said it was time, "the private sector walked the extra mile and had trans persons in front not just in back office jobs. Let your senior management be reflective of that change." Anubhati Banerjee, manager at Tata Steel, who transitioned to a woman spoke about her "inner strength, which I did not know I had." Abhina Aher, associate director, of India HIV/AIDS made a point stating, "For those hiring in the corporate sector, their point of reference for trans persons is a character from a Bollywood movie, which may be more of a caricature."

Washroom worry
Panellist Neelam Jain CEO of PeriFerry, which is a social inclusion start-up working for the upliftment of transgenders and placing them in jobs, said, "it is important to break stereotypes and move trans persons out of begging and sex work."

The speakers cited hesitation and hurdles within organisations when it came to hiring. Even with the required skill set, companies were hesitant because HR departments think they may be forced to pay for, "sex reassignment surgery, which costs approximately R5 lakh in India, make separate gender neutral washrooms for trans-employees, or include HIV/Aids in medical insurance," they said.

Professional employees
Pearl Daruwalla, advocacy officer at Humsafar Trust, a Mumbai non-profit that promotes LGBT rights, signed off saying, "Corporates have to stop treating trans persons as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives or PR for their firms."

In the end, it was about how these conversations were important and about looking at trans persons as employees and professionals and like one said bravely, "not look at us, and think about what we do in bed".

The Manifesto: The link to the paper can be downloaded via: https://indiaculturelab.org/assets/Uploads/Godrej-India-Culture-Lab-Trans-Inclusion-Manifesto-Slideshow2.pdf

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