“Teaching people to be unbiased is hard work”


The Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) world is in hyper-growth. A cottage industry rife with consultants, thought leaders, LinkedIn gurus, coaching sessions, books, and new acronyms by the day, it’s hard for the common man to understand what all this means.

Dr. Rohini Anand’s book “A guide for systemic change in multinational organizations: Leading global diversity, equity and inclusion” stands out amid this clutter. She narrates her personal journey and admits the privilege she enjoyed growing up in India before coming to the United States for higher studies. This book is filled with practical advice, anecdotes and her own confessions of making mistakes globally while looking at DEI with a purely US-centric lens.

Dr. Rohini Anand

Dr. Anand emphasizes the importance of culture, diversity and context and its importance in DEI work. She takes us on a global diversity journey similar to how Anthony Bourdain took us around the world teaching us about global cuisines. With humility, Dr. Anand encourages us to take a historical perspective, and learn and understand culture before launching an employee engagement survey or starting off with irrelevant metrics.

Numerous examples highlight the flaws of a US-centric approach to DEI that has been dominated by mostly insular male CEOs with a US marketing perspective. We learn that DEI, like exporting the US-version of democracy cannot be franchised like McDonald’s. Instead, it requires humility, understanding of context and leveraging the power of relationships.

Dr. Anand generously shares what she learned during her her decades-long experience leading global diversity at Sodexo, and explains 5 key principles starting with why global diversity should be inherently local. Identity, context, culture and values vary from place to place. She urges us to focus on a transversal approach to global diversity management, a mix of top-down DEI initiatives mixed with a highly localized strategy. Before starting a DEI program in a particular country, listen to change agents in localized contexts, she warns. The complexities of of race and its shifting social construct are well-explained in this book.

Her second principle about transformative leadership teaches us why leaders must change to lead change in DEI. Change cannot be made in DEI without personal passion and a shift in worldview. The third principle tells us that DEI is good business but warns us that studies based on US empirical data might seem totally irrelevant in other parts of the world. Understanding global and regional trends is key, she adds. The fourth principle “go deep, wide and inside out” explains why change efforts must be deep and wide within a company. They require ” a well-conceived and well-implemented governance framework to include a transversal strategy and to scale the inclusion effort to a global reach (wide)” The fifth principle highlights the importance of metrics and is laced with examples including the Sodexo Diversity & Inclusion Index (SDII).

I’ve had the privilege of learning a lot from Dr. Anand when she gave me an opportunity to understand the fundamentals of DEI. Dr. Anand is solid- thorough, well-versed, disciplined, and purposeful. This book reflects her tireless work in this field and is a must-read for any leader wanting to make progress in our post-pandemic work culture. After all, the business of “teaching people to be unbiased is hard work.”

Why global companies must pay attention to caste discrimination among Indian H1B workers


In the sacred ancient Indian mythology, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Hindu God Krishna describes four divisions of society to his friend and devotee, Arjuna. According to the Gita (4.13), Krishna says that he is the creator of everything and there are four divisions of social order. (The Bhagavad-Gita As It Is; International Society for Krishna Consciousness.)

  1. Brahmanas- Intelligent and good
  2. Kshatriyas- The administrators, the warrior class
  3. Vaisyas- The merchants
  4. Sudras- Labor class, the ignorant

The majority of Indians who immigrate to the United States belong to the upper castes. However, in recent years, the influx of lower caste people called Dalits, who fall below the Sudras in the social order has created a caste discrimination problem among Indian H1B workers in North America.

According to Equality Labs, an organization focused on ending the caste system, Dalits were originally asked to do bonded labor and agriculture and menial tasks like manual scavenging. They have long been called “untouchables” in Indian society.

Over the years, the United States import of highly skilled Indians in the H1-B visa category has led to them bringing in their ancient thought process as well. In India, the caste system is passed on to successive generations through an oral tradition and is firmly entrenched in the minds of most Indians, especially the higher castes. Indoctrinated by familial pressures, upper caste Indians bring a sense of superiority as they arrive in the US on H-1 B visas.

Upper castes form their own groups and sub-groups within organizations and have been widely accused of discriminating against Dalits who form around 3% to 5% of the Indian diaspora in the US.

Dalit’s are discriminated by upper caste Hindus based on their skin color, their last names and the absence of the Juneau, a white thread around a person’s body worn during an initiation ceremony as a Brahman.

It’s fairly easy to find out if you are a Brahman by gently tapping the shoulders of an Indian male and if you can feel the Juneau, you can understand that the person belongs to the upper caste. Another trick is to ask if the person is a vegetarian as most Brahmans are vegetarians.

A recent case from the State of California versus Cisco shows how alleged discrimination was conducted against a Dalit employee by his upper caste superiors at work. This lawsuit alleges that Cisco engaged in unlawful employment practices on the basis of religion, ancestry, national origin, ethnicity and race/color against a Dalit employee.

The allegation adds that a hostile work environment was created and less pay and fewer opportunities for employment were offered to the employee. This 22-page litigation has prompted several other Indian Dalits working at Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Dell, Netflix and Uber to file lawsuits against employers for alleged workplace discrimination. (Silicon Valley has a caste discrimination problem. Vice News. https://www.vice.com/en/article/3azjp5/silicon-valley-has-a-caste-discrimination-problem)

Silicon Valley is dominated mostly by White men followed by Indians since 70% of the H-1 B visas are taken up predominantly by Indians. Micro-aggressions, regional favoritism at the workplace based on language, caste and color are rampant especially in teams that are predominantly Indian. It’s fairly common for Indian managers to have their underlings work on Saturdays and Sundays even as their employers, global brands of repute, remain silent.

Moreover, tight-knit groups of Indians bind themselves together and practice the same old caste system that they had followed in their home country for years. There is the North-South divide, and rampant regional favoritism in hiring at workplaces dominated by Indian teams.

Ironically, American HR professionals in large multinational companies that claim Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) on websites do not have the cultural competency nor a basic understanding of India’s multiracial society.

According to reports, Dalits who perform extremely well in their jobs have been “patted on the back” to check if they had their Juneau on to make sure they were not Brahmins. (India’s engineers have thrived in Silicon Valley. So has its caste system. https://www.inquirer.com/business/indian-caste-system-silicon-valley-microsoft-apple-oracle-facebook-20201029.html)

To make matters worse, Dalits who come out of India’s famed Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) are stamped before they arrive in US immigration points by upper caste Hindus who blame them for having received admissions through affirmative action.

So, what can multinational companies do to handle this issue that has been corrupted at the source? Here are a few tips:

  1. Ensure that American HR practitioners have a basic understanding of India and its societal order.
  2. Make the hiring process blind. Nine out of ten times, long last names of Indians can reveal anything from caste to family status and even wealth.
  3. Try not to seek counsel from existing H1Bs in your firm even if they are well-placed, instead, find neutral sources that can help you.
  4. Ensure that hiring committees include a diverse mix of people

Disclaimer

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated. Further, I make no warranty regarding the accuracy or effectiveness of my recommendations, and readers are advised to consult other advisors as well as their own judgments in making decisions.