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.
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’.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.