Meet Swiggy’s first transgender employee, Samyuktha Vijayan
Being employed in the organised sector, and holding a decision-making position is rare for the transgender community in India for reasons ranging from rejection from their families and bullying, to not having access to quality education and dealing with workplace discrimination.
Samyuktha Vijayan, who hails from Coimbatore, in April became Swiggy’s first transgender employee, when she was appointed as Principal Programme Manager. She is also an entrepreneur, with her clothing startup TouteStudio, providing employment to other transgender people in Bengaluru.
Road to success
Growing up, Samyuktha was always encouraged by her parents to embrace her identity and voice her thoughts. From wearing feminine clothes to learning Bharatanatyam, she had the freedom to be true to herself. She did face some bullying at school, but learnt not to pay much heed, focusing her attention on academics and ambition.
Soon after she graduated from university, Samyuktha landed a job at Amazon, which gave her the opportunity to work in Luxembourg, the UK and the US.
In 2016, Samyuktha underwent gender affirmative surgery in Seattle, and was welcomed with open arms by the employees at her workplace.
Although she had a great support system in the US, she realised that the situation back home in India was very different. She decided to quit her job, return to India, and establish her own startup in Bengaluru.
The startup, which manufactures festive clothing for rent, employs other transgender people in the city, and gives them the chance to live with security and independence.
However, since the startup has a niche clientele, Samyuktha wanted to make more productive use of her time.
“I was not doing much on the weekdays and was keen on getting back to tech. After spending a considerable time at Amazon, I was looking for a relatively newer company as there would be more opportunity for innovation.
“When I got the opportunity from Swiggy, I couldn’t contain my excitement, considering its success in such a short span of time. Things moved swiftly from there; the interview process, offer letter and finally joining the company all happened in a span of just two weeks,” she explains.
Working at Swiggy
In April this year, Samyuktha joined Swiggy as its Principal Programme Manager, and has been instrumental in optimising and improving the spaces of transportation and delivery.
Samyuktha's core responsibility at Swiggy is to help the technology teams plan and execute a variety of 'delivery innovation programmes' to effectively reduce the cost involved in delivering orders. She also works with senior leadership to prioritise the right set of initiatives that provide the best ROI for technology resources.
In the time she has worked at Swiggy, Samyuktha says she hasn't faced any situations of prejudice or judgement from colleagues.
"As soon as I joined Swiggy, I was made part of the women in tech group, and also the diversity and inclusion group. We recently launched a Pride network, and have started actively working towards LGBT visibility and diversity through hiring within the company."
She adds that there are gender-neutral washrooms on every floor of the new building they recently moved into, which is a "wonderful step towards improving our workplace quality".
Improving transgender lives
While Samyuktha had the support of her parents at the most fundamental level, most transgender people in India do not.
On the key change the country needs to make, Samyuktha says,
“We need awareness campaigns aimed at parents, especially in Tier II and Tier III cities so that intersex and transgender children can grow and succeed like anybody else. This is only possible if they have the same support and access to education and other opportunities.”
On how workplaces can be more inclusive and accommodative of transgender employees, she says,
“One of the first steps companies should take is to engrain that inclusion is a top-down approach. When leadership at the highest levels buys into the idea, it is much easier for the rest of the company to follow. Sensitisation training to avoid casual homophobia and transphobia should be made mandatory for leaders at all levels.”
On the legal front, Samyuktha says there are currently no governmental policies or laws that are implemented to stop discrimination at workplaces based on sexuality or being transgender. She adds that the
scope of the ICC (Internal complaints committee) mandated by law based on the POSH Act should include the LGBT community as well.
Samyuktha says that corporates have started to understand that to bring transgender people into mainstream jobs, they need to have a conscious bias to hire and train them as necessary, instead of expecting them to be well prepared for the jobs themselves.
She adds that they may also need to provide additional support to transgender employees, such as housing or transportation.
"My personal experience suggests that if we keep working on improving our skills and talents, the larger community will begin to value our contributions. That will automatically open doors in the corporate sector. Excellence does not discriminate, and neither will success."
(Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan)