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?