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Diversity for the Sake of it

By Ramesh Ranjan

Off late we are seeing a fanatical quest for Diversity in large Corporate Organizations. The latest hot-button subject in organizations, hotter even than ephemeral apps, is diversity. There is a raging debate about diversity in organizations & the society. In the name of Diversity organisations and the society are going frenzy without realizing the consequences of it.

Organisations are going overboard promoting Diversity like never before. Promoting for the sake of it and in many cases being forced to, by law in India (Mandatory to have Women Directors on the Board). On most occasions it’s being enforced at the cost of the other gender and at the cost of meritocracy akin to the issue of pseudo secularism being practiced by political parties – promoting one & at the cost of the other and denouncing / neglecting the other.

Yes, the call for diversity is increasingly strong, but what is it we’re calling for?

No doubt diversity is important to promote an inclusive culture but not at the cost of merit. One should be conscious of the need to promote diversity but final decision should be based on merit and not influenced by the need to just promote diversity. It’s about promoting a healthy corporate culture with diversity of thought, skills, experience and skill sets and not just gender.

Unfortunately in the name of Diversity, many a organizations are falling prey to the fallacy that promoting diversity leads to organizational success. They are promoting “Diversity for the sake of Diversity”. Heather Jackson, founder of An Inspirational Journey and the Women’s Business Forum, called on businesses not to get complacent about diversity, despite the encouraging statistics around women on boards. “The women on board’s figures are reasons to celebrate, but it’s the talent pipeline that’s the future,” she said. Many an employee, have been deprived of a rightful position because of the organizations fanatical quest for inclusiveness & promoting diversity.

This seems to have become more of an image-oriented goal than open mindedness towards offering opportunities to qualified women. Companies compromise on talent and hold back potential resumes of talented men for the sake of posing equal number of women on board and workforce. Many an organization boast of women hiring numbers but very rarely share their women attrition. In one organization they hired 258 women staff in a year and lost 284 women staff in the same year. So what are we achieving here? They are force feeding women talent into the organization but the environment, culture is not supporting them and is not conducive for women to work in the organization.

Meritocracy and diversity should work hand in hand. Diversity for its own sake is pointless and potentially harmful to the contextual culture (organizational, educational, etc.) If people believe that diverse candidates are included solely for diversity’s sake, resentment, tension, and animosity can build. I’m sure even the members of the opposite sex wouldn’t want to progress in an organization solely because of gender. Mahnaz Shaikh, Diversity Leader, P&G, mooted a culture of meritocracy. “Gender diversity is a very important initiative for us, but it doesn’t come at the cost of value and meritocracy,” she said.

“Diverse” candidates should always meet the minimum qualifications, at the very least. If diversity is considered alongside merit, that’s when human potential is ignited. A homogenous meritocracy won’t be as creative, innovative, and engaging as a diverse meritocracy.

There’s plenty of good research on the subject of team performance that shows that diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams on many different kinds of tasks. The problem is that this research doesn’t argue for just gender diversity, but rather for a diversity of perspectives. So, again, racial or gender diversity is not an end in itself.

The issue of Diversity is a deep malaise, deep rooted in the society at large and reflects the culture of the society and is a culmination of centuries of practices & tradition. It cannot be undone overnight or by denouncing other genders. History & Research has proved that reservations or forced quota systems work on the contrary and further divides the society and defeats the very purpose of neutrality that it aims to achieve. It also demeans the achievements & esteem of successful women.

It has to be tackled at the grass root level and not scratching at the surface. It needs to be addressed at the society, at homes, in schools & colleges before being enforced at in organisations. Look at the way woman are portrayed in movies, tele-serials, advertisements, newspapers etc. Unless we strike at the root of the problem no amount of actions at the surface level will rid the society of this gender in-equality.

Many senior Executives including on Board have shared their concern (in private) about this frenzy of promoting Diversity for the sake of it. In one of the organization, the Board member told a very senior HR professional who was aspiring to become the Country HR Manager, that there is no way you will be considered for the position unless you change your gender. On the same vein another Management team member told him “you will need to start wearing a saree, if you need to progress in this organization”. Another senior member in another organization jokingly enquired if transgender operation is covered under the Medical Insurance policy. Many a male employee have shared that they feel insecure and don’t foresee any future in the organization.

It’s becoming a butt of ridicule and a joke in many organizations. Diversity is being reduced to a farce in many organizations. Unfortunately male members can’t express in public because of fear of retribution and remain a silent spectator. In one of the organization when a HR Head failed to toe this line, he was unceremoniously removed. In another MNC organization 2 of their Senior Male HR Leaders (Vice Presidents) left the organization because they saw no future growth in the organization. The Head of a leading International Search firm in India openly admitted in a NHRD Public Forum that he has received mandates from Companies to only source female resumes. He was strictly told not to forward any male candidates/resumes.

I have heard of companies giving targets to their Talent Acquisition teams and in one instance – to hire 3 Female Vice Presidents, 30 Female Directors/General Managers in the next 3 years and have incorporated them in their Performance Goals and Incentives. One organization has given an exclusive mandate to a Hiring Firm to bring to table top 30 women talents in the country and meet up with the CEO for a one-to-one tete-tete. In another case , one HR Leader was asked to map Top 50 Women Talents in the organization and present their credentials to the Country Manager.

It’s a pity that when competent & successful Female employees get promoted or occupy senior positions in organizations, they are viewed as being favored because of the need for diversity and not based on their merit. Their appointment is viewed cynically and their credibility largely eroded even before they start.

But look at Boards, Management Teams and Councils. In one organization that was crying hoarse from the Top about Diversity – had only one Female member on the Corporate Executive Board and again only one Female member on the India Management Team. But they were aggressively pushing the HR teams to 40% Diversity hiring. How fair are they and how credible are they. Where is “walk the talk”?

Aren’t we reversing the clock and going back to the Quota / Reservation system. Isn’t it a violation of the Constitutional Right of Freedom & Equality? Isn’t it a blatant discrimination based on gender? I’m sure that it can be challenged in a court of law on discrimination grounds and would be a fit case for a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) and to be challenged in a court of law even in a country like India.

What it has led to is, large scale disgruntlement & demoralization of the male workforce in organizations. It threatens the unity of the organization and drives a deep divide across the organization. There is a simmering animosity developing in organizations. It promotes & creates hatred towards the other gender and can threaten harmony within organizations. It defeats the very purpose of addressing the issue of gender in-equality that organizations are trying to address.

Extensive research shows that diversity alone is damaging for individuals and organizations: research links difference alone to lower revenue, performance, employee morale and wellbeing, along with slower decision making, increased conflict, absenteeism, missed opportunities and more (expensive) discrimination cases.

Diversity is not just about gender but it’s about diversity in thinking, geographies, gender, ethnicity, religion, age etc. It cannot be achieved at the cost of the other and requires an approach which is inclusive. But when coupled with an inclusive culture, diversity delivers higher performance, less absenteeism, more customer satisfaction and greater innovation. Inclusion requires individuals to alter their innate beliefs and behaviors, which is why it is more difficult to realize and so powerful when that happens.

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The term feminism is as much for men as it is for women because men too struggle with gender stereotypes. We (especially Indians) must be cautious before aping the west or falling into this frenzy trap. The implementation of diversity should not be seen as a threat to meritocracy , otherwise, are we, turning the clock back to the days of Quota / Reservation systems?

Why is it that there is a low density of female population in organizations. It isn’t because the male members resisted it or because of some discrimination policy. The reasons are many. Primary reason being a “demand-supply” issue. There aren’t enough female candidates available in the market. I have worked in HR for 30 years and can vouch for it especially in India. Even on the demographic front the census reports the Gender Ratio as 940 female against 1000 male.

Women going to work in India largely caught up in the later part of the last century. India is largely an agrarian country with 70% of the country involved in agriculture. 80% of India’s population resides in the rural areas. As per the census the overall literacy (Read & Write only) rate in India is 74.03%, with male – 82.14% and Female – 65.46 (source wikepedia). So we are starting with a handicap of Female literacy being lower than Male.

Look at the Gender statistics in progressive organizations worldwide. Apple, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, eBay, LinkedIn, Cisco, Intel, and HP –  hardly have around 25-30% Female population despite all their progressive HR policies. “We’re not where we want to be when it comes to diversity.” Google admits.

The Tata Group is known for many firsts and feats; gender diversity isn’t one of them, what with Simone Tata, chairperson of Trent, being the only head of a significant Tata operation. Now Tata himself is leading the drive to motivate women to take up tougher operational jobs — in areas such as engineering, traditionally the sole preserve of men — to hone their leadership skills. Tata also wants more gender diversity in the group’s management cadre, especially at the board level, say officials close to the initiative.

It is high time to put our notions of gender roles in the workplace to rest. Women excel when given the opportunity. And so do men, particularly when they, too, feel the need to prove themselves in nontraditional roles. It’s that both men and women can develop their leadership skills and abilities, and no arDiv2ea need be reserved for one or the other. What it takes to develop great leaders, whether male or female, is their own willingness to develop, being given opportunities to grow through challenging job assignments, and support through mentoring and coaching from senior leaders.

We should all strive towards ensuring that the best qualified person should get the job and that gender, race, or relationships should not be a factor, lest we are turning the clock back once again.

 

 

 

 

Ramesh Ranjan is the Founder & Chief Editor of Human Engineers.

 

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