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Diversifying diversity: A twist in the tale!

Aug 11, 2017

Reading a book is like embarking upon a conducted tour. The author navigates you through his or her chosen maze. Sometimes it could be a driver-cum-guide and other times the two could be different. It’s when you get the author outside his or her set script and make him or her work afresh – outside the plot – that you really discover the thought process. Thereby, inventing a whole new narrative. Moreover, if the author is prolific – diversity generally comes hand in hand. Diversifying such a diversity is what ‘unconducted’ tour leads you into…

Once again, Dr. V. Raghunathan and I were at the Ahmedabad Management Association (AMA) – this time to run a panel on “Women Leadership and Governance on Corporate Board”. A subject on which much has been written and talked about. The best thing I thought one could do was to cajole the author to take the audience on a road he had thus far not intended to travel. In return we all had a taste of a new and fascinating account.The weave was complex. Let me, however, pick three major threads. All flow from three books of his.

The Good Indian’s Guide to Queue Jumping: To give you a glimpse in Raghu’s words – In a nation of a billion people, there’s no escaping queues. We find ourselves in one every day — whether to board a flight, for a darshan at Tirupati or, if we are less fortunate, to fetch water from municipal taps. We no longer wait for years for a Fiat car or a rotary-dial phone, but there are still queues that may last days, like those for school admissions. And then there are the virtual ones at call centres in which there’s no knowing when we will make contact with a human. So if you can’t escape ’em, can you beat ’em? Mercifully, yes. (After all, our national hero once pronounced, ‘Hum jahan khade ho jaate hain, line wahin se shuru hoti hai,’ and we made it our motto.) And if so, how can you jump queues better? Which excuse works like a charm? How should you backtrack if someone objects? Does it help to make eye contact? Are we generally accommodating of queue-jumpers and why? More importantly, what does queue-jumping say about us as a people? Does it mean we lack a sense of fairness and basic concern for others? So, my googly to Raghu in this context was – should not women jump the queues so as to break the glass ceiling? Like my subsequent variations to the line and length of my deliveries, he not only answered with usual aplomb but made the cause of HeForShe explicit!

Don’t Sprint the Marathon: Life mimics a marathon more than it does a sprint. Obvious as that may appear, as proud and ambitious parents, we often push our children to excel in ways that may help them achieve some early successes – but may sap their stamina to endure the more difficult challenges which life may throw at them. Life is not a sprint, and it does not in the long run matter very much if you missed out on the best school, college or job as starters. As long as you give yourself the time to develop your personality and skills, you will still get where you want, at your own pace and perhaps far more happily. If we need more and more women not only at the CXO levels but on the boards too, don’t they need to run their marathon faster? His humility and consent towards the cause came to the forefront.

In Games Indians Play – borrowing some extracts from the foreword to the book by Mr N R Narayana Murthy – Raghu examines Indian social behaviour through game theory and behavioural economics. He shares insights into what makes people pursue selfish strategies and maximise personal gain at the expense of public good. Such an attitude has over time led to the present situation of public apathy for law and order, fractured sense of public good and corruption across all sections of Indian society. He was all yes to my suggestion as to whether he would consider a sequel – ‘Games Indian Men Play’ whereby chauvinist menfolk come in the way of women’s journey to the top!

Maybe this was stimulating enough for the versatile author to reconsider respective alternatives. By having batted deftly to my provocations – he not only diversified his diverse themes but took us all, that fine evening, through a memorable tour de force!

And then – a twist in the tale! A perfect weave can only be enhanced by an imperfect intrusion… Just as we were about to conclude a gripping interaction with the audience – jumped in this ‘gentleman’. Should not women, who are weaker than men, be kept away from the competitive world of business? Everyone other than him that evening, men and women, was stunned by his belief. Thankfully, a lone voice that the rest of the benign lot resisted reacting to. After all the convergence we witnessed that evening, someone still chose to remain doggedly prejudiced. I guess that diversifies diversity, too! Some anti-diversity…

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