Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Reservation in Private Sector?

“What non sense” - The response will be immediate, intense, vocal and in thumping majority if you belong to India’s burgeoning pvt sector in any capacity.

After all it is the private sector who has been the torch bearer of India’s amazing rise to the global round table. Whilst the state blundered and the political republic just about survived it’s the genius of private sector that pulled load.

And by all accounts India’s private sector is more meritorious than any of its other sectors. The recruitment process of India INC is by and large fair, just, merit oriented etc etc. The incidences of caste based discrimination are unheard of here. We must give it to them – well done.

Being a part of the sector I can vouch that the recruitment process does not take into account things like caste, creed, religion and other such non merit criterions.

The defense rests – throw the reservation proposal out of the window Dr Singh!

But then why are the cockroaches creeping out?

A friend of mine recently suggested a very unnerving experiment.

Take a random sample of employees working in any pvt sector company and count %ge of HOMs – HOM stands for Hindu, Open, Male. More cockroaches!

HOMs contribute to less than 16% in population – whilst in workplace that %ge will be anywhere upwards of 60%... flying cockroaches.

There will be further isolation that will emerge if we rake urban and rural splits. HOMUR? That means virtually 80% of population finds no representation in the private sector.

Some may argue that this proves the superiority of the Aryan race – since these candidates get selected on pure merit. Others will be stumped – how is it possible? – After all we don’t look at birth based criterions at all?

What happened?

I think the answer lies in our deep routed biases – our recruitment process may at best be “non-aligned” to birth based criterions – but it is inadequate to ascertain real merit.

In reality, the image of “Ideal candidate” in the recruiter’s mind is flawed. It is full of biases which render privileged position to HOMURs. Let me explain.

Other things remaining same choose between following candidates- Dark or Fair, Tall or short, Pure accent or desi Hinglish, perfumed or smelly, gelled hair or coconut oil.
Some recruiters will be able to maintain sanity for first few – but its difficult to resist biases as a group. The choice becomes more and more obvious when presented with option such as a candidate that is Fair, Tall, Pure accented, Perfumed, Gelled Hair versus a candidate that is Short, Dark, Hinglish, Smelley, Coconut hair – other things being the same.

Whom do you choose – the HOMUR or non HOMUR (you just missed Dr Abdul Kalam there – who cares!!!)

There’s vicious cycle effect at play here. The likelihood for a non HOMUR to be tall, fair, pure accented and well dressed are far lesser comparatively. His upbringing as well as his family is the reasons. And it gets worse and more confusing– even education grades are not comparable! Education is not really an “open for all” race – make no mistakes. The family habits to study, the DNA, the discipline, wealth, confidence makes a lot of difference. So even the marks and the grades of candidates become non- comparable. Female candidates get thrown out of career race due to tyranny of marriage, pregnancy and household responsibilities.

So what’s the solution – Honestly I don’t know.

We are a unique nation. My guess is at no point in the history of mankind were so many downtrodden people tied by such longstanding oppressive customs, offered opportunities to break the glass ceiling at once. So there are no benchmarks and examples to follow.

I am just saying that the private sector recruiters need to be more aware of HOMs and non HOMs. We need to acknowledge that the biases exist. This will make us more open to plural definitions of “ideal candidates” and hopefully more and more non HOMs will get through.

Finally it’s the longest standing truth of economics that will prevail – you rather have little lesser wealth distribute equally than have more wealth distributed very unevenly. Eventually the ‘have nots’ will revolt if the exclusion is severe. Let’s not get to that point.

PS: the writer is belongs to the “open” category!

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