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Leading the Fight for Transgender Economic Empowerment: A Conversation with Nikki Phinyapincha

Nikki Smiling

Nikki Phinyapincha, an alumna of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Professional Fellows Program (YSEALI-PFP), has made her mark across Thailand as an entrepreneur, advocate, and champion for the transgender business community. Nikki's fearless work in diversity, equity, and inclusion, particularly in trans-inclusive workplaces and leadership, has cemented her as a trailblazer in Southeast Asia. As the founder of TransTalents Consulting Group, Thailand's first LGBTQIA+ inclusive workplace consulting firm, Nikki envisions a future of inclusive workplaces that elevate LGBTQIA+ business communities and trans leadership.

American Councils for International Education had the distinction of speaking with Nikki about her accomplishments, her vision of trans leadership, and what celebrating LGBTQIA+ Pride Month means to her.  

Nikki with TransTalentsIn 2022, Nikki was selected as a fellow for YSEALI PFP under the economic empowerment theme. Her fellowship brought her to the United States to work with San Diego Pride, a nonprofit organization that fosters equality and respect for all LGBTQ+ communities locally and globally. During her fellowship, Nikki interacted with diverse LGBTQIA+-focused business and nonprofits in California and the District of Columbia, including Family Health Centers of San Diego, TransCanWork Inc, Transgender Empowerment Center, National Center for Transgender Equality, and Human Rights Campaign Foundation. Highlights of her fellowship included representing San Diego Pride at The Aids Walk and Run San Diego and attending networking events with the San Diego Diplomacy Council and San Diego Small Business Expo.  

Her time working with LGBTQIA+ nonprofits was transformative, inspiring her to amplify messages on inclusion, economic justice, and queer representation in Thailand. "I was inspired by their efforts to create inclusive workplaces and drive positive socioeconomic impacts and gained insight into how LGBTQ+ and gender equality are integrated into the socioeconomic ecosystem in the United States," Nikki shared. "I hence realized that it's time to turn my purpose into actions and turn impossibility into possibility."  

Upon returning to Thailand, Nikki founded TransTalents Consulting Group, providing companies with diversity, equity, and inclusion consultation, training, collaboration, and professional leadership advocacy. With the support from a YSEALI PFP reciprocal grant, TransTalents Consulting Group partnered with IBM Thailand, San Diego Pride, Sasin School of Management, ASEAN Youth Advocate Network, and The Nation Thailand to host the first trans-focused mentoring and seminar program in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). One hundred participants across ASEAN attended the one-day hybrid program, including 44 trans professionals and 56 business leaders and sustainability professionals. The program advocated for inclusive leadership and discussed how Thai businesses could lead the change to become better allies for trans employees. 

"By empowering transgender and LGBTQ+ individuals in the workplace and providing them equitable resources, tools, and networks they need to succeed, we can collectively break down systemic barriers and promote greater equality for all," Nikki said. "Our initiatives are intentional, intersectional, and measurable to create a long-lasting impact in Southeast Asia and beyond."  

Nikki's mission to break down systemic injustices trans people face is motivated by her experiences living as a trans woman in Thailand. According to a 2018 World Bank survey, "Economic Inclusion of LGBTI Groups in Thailand," 77% of the surveyed trans people reported being denied job applications because of their identity. Nikki explained that these gender biases and transphobia often limit trans people in Thailand to jobs in only beauty, media, entertainment, and sex work. "Equal access to employment and leadership is not a reality for transgender peopleā€”I experienced those forms of injustice in every stage of life," Nikki shared. "I decided to shape my professional career in the corporate world to prove that the bias and prejudice towards trans individuals is wrong."  

Nikki encourages other LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs and professionals to embrace their identities in the workplace. "Your identity as an LGBTQIA+ individual is a unique aspect of who you are," Nikki said. "Your experiences and perspectives can bring a fresh and valuable approach to your entrepreneurial endeavors and empower the society and economy to be truly inclusive."  

When asked about Pride Month, the annual celebration and commemoration of LGBTQIA+ communities held each June around the world, Nikki shared an inspiring and vital reminder about its history rooted in the 1969 Stonewall Riots, the series of gay and transgender liberation protests in New York City: "Pride month is a social class struggle. It started with a fight, and it's not over yet. All LGBTQIA+ folks and allies, we are the revolution of human history. We are not going anywhere and must take our space of power and cement it!"  

American Councils is proud to support Nikki and the incredible work of TransTalents Consulting Group, as well as all our staff, participants, and alumni who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, asexual, intersex, two-spirit, or part of the queer community. We acknowledge the systemic oppression and suppression of queer communities in the U.S. and abroad and envision a future where LGBTQIA+ people can live authentic and liberated lives. To stay updated with Nikki and her work, follow TransTalents on Facebook and LinkedIn.