Driving around Chennai is one of Neelam Jain’s favourite activities.
Even though she enjoyed the beautiful city, there was something that troubled her during these relaxing drives — the sheer number of transgenders begging on the streets. So, when the MNC she was working with asked her for a community- oriented idea to work on, she didn’t have to think twice. “I immediately thought about constructing an inclusive workspace for the transgender community. I had been involved in social work right from my college days. So, for me, this wasn’t an out-ofthe- blue thought. However, the idea didn’t go through even though the company found it interesting,” says Neelam.
Eventually, she ended up quitting to start the initiative herself. She recruited the help of college mates who were already working with the LGBT community to connect with and identify transgender candidates who were trying to get employed.
Steevez Rodriguez, the people manager and creative head of the initiative, was one such collegemate who had experience working with LGBT communities from around the world. “For me, it started with a visit to the Koovagam festival while I was in college. Later, as I went to Paris and Bangladesh as part of my studies, I got involved with the LGBT community there.
It was immediately after I returned to India that Neelam quit her company to start PeriFerry and I joined her. In India, our mainstream society and the transgender community don’t interact with each other resulting in a lack of understanding about each other’s lifestyles. PeriFerry, I think is a step towards bridging that gap,” explains Steevez.
Referring to the name of the initiative, Neelam says, “The transgender community has always been on the periphery of our society and I wanted to help ferry them from where they are in their life to where they want to be. That’s how the name PeriFerrycame about. Because of social conditioning, many of the transgenders have become attuned to a certain way of life. So, our Training and Development head, Nanditha Ravindar, screened out those we are working with to make sure they can adapt to the job environment.
We also provide soft skill training for those who require it.” However, finding companies who are ready to employ even these screened members is still a challenge. “Many of the companies we approached turned us down saying they had no vacancies, while their websites clearly showed that they were hiring. So, what they mean is that they don’t have vacancies for transgenders. Right now, we are not trying to change the attitude of such companies. Our effort is to become a bridge between transgenders who want to work and companies who are already open to hiring them. We placed three of our transgender candidates in the first month of operations in such companies. We are working towards to include them soon,” she adds.
Neelam and her team are now hoping to go pan India soon to help the transgender communities across the country. “We also haven’t yet expanded to MNCs, who are open to inclusive hiring. We will be reaching out to these areas soon,” she adds.