Does India Inc. Have a Diversity Problem? Should Indian Firms Do More for Inclusivity?

What Do Recent Events Indicate About How India Inc. Has a Diversity Problem?

It is a well known fact that Indian Corporates often pay lip service to Diversity and Inclusivity and most D&I initiatives often exist on paper with little to show in terms of actual achievements.

Apart from culturally shaped attitudes towards women and racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, there are also other factors such as lack of awareness and no real enthusiasm from the Business Leaders to pursue D&I policies.

Indeed, India might be the only country among its peers with an aspirational motive to not have a strong D&I approach to equitable hiring and retention strategies.

In recent months, there have been several high profile cases where the Patriarchal mindsets reared themselves in terms of denying women positions on the Boards just because the corporates in question never had any women Directors and they are unwilling to be pioneers.

This is the widely reported case of the Murugappa Group wherein the Family that controls the group refused to appoint an Heiress of one of the Brothers among their family members to the Board citing the above mentioned tradition of women being unfit to be Board Members.

How Widespread is the Diversity Problem among India Inc. and What History Suggests

In addition, there are the several high profile cases involving most Indian Corporates in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Before that, there was Phaneesh Murthy of Infosys, who perhaps was the first Senior Exec to be publicly accused of Sexual Harassment leading to Lawsuits and the like.

What these cases reveal is a broader pattern of Powerful Leaders and Senior Execs keeping women out of Decision Making roles as well as treating them in a manner that is derogatory and worse, outright harassment.

While this does not mean that all Indian Corporates are like this, it does indicate a Systemic problem relating to Diversity that is prevalent in India.

What more, just last week, there was a lawsuit filed against Infosys in the United States that alleged that women were being denied promotions and when questioned, the Senior Execs responded with references to Indian Culture and Traditions, which in their interpretation, made women secondary to men.

Moreover, in recent months, there have been several news reports that alleged that Indian professionals in the United States as well as Indian Software firms with their offices there were the target of investigation for widespread practices of Caste and other Racial Discrimination.

The Glass Ceiling, the POSH Laws and Policies, and Walking the Talk to Address D&I

So, what should be done to address this widespread menace of lack of D&I sensitivities among Indian Corporates and Indian Professionals.

To start with, there needs to be a Firm Message sent out that there would be Zero Tolerance to all forms of Harassment and Discrimination.

This includes having specific POSH or Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace policies that go beyond theoretical aspects and have specific penalties and punishments for violators.

In other words, it is incumbent upon India Inc. to Walk the Talk and Practice What They Preach.

In addition, it would be a good idea to promote more women and racial and ethnic minorities to senior positions, after being convinced that they have performed well.

The Glass Ceiling or the term used to describe the Invisible and Visible Barriers to Women progressing in their careers must be shattered and a good place to start would be the Boards of leading Indian Corporates that can follow this suggestion.

More importantly, the existing laws passed by the Central Government relating to D&I must be followed and such laws strengthened to include promotions, harassment at the workplace, and representations on the boards to actualize D&I principles of equality/equity

India Inc. Must Not Let the External Intolerance Impact the Workplace Environment

While the suggestions given above are generic in nature, there are also some practical steps that can be taken to ensure a balanced approach to D&I.

For instance, there must be Gender Sensitization Trainings for Fresh Recruits and Laterals so that they are in the know as far as how the organization views D&I violations is concerned.

In addition, there must be all out efforts not to let the external factors such as the prevailing events related to ethnic and religious intolerance seep into the internal environment, thereby vitiating it.

In other words, it is incumbent upon Indian Corporates to erect barriers between the present culture of intolerance that is sweeping the world and not let such events happening outside to be reflected in the employees’ attitudes towards D&I.

Apart from this, there is a need for Indian Business Leaders to take the lead and inspire others to follow their paths as far as D&I is concerned.

Indeed, it is high time India Inc. took steps to address the Diversity Problem among its ranks and do something about it. There are many proven benefits to D&I and they include diversity of opinions and a more balanced approach to decision making aspects.

Retention after Hiring is the Real Challenge

Last, given the present trend of reaching out to the LGBTQIA+ communities by Indian Corporates as part of their D&I initiatives, it is imperative that steps be taken not only to hire them, but also to retain them by making them feel welcome and wanted.

This is perhaps the most crucial aspect as hiring and retention are two different aspects and while corporates can hire women and gender minorities to show that they are committed to D&I, retaining them and promoting them would be the Real Proof of the matter.

To conclude, India Inc. must address its D&I problem now.

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