The idea of diversity being practised today, in a large number of Indian firms, is mostly shallow. Diversity is all-encompassing, which includes but is not limited to gender; it is a process of inclusion in every act you undertake or plan to pursue. It is context-specific too; the diversity that is required to be there in place in Indian firms would be very different from that of a firm in any other country. It isn’t just a copy-paste thing that one could copy the practices from the developed nations and implement them here. There is a pressing need to build our benchmarks of diversity, specific to problems that people in our country might be facing. The real-world implementation of the concept of diversity and inclusion forces one to rethink the need for practising diversity. There are several reasons for which a firm could be practising diversity, the three cases being-
>> where firms are, by law, forced to follow the provisions established by regulators or overlooking authority, or where firms try practising diversity because it would give the firm’s image a slight push in the eyes of the general public or the consumers
>> where there is the case for diversity to add business value to the firm, and in the pursuit of making their business more valuable, it starts incorporating diversity
>> where the reason is based on a moral argument and does not need any further justification
If the 3rd reason is analogous to an embodiment of practising diversity, a large number of firms, categorically fall in the 1st bucket and have a long way to travel. There could be arguments that businesses are there to book profits, and they will do what they feel like doing to achieve their goals of profits. Fair enough, but is it not a moral obligation for the firm to be as unbiased and as inclusive as it can be? The foundations have to be just and healthy; everything else can wait.
Dissecting into what would diversity entail in an India corporate, the article will point at some of the practices that are certainly not indicative of practising diversity and will leave the readers to identify and point out more such things in their firms.
In a country as diverse as India, diversity of religion is of utmost importance. In addition to the composition of employees, attention should be paid to things that are often neglected by the firms, maybe by mistake. Most of the firms have a statue of a particular God upon entrance, or somewhere in the office. The issue is not installing such a figure, but, the problem is not paying attention to the effect that this would have on the people who don’t practice the popular religion. Does this practice make others feel excluded, uncomfortable? Have we cared to ask? Practising diversity here would be to have signs, symbols or figures of all the religions installed instead of just one religion. Another incident that happens often is the distribution of sweets/gifts on the occasion of one or two festivals, do the firms advocate only a particular religion/ set of religions? Instead, either the practice of distributing sweets/gifts should be done away with in entirety, or carried out during the major festivals of all faiths. We are aiming for inclusion, and by ignoring such small things, we might be unknowingly making a lot many people uncomfortable, which certainly goes against the principles of diversity.
Another form of diversity that one would like a firm to practice could be concerning the infrastructure of the firm. Gender-neutral washrooms should be provided so that transgender people don’t feel alienated and singled out. Similarly, any firm must act as an enabler to its specially-abled employees who have different infrastructural needs. Upon pricking a little deeper, we realise that there are machines used in the manufacturing sector which are built to be used by males and no consideration is given to the fact that females, who are shorter than males on an average, may also use the equipment. These are umpteen ways in which we, knowingly or unknowingly (one would want to believe that it happens unknowingly), exclude a certain set of people. Similarly, the concept of diversity and inclusion could be extended to recruitment, promotions, compensation, among others.
To bring about a change, we should try our best to start any initiative within our capacity of being a firm’s employee or discuss with the top leadership as to what policies seem to be inherently wrong and need to be relooked at. The firms might have paid less attention to adopt diversity and inclusion practices while treading the path of becoming a successful firm; it might be because diversity is a new animal to them, which took birth way after the firm started its operations. The benefit of the doubt could go to the corporates, but our generation won’t get the same benefit of the doubt in the future. With all forms of information available on a click, and with countless mediums of communication available on the go, we have every information at our disposal; if we still ignore what is happening, if we refrain ourselves from speaking for what is right, we’d be looked down upon by the upcoming generation and the generations yet to be born. Even if we forget about all this, is it not our moral responsibility to make people aware of what is right, what has been due since a long time? It’s time for us to ponder upon this issue, which has conveniently taken a backseat in today’s discussions.
Pranjal Srivastava, MBA student at IIM Ahmedabad