Much like India needs “inclusive” growth, our companies too need to be inclusive when hiring. After all, organization are microcosms of society. Therefore building inclusive companies will not only supplement our national goal but also be an effective test of our capability to do so.
However, inclusiveness is yet to be recognized as a serious agenda in Indian companies. Diversity programmes are often confused with inclusiveness and the discerning understand the two are not the same.
Growth mantra: Listen to and include youth in critical decision making
We have many identity markers in our society: language, religion, caste, region, and therefore have an opportunity to bring in many more sections into the corporate mainstream beyond the traditional groups. However, we cannot get companies and boards interested in inclusiveness if it remains largely a social and moral obligation. We need to establish a business case for building an inclusive company. The direct and indirect economic value of inclusiveness need to be identified before we can persuade companies to take serious interest.
Inclusiveness makes strict business sense in a diverse and talent-constrained society such as India, simply because it helps penetrate and harness talent pools that are normally not accessed.
Let me put it more plainly: If all companies want to hire, promote and empower only city-bred and highly networked people from Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) with privileged and affluent backgrounds, then how will any new idea emerge or any radical breakthrough occur? If we do not proactively invite and include new “gene” pools into our companies, we will clone our success for a while and eventually collapse under the stagnant similarity of the very same success. Also, if most of our buyers/consumers are from the rural areas representing the backward, underprivileged, regional language speaking youth, what chance do we have of leveraging the new purchasing power if their voice and perspective is not heard in our boardrooms?
Whether you want to widen your talent base or simply get deeper insights from the “real” marketplace, companies will do well to make inclusiveness a strategic business priority. According to me, there are three new sections for immediate inclusion and here is how we might include them:
Watch a few reality shows in any field on your television and you will be convinced that India, nay Bharat, has got talent, There is a whole new talent pool out there in the tier II, III and IV towns and at present I feel we are unable to bring them to the forefront. I believe this requires two fundamental changes: (a) We need to change our understanding of “smartness” and be proud of some of the desi versions instead of holding everybody to one standard. Given a chance a young woman or man from a small town might tell you of “smart” ways to sell products that high-flying MBAs may miss. Reputed consumer goods companies doing business in rural markets are already discovering this. (b) We need to go out and recruit youth from these areas through targeted action plans.
In large cities and, of course, in the vast hinterland of our country, many a talent is born to bloom unseen for it does not go to “branded” colleges. Commodities are branded so that they can be differentiated. But if talent is “branded” in the same way as commodities, the consequences will be serious for society. We will fail to notice the potential of a vast majority simply because shrewd marketers have not branded their colleges or degrees. Worse still is equating true talent with reputations obtained through fractional differences in crowded entrance tests. We must not confuse pedigree with potential and scramble for a handful of students from hallowed institutions. Talent clearly resides in the most unexpected places and companies will need to proactively find and include it in their own interest.
Whether you like it or not, nearly half of India’s population is under 25. Experience takes time and growth cannot wait. We have to find innovative ways to accelerate experience and take the youth up faster into the corporate echelons. The only way to do this is to listen, talk with, invite and include youth in critical decision making. Representation and presence is not equal to inclusion. If you have a young CEO to show off to investors and analysts but an old coterie pulls the strings from behind—you are not preparing for the future. Inviting and including youth needs two fundamental changes in our mindsets: (1) We must truly be open to new ideas; (2) We must be willing to bet on people who are not 100% ready. In the long run, our owners, entrepreneurs and CEOs have nothing to lose but some stereotypes and a few mind blocks! So companies must constitute parallel boards with the younger cross-section of the workforce, listen to their “unbaked” ideas and include them more centrally in the affairs of the company.
When the IIMs decided recently to give preference to students with backgrounds in the humanities (as opposed to science and engineering), they were being inclusive. Such proactive decisions with mould-breaking intent alone will make Indian industry more inclusive. I hope to see recruitment advertisements which read:
“Girl students from low-income families who have studied arts in regional languages at “unknown” colleges in nondescript towns and villages are invited to join our 2020 Leadership batch!!”
Sripada Chandrasekhar is vice-president and head—HR at IBM India/South Asia.
The views expressed here are personal.
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