“The percentage of numbers of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in government jobs including the public sector enterprise is below 10 percent, while 22.5 percent job reservation has been followed by successive governments since 1950” (Centre of Indian Trade Unions).
Like race, caste is something one is born into. However, caste in India is more of a social structure, in contrast to the situation in the US, where “race is a fixed and obvious physical condition”. In India, the caste of a person determines whether or not he or she receives the benefits of affirmative action in getting access to government jobs (Munshi, 2017).
One of the research studies reflects that the policy of affirmative action has proved to be a milestone in raising the representation in regular salaried employment for men belonging to the STs and SCs community (Borooah et al., 2007). The purpose of such policies is to increase their representation in the services; so as to facilitate their social and economic advancement and make due place for them in society.
However, it should be noted that the making of reservations by incorporating affirmative action as “compensatory discrimination” in India does not aim to eradicate the caste system prevalent in India but it simply aims to boost some oppressed castes, whether at the bottom or the middle of the caste ranking.
Even with a whole-hearted approach to eradicate discriminiation based on caste as reflected in policy making, implicit biases pertaining to caste systems filters into the corporate workplace. Especially visible when those at the very top of the corporate ladder opt for mergers solely based on similarities between the members of the same community. The vision to foster an inclusive culture will go out of the window if such practices continue to persist.
According to a 2012 study, about 93 percent (of which 45 percent are Brahmins and 46 percent are Vaishyas) of the Indian corporate board members are from the forward castes. IIM-Bangalore studied over 100 merger and acquisition deals from 2000 to 2017 and found that in almost 50% of the cases, boards with a higher representation of Brahmins had opted for mergers with firms whose boards were similarly dominated by members of the same community. If this trend is not kept in check, it can have serious implications. Low caste diversity on corporate boards results in lower market value for firms. This is also true when CEOs and the board share caste affiliations.
Caste discrimination is implicitly present in recruiment practices as well. Jodhka & Newman (2007) in their study observed that some hiring managers believed upper caste people are more suited for jobs in elite companies.
Most recruiters start with the preconceived notion that a Dalit is from a poor family and lacks the soft skills of higher-caste and better-educated candidates. Such stereotypes affect a manager’s decision making ability and serves to be addressed sooner than later.
When interviews are used as the main selection method, it requires the candidate to have excellent communication skills and a good level of confidence. This type of selection method may favor those with higher education levels (most-likely belonging to a higher caste).
Another fairly recent study has shown that in rural areas, affirmative action policy has not significantly increased the chances of representation for OBCs. Authors of the study found that for groups (i.e. ST, SC, and OBC) that reap the benefits of reservation, those benefits are larger for urban India relative to rural India. The results implicitly suggest the existence of rural–urban divide in terms of chances of representation of eligible people from the SC, ST, and OBC category in government jobs in India. It is thus imperative to find a solution to this problem.
- Equip people from rural areas with adequate capability be it educational qualifications or soft skills so that they are able to compete with their higher caste- counterparts.
- Fill the gaps which have existed to create significant caste differences in entrepreneurship across India. Both governments and the corporate world in India need to come forward against such discrimination.
- Become an anti-caste employer: Develop a mechanism to report caste discrimination at workplaces. India Inc. could work on developing and implementing such a mechanism.
Dr Ambedkar in Annihilation of Caste said that “Caste is not just a division of labour, it is a division of labourers”. More than ever now is the time that Indian businesses commit to real change and take substantial actions to end this division of labourers. As the Indian corporate sector gets more integrated with the world, it should actively counter the biases that come from a caste based society.
The real innovation is achieved by bursting these social bubbles, celebrating opposing ideas and creating an environment of open and welcoming conversations. Companies who are deprived of diverse viewpoints by not including individuals from all caste and religion eventually result in lower efficiency and productivity.
About the Author and Serein
Nikita Agnihotri is Industrial/Organizational Psychologist with two Masters’ degrees specializing in Psychology from India and New York. She is a researcher with almost 3 and half years of experience in both academic and applied research settings. Reading about why some people feel they are not valued, or that they do not belong in their own organization, paved her way in the field of diversity and inclusion. She successfully defended her thesis on how organization-based self-esteem impacts voice behavior amongst employees at corporate workplaces. She has been involved in a variety of projects in applied psychometry area, from conducting criterion validation analyses for competency scales, using classical test theory for item analyses to developing items, writing white papers, creating marketing factsheets and assessing psychometric properties of a diagnostic tool for inclusion at workplaces. Working as a Research Fellow at Catalyst Inc., New York, she contributed in the development of an online inclusion survey for corporates. She is a self-aware individual who has the potential to adapt to change, embrace it and work effectively in a team with culturally distinct individuals. She is passionate about applying her knowledge in improving selection systems by broadening the criteria used for selection decisions and following an evidence-based approach.
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