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12 Books On Diversity And Inclusion For Indian Managers At Work

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By Rajkanya Mahapatra

Modern workplaces in India, especially the ones committing to getting Diversity and Inclusion right, have a lot of ground to cover. We’re a country of a billion-plus where people speak different languages, practice different religions, and have varied ascribed and avowed identities. To begin with, it’s important to establish that diversity and inclusion are two distinct processes that require equal time and effort.

Focusing on one aspect will not address the other. In the Indian context, it’s important to build perspective on social and lived realities of the people employers are wanting to recruit to be able to build the right kind of D&I policies for their organisations. D&I policies cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach, they will need to be made differently for women, persons with disabilities, people from minority religions and ethnicities, and so on.

The twelve books on this list are a starter pack that should get you thinking about how to approach the issue of D&I at the workplace. This list is a mixed bag that offers advice from senior professionals and industry experts on D&I, personal experiences of individuals from marginalised identities and backgrounds and critical analysis of social systems and how they function to maintain the status quo.

1) The Loudest Duck: Moving Beyond Diversity While Embracing Differences To Achieve Success At Work – Laura A. Liswood

Published in 2009, ‘The Loudest Duck…’ has been lauded for its anecdotes and accessible language. The book pushes the reader to think about cultural differences positively and how they can be used to facilitate work. Liswood makes the essential distinction between tokenism and diversity and makes a compelling case for inclusion when she points out how “the best companies have figured out how to ensure that everyone gets heard.” At 164 pages, the book promises to be a swift and enlightening read. To give you an idea of Liswood’s approach, here’s a video of her explaining diversity through the ‘Noah’s Ark paradox’.

2) Seeing Like A Feminist – Nivedita Menon

Menon takes on the challenging task of simplifying the complex and nefarious ways in which patriarchy operates in Indian society by adopting an intersectional feminist approach. For an employer invested in D&I, this book is a must-read as it will allow them to build a historical understanding of the Indian woman’s systematic subordination and exclusion across caste and class locations. To be able to build inclusive policies for women, it’s important to understand the challenges they’ve been facing, how these challenges extend to the workplace, and the kind of policies required to fix them.

3) The Power Of Disability: 10 Lessons for Surviving, Thriving and Changing The World – Al Etmanski

Etmanski shares inspiring stories of 100 personalities with disabilities who’ve left an indelible mark on the world. A reviewer on the popular website GoodReads said, “I thought I had a fairly open perspective of disability until I read Al Etmanski’s book. In every chapter, I experienced my personal views expanding and deepening; hidden biases I never realized I had were revealed in a very helpful and surprisingly non-judgmental way by the author.”

About 34 lakh persons with disabilities are employed in some capacity in India. It’s essential for employers to build perspective on their needs and find ways to not only recruit more PwDs (diversity) but also ensure the best ways to unlock their full potential at work (inclusion).

4) But You Don’t Look Like A Muslim – Rakshanda Jalil

Jalil tackles stereotypes against Muslims through 40 essays spread across the themes of literature, culture, politics and religion. In the first chapter titled, ‘My Father Didn’t Take The Train To Pakistan’, Jalil talks about how she was bullied growing up for her Muslim identity and found herself constantly trying to prove her ‘Indianness’ to others. It’s important to understand that workplaces are like microcosms of the society we live in. The inequalities and problems that plague society find their way into the workplace as well.

For a country as diverse as India, it’d be good for employers to move beyond the occasional celebration of a minority religion’s festivals to actually addressing if people from that religion feel safe and heard within the workplace. Reading ‘But You Don’t Look Like A Muslim’ is a good place to start.

5) Fearless Freedom – Kavita Krishnan

In 250+ pages, Krishnan dismantles the patriarchal idea that women are safe when they’re at home. In addition to that, she discusses that one thing that women have been made to give up in exchange for this supposed ‘safety’ – their freedom. Krishnan argues for greater equality and personal freedom. She also discusses the impact this patriarchal imposition has on women’s absence from the public sphere. This book will help employers not only develop an understanding of how unsafe the private and public sphere continually is for women but also get ideas on how to devise ways to make the situation better.

6) Joothan: An Untouchable’s Life – Om Prakash Valmiki

Valmiki’s autobiographical account ‘Joothan’ is an unsettling and painful read about the author’s experiences of growing up Dalit in modern India. The book should come as a nasty jab at your conscience as Valmiki details the many institutional and societal injustices that Dalit people have to face in the country on an everyday basis. The caste system, for hundreds of years, has decided the kind of social capital/privileges a Hindu is born into.

It’s an exploitative system that has meted out physical and structural violence against the Dalits. For any Indian employer focusing on the D&I mandate, it’s of utmost importance they tackle the issue of caste by systematically educating themselves about the privileges of the dominant demographic at the workplace and then develop policies that focus on D&I for Dalits.

7) The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story – A. Revathi

The transgender or hijra community in India has long been at the receiving end of systemic exclusion, violence and oppression in India. Published in 2010, Revathi’s autobiography reveals the journey of a person who didn’t conform to society’s gender norms and expectations. Originally written in Tamil, the author takes you through her journey from being born as Doraiswamy to becoming Revathi and a life marked by discrimination, humiliation and violence. A compelling must-read for anyone, especially employers, to educate themselves about the experiences of a trans person in India. All D&I policies should never be based on assumptions and should always be informed by experiences of the concerned group.

8) Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People – Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald

Our sociocultural experiences inform our understanding of complex systems like religion, gender, caste, sexuality, and more. Psychologists Mahzarin and Greenwald, walk the reader through the hidden biases they may have come to develop in their lives and how they may be harming those less privileged than them in ways they’re not aware of.

The authors employ the Implicit Association Test (IAT), a rather lengthy questionnaire that asks participants to group words based on the questions asked to reveal pleasant and unpleasant associations they may have made about things and people. Even though this book is rooted in the American context, it’s meant for some gentle privilege-checking for all and comes highly recommended for anyone trying to be better and do better. All the more necessary when one is responsible for devising inclusive policies on behalf of others.

9) Divergent Mind – Jenara Nerenberg

Written by journalist and founder of The Neurodiversity Project, Nerenberg writes about the many forms of neurodiversity – ADHD, Autism, sensory processing disorder, synesthesia and how it impacts womxn. Formal spaces like schools, colleges and workplaces are woefully unequipped to recognise neurodiversity and create a conducive environment for those who have them. This book features on the list as it pushes us to think beyond the experiences of those most prominently disadvantaged by the system while developing D&I policies.

10) The History of Doing: An Illustrated Account of Movements for Women’s Rights and Feminism in India, 1800 – 1990 – Radha Kumar

If there was one engaging read that could bring you up-to-speed on women’s movements across the world – it’d be this book. Starting in the 19th century, the book uses photos, illustrations and news clippings to take you through the many global milestones that women before us have achieved so we could have the rights we do today. The book will put faces to names and establish bit-by-bit the hardships that women have had to face and how they overcame them. Any Indian employer will immensely benefit from a quick read that is guaranteed to not just make you think but also push you to into taking important matters of gender into consideration.

11) The Economic Case For LGBT Equality: Why Fair and Equal Treatment Benefits Us All – M. V. Lee Badgett

Fresh on the stands, Badgett goes beyond moral arguments to make a strong case for LGBT equality as she sheds light on the economic losses incurred due to discriminatory practices against the queer community. She explains the necessity of creating an inclusive work environment for businesses to ensure long-term financial prosperity. Using research from the World Bank, she addresses anti-LGBT practices in Canada, India, Philippines and South Africa. Badgett ends the book with a list of ‘next-steps’ for employers on how they should think of inclusion when it comes to the LGBT community.

12) Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Narrating Dalit Women’s Testimonios – Sharmila Rege

In nine chapters, Rege sheds light on Dalit patriarchy and its impact on women from scheduled social groups. Starting from the 1920s, the book documents the rise of Dalit movements through testimonies from female Dalit writers from the Mahar, Gopal and Gondhali communities in Maharashtra. In addition to Valmiki’s autobiography, this book will help build a historical understanding of the caste system from an intersectional perspective.

No experience is too niche to be beyond the scope of D&I. As more and more women join the workforce, it becomes even more necessary to understand that any given point in time, there are multiple identities/positions that a woman occupies and it’s important to ensure that they’re all equally considered.

The road to achieving D&I is a long one and will entail a rewarding but uncomfortable journey of constant learning and unlearning. Hopefully, the books on this list will make that journey easier.

About the author: At Ungender, Rajkanya writes about the many ways modern workplaces can become inclusive. As a graduate student, she’s exploring the location of gender in issues of cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and violent extremism. She’s currently the Editor of Ungender Insights. 

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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