Diversity and Corporate India

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“Ability to deal with dissent or multiplicity of opinions in an honest and transparent manner is the very foundation of diversity.”

The above is a quote from the intriguing and provocative book, Diversity Beyond Tokenism: Why Being Politically Correct Doesn’t Help Anyone? written by Swati Jena and TN Hari, who recently spoke at the ‘Symbiosis Lit Fest’ on 20th November 2021.

Swati Jena is the founder of WriteFor and an expert generalist with seventeen years of work in more than ten industries and domains. TN Hari wears different hats –  Author, angel investor, and advisor to venture capitalists (VCs) and Big Basket’s Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO).

Moderator, Manisha Mathews warmly welcomed these distinguished minds during the book reading and discussion at the ‘Symbiosis Lit Fest’. Swati Jena and TN Hari began by highlighting the very essence behind the book’s title. Diversity is much beyond tokenism and is not just a politically correct mandate to follow. According to Swati Jena, diversity is a conscious business choice; and corporate India needs a reminder that diversity is about genuinely understanding inclusion and equal opportunity.

Talking about why the book talks more about gender diversity than other parameters such as caste, religion, and language; TN Hari said that gender equality is currently at odds, and parameters for India could be endless. A deep understanding of subjects like sociology and history is essential for understanding diversity in its true sense, is lacking due to lacunae in the education system. For Ms. Jena, gender diversity is more imperative to discuss than caste diversity in terms of large corporations that provide employment and financial independence.

One of the chapters in the book was about why women need to be Sampann (complete in all qualities). Swati Jena pointed out that women are expected to be more resilient, perfectionists, multitaskers, self-sufficient, and raised to be Sampann in India. Yet, women are expected not to speak up in workplaces. TN Hari continues that it’s a choice for men to be Sampann; but for women, it’s an expectation, almost a requirement. Both authors asserted that this needs to be changed. Elaborating on methods to increase diversity in the workplace, TN Hari said that three ways to incorporate more diversity in companies to help their business grow are Active Inclusion, Affirmative Action, and veering away from stereotypical underestimations of people’s abilities.

Swati Jena reiterated that equality does not have a shared understanding and everyone has a different definition of equality. When asked if the discussion was moving from equality to equity, she promptly denied it; emphasising that equity is a step towards equality. According to TN Hari, all corporations don’t talk equally about diversity, and tokenism often revolves around a leader’s conviction.

Towards the end of the session, Swati Jena suggested that the pay gap is not merely a gender-based issue. While some may argue that organisations cannot be expected to be equal; they can definitely be expected to be fair. TN Hari asserted that a safe environment for asking questions is more necessary than gender-neutral vocabulary.

Both authors provided insightful perspectives about the potency of diversity in the corporate world, critiqued what does not work, and offered alternatives. The session’s powerful impact gave students a reality check of the corporate world they will step into, conscious of the fact that there’s a long way to go for India to achieve equality and inclusion. Although corporate India is often affected by stereotypes and the balance of power, in the words of Swati Jena, “Diversity is everyone’s business.”

 

150-word summary

Workplace Diversity: Missed Dots of Corporations in India

Speakers:

Swati Jena, author, businessperson

TN Hari, author, investor, advisor

The authors of the book “Diversity Beyond Tokenism: Why Being Politically Correct Doesn’t Help Anyone?” spoke about how diversity is not the same as tokenism and inclusion is about more than political correctness. TN Hari spoke of the various parameters of diversity such as gender, caste and religion. Swati Jena then talked about how women are expected to be much more resilient and hard-working than men, and yet are expected not to speak up in the workplace. TN Hari then speaks of the three ways to incorporate diversity in corporations – Active inclusion, affirmative action, and not underestimating certain people’s abilities. They also spoke about the difference between equality and equity and the gender pay gap. The two talked about how a safe environment for asking questions is essential. They ended by critiquing policies that aren’t inclusive and offered alternatives.

 

Suruchi Kumari

(Batch 2024)