Some biases are actually just strategic business decisions

HR leaders point out how certain strategic decisions or preferences may be misconstrued as biasness of some sort.

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Gender bias is quite common, and discussions on the same have been done and dusted. It appears that many organisations have realised why gender diversity is important and most are addressing their own sets of challenges in some way or the other.

There are some very common and uncommon biases which often get neglected at the workplace, but their existence cannot be denied.

From the hiring processes to performance reviews and succession planning, such biases have been present across levels in organisations.

As per the HR leaders HRKatha spoke to, irrespective of the industry the company operates in or the type of company, these biases present a big challenge and need to be tackled.

Some common biases existing in Indian workplaces

Language – English is the corporate language of India, although it is not our native language. We are a diverse nation with people coming from different backgrounds, regions and cultures. However, at the workplace, people who speak a language other than the one spoken by the collective workforce tend to be discriminated against.

Location – At some point, organisations do prefer to hire people only from certain parts of the country. “I have seen some organisations preferring to hire people from the southern part of India in certain roles and positions, simply because they have a misconception that South Indians are better at certain skills,” says Chandrasekhar Mukherjee, CHRO, Bhilosa Industries.

Caste and religion – Unbelievably, CHROs do agree that some promoter-led companies tend to discriminate against employees based on caste and religion. “Once I worked for a company, which only preferred promoting or hiring Brahmins or Tamilians in certain leadership positions,” asserts Mukherjee.

Last year itself, a brand such as Apple was embroiled in a case where an Indian-origin employee was humiliated during her tenure by her two bosses, one from India and the other from Pakistan. She filed a case against the Company alleging that she was kept out of important meetings, denied bonuses and ignored despite her good performance, simply because of her strong belief in her religion.

Institutes and colleges – Mukherjee recalls an instance when one of his colleagues interviewed an HR leader from the hospitality industry, who mentioned that he once applied for a CHRO role in one of the startups. He cleared the first two rounds and reached the final round, where the CEO and promoter were supposed to interview the person. However, just a day before the interview, the consultant in charge of the whole hiring process told the HR leader that since he was not an IIM pass out, his candidature was ruled out. The consultant told the HR leader that the promoter wanted only IIM and IIT pass outs for the CHRO role.

Clearly, such biases do exist in the industry.

“I often see that non-IIM bosses and their subordinates who are IIM alumni rarely get along with each other. This happens even in big multinational companies,” admits Mukherjee.

“There are biases in Indian workplaces, but discrimination basis cast or religion is more prevalent in certain promoter-led firms,” tells Jacob Jacob, CHRO, Malabar Group.

Why do such biases exist?

Biases tend to develop at the workplace because people find comfort in being around others with similar mindsets and thought processes.

This is true not just for India, but other nations too. Biases exist in different forms in the West too. “Everybody wants comfort, and therefore, people try to steer clear of anything that is contradictory to their line of thinking. It is the general belief that it is easier to manage people from similar backgrounds as they are unlikely to challenge the establishment,” says Mukherjee.

Are some strategic hiring decisions wrongly termed as bias?

Talking to HRKatha, Sharad Sharma, CHRO, Pramerica Life Insurance, states that none of the companies he has worked with so far have ever harboured any kind of bias related to caste, religion, states or location. However, he has observed companies preferring people from certain institutes or fluent in a particular language over others for certain roles. He believes that such decisions are strategic and cannot really be termed as biasness.

Citing the example of certain BPOs, Sharma says that they prefer hiring from tier two or three cities more because they find the element of stickiness in them. “People coming from small cities are found to be high on being longer with the company. So they are more preferred by such companies,” says Sharma.

Giving another example, Sharma says that certain companies also have the tendency to pick freshers from select premiere institutes. That is because they have a proven track record of churning out better quality candidates as compared to other institutes. “I would not term this as bias. This is more a matter of preference and strategic decision making in the interest of the company,” says Sharma.

“This practice of hiring from some specific institutes may be based on the close affiliation between the company and the institute, and so, it really depends on the company,” adds Jacob.

Sharma also mentions cases where the job role demands a certain set of people in that role. “If a company wants to expand in a specific region of India, it would naturally prefer to hire local people with understanding of the local or native language. That would be a demand of the business and not bias,” says Sharma.

“I would say, being completely closed to a certain set of people is bias. If a company prefers some people over others because the job or the business demands so, it can’t be termed as bias,” clarifies Sharma.

Biasness is a culture issue, which can only be dealt with when the solution comes from the top. “To solve these issues, there is only one way — a mindset change amongst the leadership,” suggests Jacob.

Challenges will continue to emerge, and as Sharma points out, “There will always be people who are reluctant to change”.

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