It was only a few years ago that Sudhesna Kusulia would travel 10 kilometers (about 6.21 mi) from her rural village in India to be able to connect to the internet.
The community she grew up in, Dangaria Kondh, had no network, electricity or constructed houses. When Kusulia got a smartphone in 2020, she gained a window to another world—one where she was able to explore the aspects of her identity she had suppressed since childhood.
“I realized I’m not alone,” says Sudeshna, who identifies as a trans woman. “I belong in the LGBTQ+ community, there are millions of people like me living life authentically.”
Growing up, Sudeshna had a love for fashion and Bollywood dancing, and recalls carefully selecting dresses and accessories for her sisters, while secretly wishing she could wear them herself. “The disconnect between my soul and the body I was in was very painful to experience,” she explains. Facing these challenges, Sudeshna struggled with depression throughout her journey to self-acceptance. “From a young age, people started bullying me. I isolated myself. I would just cry in my bedroom, beating the wall with no one to hear my pain.”
Social stigma, barriers to opportunities, and lack of family support often push transgender people to the fringes of the society. Though recent policy changes in India have reduced barriers and provided rights to the broader LGBTQ+ community— India’s Supreme Court decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in 2018 — there’s still a long way to go, especially when it comes to advancing equity and inclusion for the country’s gender expansive (transgender and non-binary) population.
India is the JPMorgan Chase’s second largest market worldwide in terms of number of employees, where is has been providing services to clients since 1945. Today, the bank has expanded its presence in India, growing its corporate centers across the country, which act as strategic hubs for JPMorgan Chase. Here, employees are working at the forefront of cloud computing, machine learning, artificial intelligence, data science, operations and so much more that is used around the world.
At JPMorgan Chase, the Office of LGBTQ+ Affairs is committed to advancing equity and inclusion for the LGBTQ+ community globally. One of the ways the office works to do this is by ensuring all employees and potential employees have an equal opportunity to pursue their full potential and enjoy a fulfilling career. Recognizing both the unique struggles of the trans community in India as well as the immense talent pool that is leading the way for new business and innovation in the region, JPMorgan Chase worked with PeriFerry to create a transgender internship program in 2022. PeriFerry is a first-of-its-kind social enterprise in India that creates upskilling and employment opportunities for the gender expansive community.
“Across industry, we see that transgender and nonbinary people do not experience equal opportunities to thrive in their careers and achieve sustainable livelihoods,” says Brad Baumoel, global head of JPMorgan Chase’s Office of LGBTQ+ Affairs. “At JPMorgan Chase, we’re committed to creating pathways for the next generation of trans and nonbinary leaders to develop and thrive in their careers.”
Advancing careers in an inclusive workplace
When Sudeshna went to college in 2016 and came out to her parents in 2020, it was a turning point. She finally felt comfortable in her skin and felt ready to pursue her dreams. But while she was ready to enter the workforce, she was worried her identity would hold her back. A friend suggested she connect with PeriFerry.
Sudeshna landed a spot in PeriFerry’s REVIVE program, a residential corporate training program designed for transgender individuals to venture into the workforce with confidence and acceptance, providing training opportunities in professional English communication, digital literacy, financial literacy, aptitude enhancement, resume building, and interview preparation. That’s how she found JPMorgan Chase.
Through PeriFerry’s REVIVE program, JPMorgan Chase creates dedicated internship roles to gender expansive people across the company’s three corporate centers in India. The 20-week program, inclusive of on-the-job training, is made up of eight weeks of classroom training by PeriFerry, followed by a 12-week internship with JPMorgan Chase. The first and the second cohort had 13 and 11 transgender candidates respectively, who interned across different parts of the business and in operations teams. Interns also were able to participate with the bank’s internal Gender Expansive Council, which organized sessions where employees shared their personal experiences as trans leaders at the bank.
Since the internship program launched in June 2022, it has resulted in the hire of over twenty full-time employees.
Connecting with the community for support
While her personal journey has been challenging, and despite rising anti-LGBTQ+ laws and sentiment across the globe, Sudeshna wants to inspire other transgender youth to recognize the beauty in themselves. “It’s a struggle for us. It will take decades before we feel complete acceptance, but it needs to be done. It has to be done,” she says.
According to Sudeshna, the two critical areas that the trans community needs support on are finding steady, respectful employment and a good, safe place to live. Across the globe, JPMorgan Chase supports nonprofits dedicated to advancing economic inclusion for the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ community, including transgender youth and elder communities.