OPINION

Recruitment Discrimination in India

November 10, 2007
Chandra

A recent study by the Princeton University found a high incidence of Caste and Religious discrimination in India. The research calculates that an upper caste Individual has significantly higher probability of being shortlisted for an interview when compared with scheduled castes or Muslims. This assumes that the only difference in the resumes of the three groups is their name with a clearly identifiable caste surname. Whatever the accuracy of the research, it does highlight the larger issue of recruitment discrimination in India.

Types of Discrimination

I have noticed that religious discrimination against Muslims has increased over the last few years. Amongst many HR managers and other recruiters the unsaid agreement is that Muslims should be 'recruited as a last resort'. I have never understood the reasons clearly but I suspect most of it is related to Muslims perceived of being 'different culturally' and hence not a fit to the organisation's culture. The other is a general hatred that is quite pervasive amongst many Hindus across the nation. 

Married women are discriminated by many organisations. I know so many managers who are reluctant to hire women (given a choice) because of prejudices about their performance or the pain of replacement in the event of pregnancy. The performance perception is obviously unfair. The fear of being unable to replace is an organisational problem that needs an HR solution.

The third type of discrimination is regional/caste based. There are many companies in India that hardly have any diversity at the management level. Example: I know a company based in Hyderabad that is packed with Andhraites and another, a Delhi based organisation in Hyderabad would that is packed with Punjabis and Marwaris. It is silly both ways. In this example both organisations positively discriminate on the basis of perceived attributes. The irony is they are in the same location and are very similar in performance. Instead of filling up the best person for the job the organisations are filling up the best Andhraite/Punjabi/Marwari for the job. This is no doubt a recipe for lower performance than feasible.

Caste based discrimination as highlighted by the research is new to me.  Unlike other forms of discrimination highlighted above I have never heard people speak of this openly. The design used to carry out the research has many flaws in it and I think more research is needed to understand this issue better.

 There are other kinds of discrimination that are contentious. One of them is 'Pleasing Personality'. This is very similar to matrimonial ads. Nobody knows what pleasing personality means and if indeed there is a linkage between pleasing personality and business performance. The other prejudice is about non-metro ('Provincial') folks. Some senior managers ask HR to eliminate folks from small towns because of perceived lack of attributes. Then there is 'Family background'. There are enough examples to show how kids of 'not very educated' parents from very small towns are doing extremely well. Other forms of discrimination that are contentious include IITs versus rest, IIMs versus rest, graduates versus technical graduates and so on.

What can Organisations do?

Firstly, I need to state that much of what I say is anecdotal. I say this from having consulted with many clients across 3 regions of the country (excluding Mumbai). The second aspect I need to point out is that such discrimination is on the wane primarily because of Shortage of skilled people anda very mobile workforce that provides many positive examples contrary to prevalent prejudices and lastly all managers and all organisations are not discriminatory.

I believe that the some or all of the following measures will help

a. Industry associations like FICCI and CII have a role to play in making people aware that these kinds of discriminatory practices are unacceptable. CEOs are an obvious target. The impact of top down communication on these issues can be very impactful.

b. Recruiters will need to go through special orientation courses to sensitise them on the need to do away with practices highlighted above

c. Organisations and recruiters will need to attempt diversifying the workforce at various levels. I admit this is tricky but a few successful executives of some of these groups will serve as a wonderful example for others to look at.

d. Process consultants will need to design better ways to deal with unique needs of various groups of employees.  For example: Designing better processes to reduce turn around times to replace people on maternity leave will be of great help.

e. The education system itself will introduce chapters/ courses that reinforce the pitfalls of discrimination to potential managers

f. While many MNC organisations have clear cut policies on discrimination, that is not the case with most Indian organisations. This is a basic piece of document that reiterates the intolerance for any indiscrimination

g. Recruitment discrimination like the ones highlighted above should be deemed as illegal through special laws enacted by the Central Government.

h. A more radical suggestion will be to have recruitment practices are subject to audit by internal auditors who represent multiple interest groups. This will mean a higher degree of documentation within the organisation. a. Resumes cannot be thrown away for until 2 years, b. Back ups of e-mails sent to recruitment IDs, c. Access to scoring sheets across the interview process etc.

i. One important point for discussion is regarding asking candidates about 'family background'. There are many who believe that this piece of information is sometimes used to eliminate candidates even if it has limited impact on the Individual's performance. There could be a case for this question being banned completely.

I think the lesson for all of us is to get rid of prejudices and instead rely on facts of the case during recruitment. This will go a long way in building more efficient organisations and in turn a better society in general.

 

 

Chandra is a marketing consultant based out of Mumbai
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#1
Sujai
URL
November 10, 2007
01:11 PM

Chandra:

I think the lesson for all of us is to get rid of prejudices and instead rely on facts of the case during recruitment. This will go a long way in building more efficient organisations and in turn a better society in general.

I have always maintained on this forum that such 'realizations' cannot be expected from Indian corporates on their own. Such attitudes can only be instilled 'by force' and it has to be backed by regulation.

If let on their own, Indians (and Indian organizations) would rather perpetuate the existing gap between various classes and groups.

The way we need an 'imposed' taxation system in India, we need an 'imposed' affirmative action. Indians will not embrace such progressive ideas on their own, the way they will not keep their streets clean or pay their taxes on their own.

Thanks for discussing this here. You have brought out the 'unspoken reality' in the Indian industry.

#2
Sujai
URL
November 10, 2007
01:22 PM

Chandra:
i. One important point for discussion is regarding asking candidates about 'family background'. There are many who believe that this piece of information is sometimes used to eliminate candidates even if it has limited impact on the Individual's performance. There could be a case for this question being banned completely.

I completely disagree with this.

While interviewing, I have always asked people of their 'family background'. I have used this information to promote people from underprivileged backgrounds. In certain ways, I have implemented affirmative action on my own.

If a young boy, whose parents are farmers, coming from a small village, having educated himself in a small school, could achieve and do well to get into this top school, he deserves an opportunity.

I believe and maintain that recruitment is very subjective. And hence any effort to completely eliminate that subjectivity will be fraught with many impracticalities reducing the whole exercise into a charade.

You cannot remove that subjectivity. Efforts should be made to regulate that subjectivity instead of trying to achieve 100% objectivity.

#3
Sujai
URL
November 10, 2007
01:26 PM

h. A more radical suggestion will be to have recruitment practices are subject to audit by internal auditors who represent multiple interest groups. This will mean a higher degree of documentation within the organisation. a. Resumes cannot be thrown away for until 2 years, b. Back ups of e-mails sent to recruitment IDs, c. Access to scoring sheets across the interview process etc.

I agree with first part of this argument. I am not sure how the second part is going to help at all.

I think all organizations have to maintain an adequate representation of minorities, women, and backward castes. If they do not, they should not be forced into it by being strict on them. Right now, software companies do not pay taxes - this is a benefit doled out by the Indian government to these companies. In case, these companies do NOT maintain the adequate representations, they should not be given this benefit - in effect they should be made to pay taxes. If companies bag contracts from the government, those who infringe these regulations should be barred from them.

I do not believe in internal audits. I believe it has to be audited by the government of India.

#4
Sujai
URL
November 10, 2007
01:27 PM

g. Recruitment discrimination like the ones highlighted above should be deemed as illegal through special laws enacted by the Central Government.

Impractical.

When recruitment is so subjective how can one make certain selection process illegal?

#5
Sujai
URL
November 10, 2007
01:30 PM

c. Organisations and recruiters will need to attempt diversifying the workforce at various levels. I admit this is tricky but a few successful executives of some of these groups will serve as a wonderful example for others to look at.

First, this is not an explicit directive in any organization in India. Second, even if there is one the discrimination will continue as long as there is not way to check this. Hence, mandatory representations is the only way to check this discrimination.

You are attaching too much onus on the organization to behave good. Wishful thinking.

#6
Sujai
URL
November 10, 2007
01:31 PM

Chandra:
On the whole thanks for bringing this up. Though I disagree with you on how it should be implemented, thanks for recognizing it. Most people do not even want admit there is discrimination.

#7
Chandra
November 10, 2007
02:23 PM

Sujai

On family background, the researchers from Princeton actually found that people negatively discriminate candidates on the basis of their 'family backgrounds'

rgds

#8
Chandra
November 10, 2007
02:26 PM

Sujai

Thanks for the feedback. I am not sure ideas for the implementation are the best. I am using this forum to hear from people and refining them further.

The researchers from Princeton/ UGC had a similar recommendation as yours and that is of Affirmative action of some sort. Somehow I cannot accept that reservations in the Private sector will lead to a healthy outcome.

Anyway, let us hear others views too and see where this goes. Thanks once again.

rgds

#9
temporal
URL
November 10, 2007
05:05 PM

isn't there another kind (of discrimination) also?

the residential 'societies' in some urban centres where they discriminate when selling/renting flats/houses?

#10
smallsquirrel
November 10, 2007
10:36 PM

I agree with chandra on the "family background" question. in the US and other places these questions are actually illegal. I was stunned here when I worked for a consultancy and had to do interviews for the company. The HR manager would ask such brazen questions like "you seem to be from a village, how can we be sure that you know how to work properly?" or "you have a child, how do we know you won't go running home at every sniffle?" or "you just got married, can you promise us no pregnancy for at least 3 years?"


When I questioned these practices I was told that it was normal for India and I should get used to it. I am still shocked by what I saw!

#11
vijay
November 11, 2007
11:36 AM

Lot of Bull

#12
Sanjay
November 12, 2007
12:27 AM

[EDITED] want to keep everyone imprisoned under discriminatory affirmative-action quotas. The way to overcome economic discrimination is to have economic value (ie. skills, abilities, and proof of these)

If [EDITED] can't refrain from their Shylock-baiting, then the only answer is separatism. Those with ability can form their separate state, and those who need to rely on quotas can live in their separate state. That way, the so-called recipients of discrimination won't be exposed to those they claim are discriminating against them.

Hey, if a marriage isn't working, then the answer is divorce. The answer certainly isn't endless bickering.

[EDITED - IRRELEVANT]

#13
Sujai
URL
November 12, 2007
06:01 AM

#11,
Lot of Bull

And a little bit of Bear too! :)

#14
Kerty
November 12, 2007
09:02 AM

While it is illegal for government or government-funded institutions to discriminate based on caste, religion, gender etc. However, the same can not be said to be true about individuals and private organizations. Individuals and private entities are perfectly free to hire and fire whomever they may choose on whatever criteria they may deem fit.

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