Twenty-seven years ago, as an impressionable front bencher in a well-known business school in western India, I was swept by the construct of ‘managerialism’ and ‘economic rationalism’. This was my first love affair, for lack of better words, a subtle indoctrination that impacted my sense making of a complex world of organizational systems, as well as a philosophy of knowing and living.
Little was I aware that I had fallen hook, line and sinker for a new age dharma of ‘rationality’ that impacted how I made sense of a context (sense making), and of how I would frame and communicate this sense (sense-giving) as a potential leader. The hew age dharma also meant that I had to turn away from all other realities within the firm that were full of spicier stuff – vague perceptions, gossiped confabulations, potent yet exclusive grapevines, rumors, and ‘irrational anecdotes’ etc.
It is not that this mindset did not appreciate the fact that omniscience is a false claim – there was never an all-knowing manager, but it, through the notion of bounded rationality, allowed for rational thinking within some limits.
However, there is a dark side that was never elucidated then in the campus, and never talked about within the organization – the dark side being that many managers and leaders start investing time and energy into ‘appearing to be rational’. Over the years, I have realized that many devotees of managerial rationality subscribe to the philosophy, for it offers the following unstated benefits:
- The manager or the leader, in appearing rational, also seems to be in control in the eyes of the Other – often if not always, coming across as authoritative.
- The manager of the leader, in appearing rational, can condemn all other realities including emotional ambiance, culture, sentient systems in the name of ‘irrationalities’
- Thirdly, in the name of managerialist rationality, all spontaneity and capriciousness can be easily sacrificed as pseudo managerial sciences that do not celebrate the new God.
- Lastly, the temple of managerial rationality, in the darkness of its inner sanctum, celebrates Masculinity, while banishing femininity from its followers – both men and women.
The religion of rationality is overwhelmingly partisan and parochial – for if you don’t subscribe to it or demonstrate ‘resistance’ – you become the irrational infidel that needs more control and more indoctrination.
Thus the desert of managerial rationality rarely allows any other flower to bloom by censuring all other realities as ‘irrational’. Economic rationalism or profit maximization thus accounts for almost all formalized lens on phenomena – organizations are acquired, merged, sold, strategized, grown, transformed and changed on this plane. Everything else is resistance that may proliferate under the surface but quickly weeded out by rationalism in case it surfaces in the consciousness of the firm. Thus, all politics that do not subscribe to rationality are ‘insidious’ and ‘dangerous’ as mandated by the new dharma.
The Chimera of D&I today
Hence, if the inner core of the firm is coded in managerial rationalism and the world of homo-economicus, I really wonder what it means when these very firms claim to be inclusive and in celebrating ‘diversity’. Firms are quick to demonstrate the nature of work that they have accomplished in the recent decade on this front. However faced with a deluge of numbers, trends, and claims, I sit on many questions …
- Is it just me … that wonders how inane and hypocritical leaders sound, when they quote that their firms are diverse and inclusive by merely citing statistics (language of rationalism) summarizing trends of growth of women employees, and or the third gender (trendlines), or that they have ‘policies’ (artefacts) that appear just and fair…
- Is it just me … that wonders how inclusivity and diversity is reduced to gender variables or caste variables (variables are mathematical symbols) and that underlying the management of these variables are philosophies of control and optimization.
- Is it just me … that wonders how women and men are ‘de-feminized’ of their irrationalities including intuition; where their complexities and well-being are split into being functional and dysfunctional
- Is it just me … that wonders how organizations use psychometrics and assessments that split a human being into two parts – the being that subscribes to role-demands, and the rest classified as ‘de-railers’ (as if all of us are hurtling across our lives on the steely lines of rationality and profit maximization)
I am aware that I can be accused of ‘ranting’ – often a term disdainfully used for highly anxious women who seem to have lost the plot … but I also wonder, how does one challenge the ideology of managerial rationalism. It is a perfect Catch-22 situation…
But my ranting apart, it is intriguing most firms, if not all firms are wishing to seed diversity and inclusion in this modern desert of rationality. If the seeds are not nurtured by the underground irrationality, I fear that they become a sterile ‘potpourri’ to deodorize the stench of colonizing processes.
For example, would any senior leadership would like to listen and dialogue, in the name of diversity, any of the following themes:
- Can the Earth and its ecology be considered a majority stakeholder, and thus all processes that create toxicity, environmental damage be challenged and eradicated?
- Can the primacy of Profit-maximization for anonymous investors and bodies be challenged amongst more important priorities?
- Can corruptive practices that are organized and supplemented through 3rd party contracts and vendors be owned up?
- Can real empowerment and creativity be encouraged?
- Can sentient systems be legitimized and prioritized in decision making?
- Can stakeholder communities beyond the immediate customer be celebrated?
- Can collusion with governments and political parties be challenged?
None of the above-mentioned questions are to do with gender ratios, inclusion policies, and glass ceilings, as you may have noticed…
(The picture of ‘flower in a desert’ is by Panya Jumaptong)
3 thoughts on “Seeding Diversity in the Desert of Managerial Rationality”
Incisive and thought-provoking as usual, Gagan. Being guilty myself of fetishising rationality, a lot of the points hit uncomfortably close to home!
A thought about the questions you raise at the end: it is not that these are “irrational” questions; rather, they are just uncomfortable questions that go against the ridiculous notion of the primary (or even exclusive) purpose of an organisation being shareholder enrichment. Challenging this notion is not irrational, it is just impractical or impolitic!
Thank you Abhay for reading my blog! Feel very affirmed… yes the questions in the end were only a bit of tongue in the cheek… i completely concur with the political challenges …
good piece, gagan. the problem is perhaps not only with organisations making rationality the ‘only way’ but that we as a civilisation see organisations as the ‘main’ component in the way the world functions. quite clearly, in most parts of the world, politics does not engage with rationality as much as identity, for example. Or families having their own ways of being (own logic)
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