Despite often being viewed as a western concept, the ideas of diversity and inclusion are not new or foreign to India – it is possibly one of the most diverse countries in the world, with 22 official languages, 28 states each with its own distinct traditions and character, and a population rich with diverse religious faiths, customs and attire. It is the seventh largest country in the world where a culture change occurs every two hundred kilometres. In fact, India has actually long embraced this diversity, and the principles of ‘equality of opportunity’ and ‘inclusion’ are embodied in the Indian Constitution. However, is the Constitution more of a wish than a reality in India at the moment – there are some that feel that there is a large gap between the two? We are lead to believe the legacy of the caste-system, and the perceived growing divide between urban and rural areas, together with deeply entrenched cultural beliefs – whether it be about women, those with disabilities or the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, have prevented huge portions of the population from participating in social or economic development.
It is only fairly recently that diversity and inclusion has developed as a business concept in India. In the last decade the subject has attracted ever increasing attention by the corporate sector. Large global companies with expanding operations in India have been keen to explore how to incorporate their global diversity principles to their teams in India. Large Indian companies are similarly turning their attention to this subject too. Together with this and the changing dynamics in India, such as large rural to urban migration and the growth and influence of the younger generation (India has reputedly the largest Gen Y population in the world), are providing impetus for Indian companies to put diversity and inclusion on their corporate agenda.
The Indian government – perhaps influenced by other countries – is increasingly introducing regulations relating to diversity and inclusion, some of which include a new amendment to the Companies’ Act 2013 which now makes it mandatory for all listed companies to have at least one women on their board, moves to increase the quota for recruitment of people with disabilities in government jobs and make private sector companies more accountable for accommodating their needs, and a new law on the prevention of sexual harassment against female employees in the workplace
So Corporate India has taken up the baton of Diversity and Inclusion and is running with it, albeit with good intention but not necessarily the perfect result. In a recent survey of women working in Corporate India nearly 60 percent of the respondents agree that their company is focused on promoting diversity, but only 29 percent believed that they are getting benefitted from those initiatives. Women represent around 27 percent of the country’s total workforce whereas globally this number is 38 percent, and at senior level in India women represent only 17 percent compared to 26 percent in emerging Asia Pacific countries, this is why truly understanding, managing and entrenching diversity in the workplace is not an option it is an imperative than needs to be addressed.
The future is looking very promising for Inclusion in India with many corporations already implementing impressive strategies, however there is still a large proportion who have the right intentions but are either struggling to fully incorporate effectively, or have not managed to start on the journey. In think in another decade this conversation will be mute as Corporate India will have fully embraced it’s diverse population.