Diversity for growth | By Dr Abdus Sattar Abbasi

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Diversity for growth

IT is quite a natural phenomenon in human society that people venerate group norms and values and remain committed and loyal to their respective cluster.

People consider group norms and values as a protection because this relates them with an identity thus they abide with collective preferences.

Group affiliation promotes harmony among members sometimes at the cost of serious compromises and even sacrifices.

Rob Wengrzyn argues, “Individuals being part of a group conform to the norms, or rules, specific to that group.

In groups there are forces that shape how we behave while in that group. These forces influence how we act as individuals without us knowing if there are ‘things going on behind the curtain’ that consciously or subconsciously impact how we act.

” Studies in organizational behaviour appreciate recognizing group dynamics yet advocate inculcating culture of diversity while keeping group norms & values intact.

Diversity and group identification collectively have the potential to bring value to organizational operations.

People always try to guard group reputation while diversity brings strength, innovation, expansion and competitive advantage for the group, the organization and the society.

Today we can’t deny the significance of diversity and inclusion for the success of any organization.

Rose Velazquez from Louisiana State University suggests, “Diversity in the workplace means that an organization should employ a diverse team of people that’s reflective of the society in which it exists and operates.

Inclusion is always an achievement of any work environment where all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.

Inclusion is the practice of providing everyone with equal access to opportunities and resources.

Workplaces that prioritize diversity and inclusion efforts have been statistically proven to be safer, happier and more productive work environments.

” In the context of diversity utilizing group dynamics wisely can certainly bring significant benefits for the organization.

When it comes to religious orientation, it is quite hard to imagine escape from a given group, faction or sect.

According to the estimates almost 55% of the population of Pakistan follows Barelvi school of thought, 25% Deobandi, 15% Shia and 5% Ahl-i-Hadith school of thought.

When we look at the composition of Shariah Boards of Islamic Banks in Pakistan, it reflects dominance of one specific madrassa and its affiliates from a Deobandi school of thought, except a few exceptions which results in several challenges for Islamic banking sector.

Some madaris within the Deobandi school of thought, Barelvi school of thought and other religious factions feel excluded from the Islamic banking sector and opportunities it offers.

This perception trickles down to their respective followers thus hinders their participation in the Islamic banking sector.

On the other hand, this perception of exclusion also results in strategic loss for the Islamic banking and finance (IBF) that religious scholars of other schools of thought remain away from the conceptual and practical developments taking place in the sector thus impedes their learning to better understand IBF and extend that knowledge to their followers.

Equal opportunity is the hallmark of the modern business environment. The regulator has to make sure that the perception of exclusion or discrimination in Shariah governance bodies of IBF sector is eliminated and inclusion of every religious school of thought is ensured.

According to Jawad Syed from University of Kent UK, “Affirmative Action (AA) is an effort to undo the unfair practices of the past in the organizations.

AA is a means to level the playing field for females, excluded groups, individuals with disabilities, underprivileged classes and minorities as a logical step towards equal employment.

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) prohibits discrimination against anyone on any pretext.

Pakistani law makes it obligatory for employers to follow EEO principles. Affirmative Action, however, is expected to be implemented as a voluntary component of EEO Policy.

EEO does not, in any circumstance, mean that the managers should hire unqualified candidates in breach of merit.

This is only a mechanism to avoid unfair practices and biases during the employment process.

”There might be several excuses such as religious scholars from other schools of thought are not developed enough is terms of relevant education and experience, in this case it is again the responsibility of the regulator to develop them, give them exposure to the banking operations, evolve policies for the diversity of Shariah Boards ensuring representation of all schools of thought for the satisfaction of their respective religious segments that IBF maintains considerations of their sects.

There is another perception in the IBF sector that religious scholars from other schools of thought are not really interested in joining the IBF sector, which isn’t an accurate assessment.

We executed a training program sponsored by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) specifically designed to ensure participation of religious scholars from all schools of thought of Islam.

The programme got an overwhelming response from all schools of religious thought in terms of participation and interest in IBF.

We were surprised by the depth of their awareness about IBF and the eagerness to join the sector.

Most of the participants from excluded schools of thought were complaining of a glass ceiling effect to limit their participation in the IBF sector.

Therefore SBP should ensure diversity and inclusion in the Shariah Boards of IBF institutions in Pakistan for the expansion and swift growth of the sector.

SBP can enact a regulation ensuring participation of all schools of thought in the Shariah Governing Boards of IBF institutions.

Financial burden of this inclusion can be addressed through different initiatives such as job-sharing or part-time arrangements.

If we can overcome this challenge and transform Shariah Boards of IBF institutions, I think, we can turn around the whole IBF sector with exceptional growth and market share.

—The writer is Associate Professor Management Sciences, Head, Centre of Islamic Finance, COMSATS University (CUI) Lahore Campus.

 

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