Privilege – and the Corporation

Like with most things in life, chance and choice came together to make Privilege a topic of debate in June.

It is of course PRIDE month, it is Junteenth later this week – and the world has been ablaze with outrage since George Floyd died, and then there was the unfortunate suicide of the talented Sushant Singh Rajput last Sunday.

Privilege is a treacherous word. It has existed for ever. The caste system in India predates the modern calendar. Racism came to the US in 1619 with the first boat full of slaves. It exists in Bollywood and in Boardrooms – just as much as in our community, institutions and Residents Welfare Associations.

At a deeper level, Privilege is deeply rooted in the quality of food, education, exposure, recognition and opportunity that one gets – even before one is an adult. The outrage comes from the inherent unfairness and lack of justice that the under-privileged feel – when they sense systemic racism or entrenched bias that keeps them from getting what they believe is theirs and / or deserved.

As D&I takes firmer root in the 21st century organisation, one of the biggest risks Boards face is in not removing the deep-rooted barriers that keep Privilege intact. From being a professional and a parent, I believe we all need to take cognizance of a few of these issues as we deal with work & go through life

  1. Accountability & impact – it is not enough to have a D&I or a LGBTQ program and forums (it is a very important first step though!), companies must chart a course towards making our workplaces look more like our societies – 50% women, fair representation to LGBTQ, different sections of society etc. It is not just about representation – it is about progression, attrition and hiring as well. Equal opportunity for all.
  2. Stereotypes are biases too – like women professionals of colour being appointed to head D&I roles, or pale-male-stale caricatures. Everyone has a diversity story. Self-acceptance and self-awareness makes leaders act with sensitivity and empathy. The tone at the top drives the whisper at the water cooler. Making sure all voices have a say at the table is what defines culture. Actions must speak.
  3. Mental health must be a conversation – many work environments require us to “dress the part”. When we inhibit our whole self, we end up sending a representative of our self to work every day. When we are not able to reconcile with who we become despite having done what it takes – and then realise how far we have come from what we really desired… it may lead the best of us to a breaking point. It must be OK for us to talk about how we feel, at such points. “How are you” must become more than just a greeting.
  4. Failure is fine – should no longer just be the cleverest thing that every successful entrepreneur and VC ever said. It really should be. As managers, parents, teachers, policy makers – we have to reward effort, encourage the right attitude, tolerate genius… especially if it is different to ours. As Indian (Asian?) parents, we have to let our children fail ever so often. As the other truism goes – prepare the kid for the road, not the other way around.
  5. We have come far, but we have a long way to go. We live in a freer society than our parents did; but there is life beyond the transition from IQ to EQ. A lot of public commentary has focused on the importance of resilience in recent weeks. In a rapidly transforming world, analysis (IQ) and intuition (EQ) may need to come together and deliver a Resilience Quotient to capture the ability of companies and individuals to respond faster and recover better from every crisis

By all accounts, George Floyd shouldn’t have had his life taken and Sushant shouldn’t have had to take his life.

But if we don’t try harder and be braver about saying what needs saying and doing what needs doing, how are we doing our bit to make it better for the generation we are bringing up.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Amit Narayan
Partner & Managing Director, South Asia at Control Risks
Amit manages consultants who design, develop and implement risk-mitigation strategies for companies across South Asia. He has advised clients on political and regulatory risk, pre-investment risk, reputational DD, forensic investigations, public policy and stakeholder mapping. Amit has worked in Edelman in India and Burson-Marsteller in Singapore. He has also worked in-house at Vodafone in Singapore and The Walt Disney Company in Hong Kong.

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