Trishala, Chief ‘Empathy’ Officer At Periferry, Speaks Of Building Inclusive Workspaces

Posted: June 27, 2019

A recent chat with Trishala, the Chief Empathy Officer of Periferry, which aims to build inclusive workspaces, was an education on inclusiveness and beyond. 

“Honestly, Inclusion has become more of a business term. I’d like to use acceptance instead because only with acceptance can one be inclusive!” says Trishala, Chief Empathy Officer at Perri Ferry.

Who is a chief empathy officer? In a world where it is still widely argued if empathy is a business liability or not – what is this company that has a CEO – except the “E” here is not your average run-of-the mill executive.

These are a bunch of people who are not afraid to wear empathy on their sleeves. The transgender community in India have been a community subjected to crippling injustice – from commonplace transphobia to life-threatening violence and sexual abuse, the community struggles. Not finding employment is perhaps the most debilitating thing to happen to them because it is the foundation to another vicious circle of violence.

Even recently, as I was watching Christiane Amanpour’s Sex and Love Around the World – a transwoman shares her journey from one of a software engineer to a sex worker simply because she could not find any work!

“The hardest times of my life were when I was waiting on railway tracks and waiting for clients” she reminisces in the documentary.

“Problems are opportunities” – from closed doors inside expensive business schools to every day advice, this is something we hear way too often. However – it takes skill, or in this case, a lot of empathy to convert a problem that doesn’t directly affect you into an opportunity for an entire community.

One such rare exception is Periferry – a social inclusion start-up founded by Neelam, that works with the transgender community and helps them find employment. I was intrigued by many things but one thing that caught my eye when I went on their website is that they had a ‘Chief Empathy Officer’!

Trishala – Chief Empathy Officer at Periferry shares her journey with us as she takes us through how it all started and how their everyday work goes towards finding transpeople in the country respectable jobs.

What does it mean to be a social entrepreneur in today’s world?

A social entrepreneur is simply someone who can put oneself in another person’s shoes. It’s not just about numbers anymore, its more about people and mindsets.

Periferry functions like any other HR Consultancy, we serve in three aspects Employment, Entrepreneurship and Education. Employment is our core area; we also identify entrepreneurs and equip them, we actively partner with institutions and do our bit towards education. However, our revenue is only generated from our clients / hiring partners who recruit people from the community. We constantly engage with the community in sensitization workshops, life skills training, theatre, arts etc. We do not charge anything from the community for our services.

Who is a “Chief Empathy Officer”? Can you tell us little bit more about your role?

A Chief Empathy Officer is someone who is able to look at people beyond their identity, resumes and qualifications. My role as one of them is to read between the lines.

The community that we work with in particular have difficulty in adapting and choosing the right path despite their exceptional skills. They tend to restrict themselves to opportunities solely because of their identity. My job is to help them look through these situations and create an environment where they can naturally thrive.

A defining incident that reassured you about your choice of profession?

Most of these moments are personal. To name a few, it was extremely overwhelming to hear my mother (who is probably still very intimidated by the trans population) proudly come tell me that she managed to approach a bunch of transgender people on the street and convince them to take my card in case they are looking for something better!

How do you see Diversity and Inclusion in the corporate world today? Is there a particular industry or geography where people adapt more easily?

Honestly, Inclusion has become more of a business term. I’d like to use “Acceptance” instead because only with acceptance can one be inclusive!

The diversity aspect with regard to marginalized communities still have a long way to go in the corporate set up, however we are happy to say that organizations are willing to take the leap.

With regard to industries, it’s more like two sides of the same coin. we see the community generally more drawn towards industries that bring out one’s individuality Eg – arts, fashion, theater etc. But at the same time, we have seen people adapt themselves beautifully to spaces that simply accept them and respect them for the way they choose to express themselves. It’s all in our heads!

What are some of your biggest challenges working in this space?

One of our biggest challenge is sensitizing the transgender community, bringing about a shift in their mindsets.

Just like how a ‘non-community’ or the society in general have preconceived notions about the community, it’s vice versa. It has been a challenge till date to make them unlearn and relearn several of these notions.

Another major challenge would be reaching out to schools and other educational institutions, one of our long-term goal is to sensitize educational institutions, we are still in the journey of figuring out the same.

What should an organization do if they want to hire someone from the transgender community?

The first thing any organization should do is to evaluate it’s purpose behind including them in their organization. As long as the company is addressing the reputation of the community, as well as their stance in the society along with their own, its a good place to begin. Investing in reliable resources to understand the same can greatly help the organization with its vision.

Anything else you would like to add?

There’s nothing that a smile and a polite conversation cannot do! The next time you come across a transgender person, try making meaningful conversations. I’m sure you will walk away with a different perspective.

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Nandhitha Hariharan is a writer with a love for anything that is pretty or covered

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