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Article by Mohan Babu

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 Mohan Babu

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 countries.

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 co-workers.

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.





About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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