By Aakar Patel (@aakar_amnesty) / Executive Director, Amnesty International India
There is a remarkable lack of diversity in India’s workplaces. At first this might seem like a strange thing to say. For is it not true that one can walk into an office in north India and find south Indians? And there cannot be that many restaurants in south Indian metros where staff from the northeast have never worked.
Bengalis dot the corporate world across India and it is not unusual to find the Sikh turban in an office in any part of the country. So is this not diversity? Yes, it is, and it is a fine thing to have. But in a huge and complex society, this is not what constitutes inclusion, which is the purpose of assessing and increasing diversity. Those of us who are fortunate enough to be born into the middle class may be reassured on the matter of inclusion if we view diversity through the linguistic lens. But the fact is that there is a sameness to the people who work in corporations even if they speak different mother tongues at home.
They are, almost to a man, anglicised, middle class folks. As one goes up the management chain other things become noticeable. The most significant one is that women are fewer. Inspect the names and we are likely to find that these senior managers are preponderantly upper caste. The words ‘upper caste’ and ‘middle class’ are synonyms for privilege but we often use another word for them: merit. Those who were not as fortunate as us are then seen as being less deserving than us, not less privileged.
If there is a sweeping manner to the way I have framed the issue, it is because it is reflective of the reality of India. A small group of us has cornered most opportunity and has been seduced into believing that this is entirely because of our talents. Well, not entirely. We have thrived because we have not had to face the problems - including generations if not millennia of poverty and illiteracy that has been the lot of most Indian families. There is only one way to correct this discrimination and it is to welcome the underprivileged and to make space for them at our workplace. corporations stress uniformity, but they need to be more invested in diversity.
Inclusion of women, Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims, and persons with disabilities is incumbent on us. At Amnesty International India, we are proud to have begun this process in our recruitments and I am eager to report to you soonest on the results of this initiative. My best wishes to you for the new year.
Image source: Flickr