Multiculturalism: Worksites and MSMEs

Multiculturalism is a term that is akin to Indian society. With diverse cultures, languages, religions and communities, multiculturalism has its reflections in every sphere of social life in India. However, as can be seen throughout, there are counter voices to multicultural existence, as was raised, for instance, under the leadership of the Thackeray clan in India's economic nerve centre, Mumbai.

Living with multiculturalism and diversity has now come to be a fact of life. Like a beautiful garden, with flowers of varied hue, Indian multiculturalism comprises the harmonious coexistence of diverse groups of people, without crossing any established line or rules. At any point in time, if a cultural intrusion or crossing of the cultural border occurs, there might be a possibility of quick darkening of the clouds leading to an atmosphere conducive to the falling of flowers in the garden, as happened recently in Mumbai and in other parts of the country on several occasions in the history of post independent era.

However, Indian multiculturalism is indeed an experience, something that Indians have to live together, as Hindus (80%), Muslims (13.4%), Christians (2.3%) and Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and others constituting the rest. Also on caste lines there are divisions within the majority religion as Scheduled Castes (SCs) (16.2 %)and Scheduled Tribes (STs) (8.2 %) as well as 37 to 40 % Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Above all, there are linguistic minorities and majorities.

Though we are aware of India's demographic profile, as above, no sufficient data is available for a multicultural profiling of Indian work forces and work sites, especially within the private sector, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, where majority of Indians work. When it comes to diversity at worksites, we are fed with gender data and women participation that stands at 13. 31 % on an all India level, as per the 3rd census of Small Scale Industries by the D.C of SSI, 2001-02.

However, multiculturalism is something that we could drew strength from, especially in the context of our contemporary global market, which is in an ever expanding mode, with the proliferation as well as increased application of Information and Communications Technology; faster and cheaper connectivity in terms of travel, transport; easier and faster movement of people; easier and reduced restrictions for international business, export and import. It is the treaties agreed upon by the nations under the aegis of World Trade Organization (WTO) that facilitated an enhanced economic integration at a world level, leading to possibilities for more and more cultural interactions at all levels. This being the background of the recent spurt of interest in multiculturalism, it is to be noted that India stands poised at the top of the spectrum with the length and breadth of its diversity, than any other country in the world, and multiculturalism is a much celebrated aspect of the Indian social fabric.

Though we talk much about unity in diversity and our rich diverse cultural heritage since the ancient days, we need to see it more realistically, how far is this so called diversity rooted to the ground and tested by fire? How can we make our multicultural existence more meaningful and strong? How can we nurture it in a better way? How far is multiculturalism reflected in our offices, workshops and other worksites as well as in in boardrooms? We also need to carefully analyse aspects like discrimination in work places due to the 'different' cultural background of an employee? Being a multicultural society with several centuries of experience living with it, do we have a policy on handling issues related to multiculturalism? If we don't, is it because we don't want to address this issue since we fear we would be opening a Pandora's Box as we did, with caste based reservation-quota policy?

Though this article does not try and answer all of the above, it would touch upon some of these aspects, at least partially. Especially the more practical and relevant ones, like managing diversity at small and medium enterprise levels, it being the largest employment generating sector that absorbs around 90 percent of the working population in the country.

The Indian psyche is conditioned to be doubtful of the unfamiliar and see outside social groups as a threat. Therefore, it's a real challenge to manage a society with such diversity. But we need to note that this social reality, multiculturalism, if managed well, could be an asset with immense potential and could be transformed into an opportunity.

The caste, creed, community and language proclivities of an employer are often reflected in the recruitment and HR policies of an organization in India. It comes often to our notice that, caste and community prejudiced Indian mindset, even in this 21st century pre-occupied and bonded with a Hamara Jati Vala or Gaon Vala approach which is something that we could not do away yet, may be we would never be able to, is a real threat to national integration, peace, progress and development.'. Modern education and exposure have not really empowered us. Is it that we have not progressed or grown up beyond caste, community, religious differences? This narrow mindedness has its reflections at all spheres of life. Be it politics, society, government, modern organizations and as well wherever Indians migrate? Are we a free and an empowered group of people and can be called as a nation?

These clutches that bound our progress ' feelings of caste, religion, language etc ' have its ramifications even in the smallest of the small units of industrial productions units, enterprises, businesses and trading houses. Nobody is exempted in this case. The Indian mindset that we mentioned above is applicable across all sectors ' large scale industries (LSEs), Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and Social Enterprises or NGOs.

Caste system has a significant role in limiting our workplaces as less multicultural. Occupations are organized on the basis of caste. Majority of the work in areas where physical labor, construction, sanitary related, cleaning, sewage removal etc often left to those at the bottom of the pyramid, SCs, STs and others. Traditionally, some of the sectors such as leather, recycling industries, bidi labor etc and in some of the craft industries such as brassware, glassware, cotton and silk embroidery and the making of perfume etc are considered to be dominated by Muslims. Promotion of clusters in recent times need to be seen if they are an extension of caste and community oriented isolated development, where there is less multiculturalism at workplaces? Obviously, then knowledge based enterprises would be dominated by those at the top of the pyramid. This is not an attempt to establish that everything is wrong with Indian worksite and they are multicultural, as one cannot deny the changing equations at the worksites with the spread of educational opportunities for people across all spectrums.

As mentioned, social enterprises are too no exception, but indeed more stringent to continue with the models of the past as a number of them wants to keep- on going with traditions and practices that they are used to be. Most of them came up as societies or trusts as per the requirement of Societies registration Act 1860 or Indian Trusts Act for setting up as social enterprises or not-for profit organizations. Large number of these religious and community run enterprises, indeed, has to ensure that their people should manage, work and get benefited from their social /religious/ community enterprise, there may be exceptions. But by and large the Indian mindset does not willingly embrace multiculturalism, unless or until situation so demands. For instance, when a suitable candidate fulfilling all requirements, especially ethnic and religious, is not found, someone from another caste sub-caste or community or linguistic minority would be preferred. Influence of community or caste aspects on our electoral politics is not an unknown thing.

But today when we look in to the question of multiculturalism we need to focus at the challenge of global market, which is indeed a multicultural entity. Hence, students of business study managing multiculturalism in various contexts such as mergers and acquisitions, migrant labor management etc for instance. The global market however, is multicultural, as are modern consumers. Therefore, it is needless to say, customers would enjoy dealing with a company or organization equipped with employers who can deal with a diverse and eclectic customer base, as they would understand diversity better, communicate accordingly and work things out effortlessly in such a way as to benefit the company and the customers. This context is particularly relevant to companies, since the challenges of a global market are many and multicultural is one of them.

Knowledge based enterprises, IT and ITES companies, technical and technological companies often can have a multicultural workforce than others. An IT or an ITES industry for instance, which is currently focused in the cities which could draw its workforce from cosmopolitan set , can often have a population mix, which would be multicultural in nature. There may be exceptions, but most such companies hire people on the basis of the work that they can do, and the skills they have. So here, the ability to work, and not narrow considerations, becomes paramount. While this could be possible scenario, however there are studies suggest differently, for instance, Vigneswara Ilavarasan's study titled 'Is Indian software workforce a case of uneven and combined development?' observes that The Indian IT workforce appears homogeneous as an average worker would be a male, comes from urban or a semi-urban locality and mostly follows Hinduism, and belongs to the upper socio-economic stratum of Indian society.' But to further substantiate any of these as a general case, there exist a lacuna of sufficient data since, profiling of Indian workers on religious, caste or linguistic lines are not available. Hence, we cannot really say anything particularly as a conclusive statement regarding how far Indian companies are a real multicultural locations.

As the Indian companies interact with global companies, a large number of mergers and acquisitions are happening in these times. Upto 25% of foreign Investment is also permitted in Indian MSME sector, which opened up further possibilities for more cultural interaction on a massive scale. A number of Indian companies have acquired MNCs and vice versa. These would be a typical case of managing a multicultural labor force and HR management practices come into play. It is to be noted that with globalization with the current communication revolution propelled by Information and Communications Technology (ICT), opened up an avenue for people from around the world to communicate with each other more easily at a very economical way. Today, there are non-Indians working in Indian IT companies around the world as well as with migration, a large number of them working around the world in diverse cultural environment.

An Indian company, Tata Consultancy Services, a leading IT and IT Enabled Services provider has more than, 100,000 workers as of first quarter 2008 from 64 different nationalities. And 9.2 per cent of all of them are foreign nationals. Similar is the case for other Indian IT & ITES giants like Infosys, WIPRO etc. Infosys for instance initiated a program called Global Talent Program (GTP), through which it recruits citizens of other countries from wherever it operates.

The trend of foreign nationalities coming and working in Indian IT, Pharma, engineering, telecom, finance, FMCG, automobile, steel and host of other high end technology driven sectors as experts, consultants as well as full time workers is the trend today . A large number of companies in the above fields including Small and Medium sector, not just LSEs alone, could employee and use the services of other nationals.

It is also to be noted that a large number of students coming as interns in different Indian companies of all sizes is another phenomena. If hiring from abroad is something that is happening for quite some time in India and thereby a growing multicultural workforce in the IT and ITES sectors primarily and within internet economy enclaves such as Bangalore or Hyderabad, whereas within India since long there exists a heterogeneous labor force coming from diverse cultural background.

With every passing day, Global market is getting extended and possibilities and opportunities that it throws open are also growing. With Information and Communications Technology, for instance, reach of the market is also getting expanded. With that customers are becoming more multicultural. When a company, small or big that may be, as it can reach out to the global market, is indeed serving a multicultural clientele. Hence a company that has a multicultural workforce could be at an advantageous position than the one which doesn't have.

There is a great need to make Indian workplaces more multicultural and extend them beyond IT, ITES, technology oriented and knowledge based enterprises. We must seriously think about how could a reflection of multiculturalism be brought about in the worksites, offices etc.

Maitreyi Bordia Das in her study on minority status and employment outcomes brought forth her observation regarding minority and ethnic enclaves by Muslims and Dalits in India to avoid labor market discrimination. This study is pointing towards a reality that we all know lack of openness to embrace multiculturalism at every level. Housing policy, industrial policy, HR, education policy etc all should address the need to promote multiculturalism.

But for making MSME worksites more multicultural, the key is to make employers aware of the need for multiculturalism, so they can implement it voluntarily. To do this, the government must, of course, provide incentives to industry, trade and business establishments. In India, 25 million workers are part of the MSME sector, as per the 3rd census of small scale industries conducted in 2001-2 by the Development Commissioner of Small Scale Industries. This figure does not include Own Account Enterprises, Non-Directory and Directory enterprises that provide employment to around 65 million people. Thus, the MSME segment of the economy is a force to be reckoned with. With foreign collaboration and tie-ups are possible with up to 25% foreign investment in MSMEs, multiculturalism has now become an issue that we need to give prime focus. It is to be again noted that as Indians often more show extra courtesies and considerations to foreign nationals often could be a cause for rankles among the local workers. In addition, anti-diversity and developments as mentioned in the beginning of this article, i.e., Thackeray clan's recent anti North Indian activities, and such other tendencies would send wrong signals in companies that are planning for tie-ups and investments in India.

As far as Multiculturalism to be really successful, the policy strategy should be directly oriented towards MSMEs, without which it would be meaningless. It is not just the industry that needs to be targeted. State should also target Social enterprises or not for profit organizations which are registered under various societies' registration Acts. According to available data there are more than 1.2 million not for profit organization in India and they also should make their job sites more multicultural.

How could we address the challenge of an inclusive labor market within MSME sector as an opportunity? It is not an easy task. We need to look at international best practices, policies in other countries such as Canada, Australia as well as European Union. Encouragement and promotion of companies that practices an inclusive labor policy may be given priority and preferential treatment while dealing with the regulatory agencies. And for NGOs , including religious or faith based societies, in addition to those secular NGOs, it have to be made mandatory, before they are being granted projects, that they follow an inclusive labor policy. Also, for MSMEs, positive incentives like tax exemptions can be considered. In addition, loan disbursals can be made at better terms for those abiding MSMEs. Most importantly, propagation of this concept at extensive manner through trade, industry associations and chambers has to be done as a priority since this would make an impact. It may be considered that collection of labor data for making appropriate multicultural profiling of organizations, MSMEs can be done while 4th census of MSMEs being conducted in a couple of years time by the DC of MSME ministry.

However, the benefit the nation would gain from such an initiative, promoting multicultural labor force, would be, in the long run, something that one cannot imagine. 


More by :  Dr. P Koshy

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