Indian IT’s growing pains
As Indian companies grow and start recruiting more
foreign employees at the frontlines, they need to ensure that the latter are
sensitised to nuances of culture, customs, ethnicity, language, etc, writes
A recent headline in a leading Indian financial daily,
titled “Patni UK’s Indian exec files racial discrimination suit” caught my
attention. The online article talked about a lawsuit filed by an ex-employee
of Patni and went on to add, “Patni has become the first company in the
Indian IT industry to have a racial discrimination case filed against it.
The case has been filed by an Indian, Anil Ramachandani, against the head of
Patni Computer Systems (UK).” Coming less than a year after the now (in)famous
sexual harassment lawsuit against former Infosys’ executive Phaneesh Murthy
was settled by the company, this alleged incident of discrimination—if taken
up by the court—will have far reaching repercussions not just for Patni but
for the entire Indian IT industry. This comes at an interesting time when
the industry is finally showing signs of maturing—from being body-shops
sourcing talents to foreign employers to system integrators who can source
entire project life cycles.
To set the context, the ‘big
three’ of Indian IT—TCS, Wipro and Infosys—are already
racing to become billion dollar entities by the close of this fiscal year.
With operations in dozens (if not more) of countries and offices in scores
of other locales, even the next 20 or 30 largest Indian software and
services companies are not too far behind.
Many Indian IT companies are operating on a truly global
scale. Now, as any consultant in international business will tell you, the
moment a business steps out of the confines of the local operating
environment, the rules of the game change. When Indian companies operate in
the global marketplace, they are bound to act under the laws and customs of
not just the home office but also that of the host country. Actually, the
general perception is that the bar is set higher—for international
companies—than that of other companies operating locally in foreign
As Indian companies continue to expand operations
worldwide, they will have to adapt their management practices and strategies
to compete in the global marketplace. Managing projects, systems and
technologies has been the forte of Indian companies. However, until recently
(even as recent as a couple of years ago), most Indian software companies
employed Indians in key positions in global positions around the world.
An onsite posting or assignment was a plum perk that the
companies offered budding MBAs and other consultants wishing to move towards
marketing or sales.
During the recent past, Indian companies have begun to
realise the significance of having “local hands in local markets” and have
started recruiting sales and marketing people in local markets to represent
them. An unintended consequence of this is the need, now, to not only manage
employees from different cultures but also the reverse—such foreign
employees have to learn to manage the idiosyncrasies of their Indian
The discussion is moot, but some industry pundits still
wonder if Phaneesh Murthy’s tryst with his (then) secretary was just an over
blown-up issue of cross-cultural communication failure. Similarly, altho-ugh
details of the Patni case are still emerging, and one cannot make any
judgment call on it; could it be another instance of breakdown of
communication at some level?
Many traditional multinationals operating in multiple
locations require managers and executives to undergo cultural sensitivity
training and need them to be aware of issues pertaining to management of
emplo-yees, peers, suppliers, vendors and others from different cultures.
Simi-larly, as Indian companies grow and start recruiting more foreign
emp-loyees at the frontlines, they need to ensure that the latter are
sensitised to nuances of culture, customs, ethnicity, language, etc.
They also need to understand the significance of ‘equal
opportunity’ as is prescribed by law in most western nations. For instance,
in the US, most large employers proudly claim that they are “Equal
Opportunity Employers,” and add the following disclaimer in most marketing
and recruitment material: “It is our policy to provide equal employment
opportunity to all qualified individuals without regard to their race,
colour, religion, national origin, age or sex, in all personnel actions
including recruitment, evaluation, selection, promotion, compensation,
training and termination.”
Such equal opportunity works both ways. As the Patni
incident unfolds, it will be interesting to see why an Indian employee sued
his Indian employer for discriminating against him. The Devil, as the saying
goes, is in the detail.