Removing inequality: easier said than done?

The manufacturing company, which I joined as a Graduate Engineer Trainee (GET) immediately after graduation, had some interesting systems that were probably unique to that company at that time.

For example, in most companies, factory workers are frisked by a security guard at the gate every time they leave the company premises. Interestingly, only factory workers are subjected to frisking. Other employees are not subjected to frisking. But in this company, there was a box containing blue, red and colourless marbles just outside the Security office near the gate. Every employee leaving the factory had to pick up one marble and hand it over to the security guard at the gate. Those employees, irrespective of grade, who had picked a marble having the day’s designated colour, would be frisked.

I followed this system enthusiastically, delighted that all employees were being treated equally! However, one day, about 2 weeks after I had joined the company, I realised that I had not been frisked even once. It was extremely unlikely that I had not picked up the designated coloured marble even once in 10 days. I mentioned this to the other GETs, who all told me that they had also never been frisked.

From that day, I started observing closely how the ‘marble system’ was being implemented. I saw that only those workers who had picked a marble having the day’s designated colour were frisked. However, almost all the ‘helpers’ and some of the older workers insisted on being frisked irrespective of the colour of the marble they had picked. I also noticed that, other than workers, nobody was frisked.

On the third day, I happened to pick a marble of that day’s designated colour, but the security guard did not frisk me. When I insisted on being frisked, he just smiled and said, “No need, sir.” I didn’t want to make an issue of the matter there, so I walked away.

The next day, I discreetly asked the Security Officer why the security guards did not frisk anybody other than workers and also why almost all the ‘helpers’ and some of the older workers insisted on being frisked every day.

He replied that, soon after the ‘marble system’ had been introduced, some of the supervisors had repeatedly complained that the security guards touched them inappropriately while frisking. Since none of the workers had had any such problems with the same security guards, the Security Head realised that the supervisors considered it below their dignity to be frisked. Since they could not openly voice their displeasure, they were making false accusations. To avoid any unpleasantness, the Security Head unofficially advised the security guards to follow the ‘marble system’, but not to frisk anybody other than workers.

According to the Security Officer, the ‘helpers’ and some of the older workers insisted on being frisked every day because they felt that was the best way to ensure that they would not be suspected at all in the event of any theft. In any case, they had always been frisked daily before the introduction of the ‘marble system’, so they didn’t feel bad about being frisked daily even now.

I was disappointed that a wonderful initiative to ensure that all employees are treated equally had not succeeded. I was not sure if the management was aware of this. I realised that designing systems and putting them in place may be easy, but implementing the same systems in letter and spirit is much more difficult, especially when social prejudices are involved.

Have you come across initiatives, similar to the ‘marble system’, which seek to remove inequality?

Have these initiatives succeeded fully, partly or not at all?

What should be done to make such initiatives succeed?

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12 thoughts on “Removing inequality: easier said than done?

  1. Designing and putting in place good control systems is just not enough, its answer lies in its successful implementation. i would always carry a duly authorized ‘gatepass’ for anything being taken out of the premises. this was enforced irrepective of the personality involved.

  2. Quite an interesting incident that you have narrated here clearly highlighting how the perceived differences between the workers and supervisors not only in the minds of the security personnel but in the minds of the parties themselves have played out. While it is no surprise that the supervisors thought of themselves ‘above par’ and came up with excuses for not being frisked, what piqued me was the fact that the workers volunteered to be frisked just to be on the safer side.

  3. I think it is part of the implementer’s duty while creating the process. Anything new is never accepted easily by people, because it’s a ‘change’ from the usual. Especially, if it’s ‘yet another process’. So, the person/authority who’s bringing in the change has to be above all the people being enacted upon. In your case, if the orders had come from, let’s say, your MD/CEO, people would have objected but the Security Officer would not have taken the ‘unofficial’ measure. And, in due course of time, the older/higher personnels would also have got used to the change.

    Also, I think it’s important to keep re-visiting the old processes to ensure they are not outdated. It’s very common a problem that some practices are followed because they have always been there, but the real importance or objective has been lost.

    • I agree. Unfortunately, in manufacturing units, much greater importance is given to productivity, quality, turnover, profitability, etc., hence the implementation of initiatives like the ‘marble system’ is delegated to junior officials.

  4. Social prejudice is an ugly thing. Short of a brain transplant which will hopefully bring about a broad-minded attitude, I don’t know what will work. I’ve been embarrassed to receive privileges that I thought would be more beneficial to the shop floor guys. Sigh.

  5. A very interesting system. I have been on many visits to the manufacturing units (pharmaceuticals) and even there only the workers were frisked at the security gate!! It is sad that such inequality exists even today. And yes, the workers volunteering to be checked is in their interest only coz if anything is misplaced or lost, the blame would be on them only!!

    • Unfortunately, the workers have to put up with this discrimination because they need their jobs. They feel it’s a small price to pay for having a secure job with decent pay and working conditions.

      They volunteered to be frisked because frisking is over in a few seconds. An accusation of dishonesty, even if not proved, could be a stigma that remains for life.

  6. Oh dear – everyone here is in a bad situation and I can see that attempts to make things better could actually end up making things worse – for the very people being discriminated against in the first place!

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