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Caste at work: study of factors influencing attitudes toward affirmative action in India

Ambika Prasad (Department of Management, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA)
Laurie T. O’Brien (Department of Psychology, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA)
Caitlin E. Smith Sockbeson (Department of Management, Jacksonville University, Jacksonville, Florida, USA)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 31 January 2020

Issue publication date: 21 July 2020




The purpose of this paper is to explore the relevance of caste identity in applied settings. The authors do this within the larger framework of affirmative action programs (AAPs) or “reservations” in India. The paper explores the interplay of a primordial identity like caste with the modern institutions representing equality – a context unique to India.


The paper reports the findings of two experimental studies collecting data using Mechanical Turk.


The first study finds that an individual hired under the AAP is perceived poorly on his/her competence and reward worthiness. The second study finds support for the influence of an individual’s conception of modern casteism and his/her caste identity as factors in shaping attitudes toward AAP.

Research limitations/implications

The paper lays the groundwork but does not explore the contours of casteism in contemporary India. Understanding of this construct as well as the impact of factors as region, education, urbanization, religion, nature of employment, etc. on caste dynamics should be considered by future research.

Practical implications

The paper uncovers some similarities between Indian and Western findings, but it also demonstrates key differences between findings related to race-based AAPs in the West and the caste-based AAP in India. This understanding will guide discourses on diversity management in under-researched countries like India. The findings can sensitize organizations to the need for addressing unconscious biases related to caste.

Social implications

The paper underscores the continuing relevance of caste in modern India and the negative perceptions of lower castes. The paper finds that individuals with an appreciation of the subtle forms of casteism are sympathetic to programs that promote social equality. In modern social contexts this nuanced operationalization of casteism can be a relevant indicator of caste dynamics.


This is the first empirical study to examine caste-based AAP in India in an applied study and unpacks the psychological underpinnings of the attitudes toward AAP.



Prasad, A., O’Brien, L.T. and E. Smith Sockbeson, C. (2020), "Caste at work: study of factors influencing attitudes toward affirmative action in India", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 39 No. 6, pp. 597-616.



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