In North America, discrimination at the corporate executive level can be measured by race and by gender.
In India, bias in the boardroom is more a symptom of society's caste system of exclusion.
In profiling the top 1,000 private and state-owned corporations in India, a team of three UNBC researchers found 93 per cent of the executive board members of those companies are members of a forward (upper-class) caste.
"All these years, people have known that most of the lower castes, the backward castes were not represented in the Indian corporate ladder, but there was no study to validate people's judgment," said UNBC economics professor Ajit Dayanandan.
"Our study basically validates what people thought it was. The results show that the Indian corporate sector is a small and closed world."
The caste system and discrimination against people based on their social and economic standing was outlawed in 1950 when India's constitution was adopted, three years after the country's independence from English rule. That made it illegal for the so-called "untouchables" to be shunned by the rest of society, but societal prejudices continue to exist.
Hindu society identifies four distinct and occupation-specific castes, known as varna, including the brahmin (priests and teachers), kshatriya (warriors and royalty), vaishya (traders, merchants and moneylenders) and shudra (menial jobs).
Most jobs in India are within corporations owned by the government or with government agencies and the country has quotas that guarantee 22.5 per cent of government jobs and seats in post-secondary schools will be reserved for people from the lower castes. Those include people from three groups -- the indigenous scheduled tribes (ST), the scheduled castes (SC), and the other backward classes (OBC). All three of those lower castes are supported by the Indian government through affirmative action hiring policies, but the OBC account for just 3.8 per cent of the directors, while the scheduled castes and tribes hold just 3.5 per cent of the corporate board positions.
"OBC refers to those who are not in the forward castes and when you look at the population, OBC and SC and ST constitute at least four-fifths of India's population," said Dayanandan. "They are there, but their social mobility is very slow, and it's a big issue."
Dayanandan collaborated with UNBC commerce professor Han Donker and masters business student Ravi Saxena on the year-long study, which was completed in May and published in India in the Aug. 11 edition of Economic & Political Weekly. The study has sparked the interest of the Wall Street Journal, the British Broadcasting Corporation and New Delhi TV and financial TV networks.
"Normally, a published research article will get read globally by maybe 50 people, but this one a lot of people read and we are satisfied with that," said Dayanandan.
The UNBC team was able to conduct its research from Prince George by scanning database lists of the surnames of corporate board members, which identify their caste affiliations.
Dayanandan says there is political will in India to bring more lower-caste people into corporate management positions. He can also can see change happening in corporate North America to address gender and racial imbalances.
"North America used to have a huge gender gap and it was a men's club in corporate board, but that is changing and women are increasing their representation and that's a very positive thing," he said.
"As society grows we should all intermingle, and that is the beauty of North America. People marry from other castes and there is no taboo and that is the ideal way to go ahead for our society to progress. The caste system [in India] has been hampering that. People born in a lower caste have no opportunity to move up and it's not their fault."
Since the study was released in May, the chairman of the Indian Council of Social Sciences called Dayanandan in Prince George and asked him to collaborate on further research on the topic and said he would look for funding.