The Trouble with Bangles Leela Patel was standing by her machine, as she had for eight hours of each working day for the past six years. Leela was happy; she had many friends among the 400 or so women at the food processing plant. Most of them were of Indian origin like herself, although Asian women formed less than a fifth of the female workforce. Leela was a member of a fivewoman team that reported to supervisor Bill Evans. Leela saw Evans approaching now, accompanied by Jamie Watkins, the shop steward. “Hello, Leela; we’ve come to explain something to you,” Evans began. “You must have heard about the accident last month when one of the girls caught a bangle in the machine and cut her wrist. Well, the Safety Committee has decided that no one will be allowed to wear any bangles, engagement rings, earrings, or necklaces at work—only wedding rings, sleepers for pierced ears, and wristwatches will be allowed. So I’m afraid you’ll have to remove your bangles.” Leela, as was her custom, was wearing three bangles—one steel, one plastic, and one gold. All the married Asian women wore bangles, and many of the English girls had also begun wearing them. Leela explained that she was a Hindu wife and the bangles were important to her religion. “Don’t make a fuss, Leela,” Evans said between clenched teeth. “I’ve already had to shout at Hansa Patel and Mira Desai. Why can’t you all be like Meena Shah? She didn’t mind taking her bangles off; neither did the English girls.” Leela could see that Evans was very angry, so, almost in tears, she removed the bangles. When the two had moved off, however, she replaced the gold bangle and carried on with her work. Within two or three days, the plant manager, Sam Jones, noticed that all the Asian women were wearing their bangles again—some, in fact, were wearing more than ever before. “I’m staggered by the response that this simple, common-sense restriction on the wearing of jewelry has brought,” Jones remarked to the regional race relations employment advisor. “I have had several deputations from the Asian women protesting the ban, not to mention visits by individuals on the instruction of their husbands. In addition, I’ve just had a letter from something called the Asian Advisory Committee, asking that the ban be lifted until we meet with their representatives. The strength of this discontent has prompted me to talk to you. Jewelry constitutes both a safety and a hygiene hazard on this site, so it must be removed. And I’m afraid if I talk to this Asian Committee, they’ll turn out to be a bunch of militants who’ll cause all sorts of trouble. At the same time, we can’t afford any work stoppages. What do you suggest?” Several days later, the advisor had arranged for Mr. Singh from the local Council for Community Relations to talk to Jones and other managers. Singh explained that in his opinion there were no obstacles arising from religious observance that prevented implementation of the ban on bangles. However, he pointed out, the bangles do have a custom base that is stronger than the English tradition base for wedding rings. “The bangles are a mark not only of marriage but of the esteem in which a wife is held by her husband. The more bangles and the greater their value, the higher her esteem and the greater her social standing. The tradition also has religious overtones, since the wearing of bangles by the wife demonstrates that each recognizes the other as ‘worthy’ in terms of the fulfillment of their religious obligations. This position is further complicated in that women remove their bangles if they are widowed, and some fear that the removal of the bangles may lead to their husbands’ deaths.”
1. What is your initial reaction to this story? Why do you think you had this reaction?
2. Based on this limited information, how would you rate this organization in terms of developing leadership diversity? Discuss.
3. If you were a top executive at this company, how would you handle this problem?