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How to Achieve Equitable Diversity in Your Workplace

By Devan Moonsamy

Diversity is everywhere. Nations across the globe, big and small cities and towns are all either highly cosmopolitan or fast getting that way. In China, for example, a country that has been somewhat closed to the outside world, there are over 50 distinct ethnic groups who all need to be accommodated in employment and society in general.

South Africa has a similar situation in terms of the sheer number of ethnic groups, as well as increasing numbers of people with very mixed heritages. We need to be alive to this and display flexibility in how we approach and accommodate all kinds of staff members and customers. We must remind ourselves that each individual’s needs and norms can differ, and each one is equally valid.

If we aren’t careful and thoughtful in how we approach people of cultures, languages, races, ethnic, sexuality or gender groups different to our own, we will land up with many unhappy people and endless friction. In business, we will be less productive, and employees will be disengaged at work. It is too much of a risk to ignore the realities of diversity in terms of employee and customer satisfaction, profitability, business risk, and company reputation.

Nobody wants a PR nightmare, but it happens all the time, and to the big players one would expect to be the more progressive among us. Some of the biggest PR disasters last year include Google’s gender pay gap, sexism in the African Union, and H&M’s racially offensive advertising. Diversity is a reality, but it will not be a blessing, and we will not reach an equitable situation whereby people of all demographic groups are afforded equal rights and treatment unless we put in the effort.

Equitable diversity is not a myth or an unachievable goal. It may be difficult to get everyone on board at first, but a strong diversity strategy tailored to your company or department is a powerful tool. To get anywhere worth going, one must first have a plan, a roadmap or a set of guidelines to follow which speak to the conditions of your industry and your office politics as well.

If you are in the education sector, you need to ensure that people of all demographic groups benefit from the learning experience and that your staff know how to help students of different abilities. In many instances, we still see too many white male managers and too many black employees in low-paying entry-level positions.

Women are still locked out of senior management and not taken seriously in some organisations. People with disabilities are also too rarely seen in the work environment compared to the number of people with disabilities who can work.

The way to change this is through a BEE recruiting system and training up people of colour (this term is used to refer to black people as well as coloured and Asian people who have been all been historically disadvantaged) and other minority or marginalised groups to fill management and decision-making roles where they, in turn, can mentor other people of colour, and further drive equitable recruitment processes.

Once a company attracts more diverse employees into positions at all levels, we have to make sure they want to stay. We cannot lose good employees who represent a variety of demographic groups due to maltreatment from fellow staff members or a lack of opportunities. This is simply unacceptable, and we must thus work actively to protect their interests.

Some of the most successful companies in the area of diversity have so much to teach us. In my recent book, Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us, we analyse the methods used by various companies to achieve equitable diversity. I include an adapted extract here on a highly successful method that can be implemented in any company.

Task forces and project teams have been found to be the most effective means of managing diversity and maximising its value, especially when the teams are self-managed as much as possible. Task forces or project teams are created to address obstacles related to diversity and to increase equitable representation in the company. Some focus areas for a task force can be ‘recruitment and mentoring initiatives for professionals and middle managers, working specifically toward measurable goals for minorities’ (Dobbin & Kalev, 2016).

Corporate diversity task forces help promote social accountability, and they can go much further than recruitment. They can also monitor the progress of women, black and other groups that can be side-lined to ensure they are trained, well treated and thus retained. Mentorship programmes also work well when a mentor is assigned someone to assist rather than allowing them to choose their own mentees. This ensures that those who need mentoring most get it.

As an example of what task forces can do, Deloitte created a task force a few years ago which found that driving for transparency in decision-making was a key way to get positive results for diversity goals. IBM also launched hugely successful task forces in the mid-1990s, each focused on a different group including a specific task force dedicated to help promote lesbian and gay people in the workplace. ‘The goal of the initiative was to uncover and understand differences among the groups and find ways to appeal to a broader set of employees and customers,’ and thus, ‘the IBM of today looks very different from the IBM of 1995’ (Thomas, 2004). Diversity task-forces became a pillar of the company’s HR strategy. The number of IBM female executives worldwide increased by 370%; ethnic minorities by 233%; LGBT executives rose by 733%; and those with disabilities more than tripled.

We can thus see the incredible value that dedicated task teams can achieve. It is these types of diversity initiatives which have kept progressive companies such as IBM and Deloitte going strong through the decades.

Devan Moonsamy is the author of Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us, available from the ICHAF Training Institute.

The book tackles contemporary issues in the South African workplace, including a variety of diversity-related challenges and how these can be addressed. It is an excellent guide for managers to harnessing diversity for success.

ICHAF offers SETA-approved training in business skills, computer use, and soft skills. Devan specialises in conflict and diversity management, and regularly conducts seminars on these issues for corporates. To book a seminar with Devan or for other training courses, please use the contact details below.

Tel: 011 262 2461 | Email: devan@ichaftraining.co.za | Website: ichaftraining.co.za

Who is Devan Moonsamy?

Devan Moonsamy is a seasoned trainer, entrepreneur, and charity worker. Upon leaving high school, Devan started a training initiative to help school teachers struggling with heavy workloads and another to help youths build self-confidence.

From these early years, Devan built ICHAF, a training and development business, which focusses keenly on the needs of South African employers and employees, which are not only unique to the nation, but especially to the needs of the individual. Devan understands the diverse composition of today’s South African workforce, and how to cater to the variety of needs. In fact, Devan has made it his mission to understand diversity in the South African workplace, to master diversity management, and to teach the skills and knowledge of diversity management to as many corporates as possible.

Over more than 15 years, Devan and trainers from his company have together developed and trained thousands of staff members from large companies such as Norton Rose Fullbright, Peermont Global, Barloworld, Avis Budget Group and many others. The company offers training in fields such as NQF1 to NQF5 Learnerships, business administration, business practices, leadership, IT, ethics, as well as conflict management and diversity management, the latter two being among Devan’s specialities. In addition to training across South Africa, Devan has worked in other African nations and in Asia.

Devan is outspoken about diversity in South Africa because he has been witness to the inequality and discrimination which plagues its people. He believes that every South African should be involved in bridging these divides. He thus promotes healthy diversity and inclusion practices in the corporate environment through his Seta-accredited TVET institution.

Devan found his niche in training and development through an affinity for public speaking, motivational speaking, and relationship management. A strong desire to see others grow and succeed in their careers and in their personal development has driven him to invest his time and energies in the training sector.

Through the success of his training programmes, Devan has created a vibrant network of fellow trainers, education experts, SETA officials, and a wide variety of other professionals who assist him in designing and delivering ever more quality and in-depth training interventions and programmes. Devan works towards creating a productive corporate learning and development space for all clients.

What gets Devan going every day is his drive to see South Africans diversity relations improve. Racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of discrimination still plague our relationships and society. Devan understands that the only way to really overcome these problems is to open up dialogue, appeal to people’s reason, and bring diverse groups together so that they can learn to get along. With the right guidance, which Devan strives to offer, we will be able to be a more cohesive nation, one to be proud of.

As businesses and their employees, from executives to new recruits, have a significant impact on the rest of society, achieving healthy diversity relations free of discrimination in the workplace will have a systemic positive effect on the rest of South Africa. Currently, diversity relations in the workplace are often mediocre at best or sometimes very tense, and this needs to change urgently. To achieve better relationships in spite of interpersonal differences, more diversity and inclusion training sessions are required as well as workshops to encourage people to take up leadership positions and perform well therein. Devan thus provides these training sessions and workshops.

Devan was born in KwaZulu-Natal and later moved to Johannesburg with his family. He completed high school in Benoni. Devan has two older sisters, Evon Naicker and Evellin Naidoo, both of whom work closely with him at the ICHAF Training Institute in facilitation and administration. Devan, through the ICHAF Training Institute and devan-moonsamy.com, employs facilitators, assessors’ moderators and administration staff, all of whom he considers to be extensions of his family. Devan enjoys travelling and recently visited Hong Kong, Nepal, Thailand and Brazil. Other favourite destinations are Namibia for its wonderful wildlife and landscapes, India for its temples and culture, and Nepal for relaxation and meditation spaces. Devan is family-oriented and values life-long learning. He is thus currently completing a degree in psychology. He also has studied toward an LLB at UNISA and has other diplomas and qualifications in occupationally directed education, training and development practices, generic management, strategic management, and business administration.

Critical Analysis of Racial Segregation at Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke

Critical Analysis of Racial Segregation at Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke

Devan Moonsamy

The first term of school this year has not gotten off to the best start for some children and their parents. At Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke in North West Province, a teacher has been suspended over racial segregation of children in a class. A photo was sent to parents by WhatsApp by the teacher which clearly shows a large group of white children seated together, and a few black children separated from the group at another desk. That’s a red flag, and a political protest was held outside the school.

But is this what people so quickly assume it to be? A number of explanations have surfaced. Firstly, this is simply the work of a racist teacher showing preference to the white children. Schweizer-Reneke is a town said to have deep racial divisions, and some say the teacher was even doing the right thing because of these tensions and because integration takes time.

Secondly, that the black children were new at the school and could not speak Afrikaans or English. Why this was in fact necessary was not made clear by the school. One reason could be that the children required a different teaching intervention which the teacher planned to give them in a small group setting. Separating learners according to needs in this way is a common practice and seems to make sense.

However, it is strange that the children who are said to need special attention are placed at the back of the class in the corner. Was it necessary to make them feel even more excluded in this way? It just doesn’t add up. MEC Sello Lehari who went in to address the situation has rejected this excuse and is investigating further.

Thirdly, it has been said that the children were allowed to sit where they wanted, and so the seating arrangements were their choice. This last reason is somewhat plausible because we do all tend towards ‘birds of a feather’ habits, and perhaps more so for young children in such a setting. But it would still seem unlikely that the children end up in the particular arrangement shown in the picture on their own. Does it not seem too well organised for these small children aged between four and six?

On social media, people were angered, and said it is unacceptable, while others say it is a ‘fake racial event’. Another teacher is to take the suspended teacher’s place, but some parents have already removed their children from the school.

Making an analysis this soon is difficult. More information is needed. However, I propose that it is the duty of the teacher in question and the school to make a formal apology at the very least for an insensitive way of arranging the children in the class. The teacher ought not to have placed the black children away from the others and at the back, especially if they needed more attention due to a language barrier.

Whether intentionally racist or not, it is highly offensive, and it is what we are supposed to be working very hard to prevent. Education has long been a site of racial contention, and we need to tread carefully. People of colour already feel marginalised in many settings. There is no need to throw that in their faces, and in such a personal way.

People are also naturally very protective of their own and other people’s children, and rightly so. It is not unfair to take to social media seeking public attention and comment on this photo. We need to debate this and ensure that children across South Africa are not subject to segregation or favouritism for any reason.

Let this be a warning to all teachers, educators, schools, colleagues, universities, trainers, etc. – we must be sensitised on these issues of racism in education.

Devan Moonsamy is the author of Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us, available from the ICHAF Training Institute.

The book tackles contemporary issues in the South African workplace, including a variety of diversity-related challenges and how these can be overcome. It is an excellent guide for managers to harnessing diversity for success.

ICHAF offers SETA-approved training in business skills, computer use, and soft skills. Devan specialises in conflict and diversity management, and regularly conducts seminars on these issues for corporates. To book a seminar with Devan or for other training courses, please use the contact details below.

Tel: 011 262 2461 | Email: devan@ichaftraining.co.za | Website: ichaftraining.co.za

Curios and Handicrafts Not the Way to Equality in Africa

By Devan Moonsamy

In an interview earlier this year, Jessica Horn, director of programmes at the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) voiced concern about the type of work African women are involved in, or, rather, the type of work that is thought to be suitable for them and into which they are often drawn due to low education levels.

Jessica Horn said that economic empowerment initiatives too often teach women to make handicrafts such as cheap beaded jewellery. The same may be said for men who make wooden carvings which they try to sell on the roadside. These women and men tend to make low-priced goods and work for relatively low pay. They often also rely on seasonal work, only making sufficient income when enough tourists are around. They are thus stuck in informal and unprotected employment, or in the so-called ‘gig economy’.

The market is flooded with African curios and artworks made by the nameless or, sometimes, they may even be sold for high prices under someone else’s name. Of course, the real creators aren’t credited for their creations, and a fair income doesn’t find its way to the creators either. If artworks don’t sell, it is also the creators who end up taking the blame, and sometimes they are forced to pay for this, and even to dismantle their unappreciated artworks. This problem echoes colonial exploitation and disparities in power.

As an example, one South African has other artists paint for them and then their signature is stamped on each painting. The real artist remains nameless. In other cases, it may be, for example, rural women who are taught to bake cookies or recycle materials into artworks for sale in the cities. On the surface, there is nothing wrong with this. Teaching baking and craft-making can mean some income for a person who had no chance at education and very few employment prospects.

However, as Jessica Horn emphasises, worthwhile projects must lead to increased income generation and greater political participation. They must have large-scale potential, and they must lead to women having significant economic and political power, enabling them to advocate for their political rights and engage on various platforms. Women must be able to grow their income over time, not remaining stagnant and stuck on low-wage work which benefits others more than it does themselves.

Kabelo Malatsie, director of Visual Arts Network of South Africa, fights for artists’ rights and is working to end the exploitation of struggling artists. She says that exploitation is rife and, in the fine art world, that there may be a mere 15 ‘good’ galleries in the whole country.

Among the concerns of activists like Horn and Malatsie are that artists need to be creative, working very hard to be original, have good administrative skills, and time to dedicate to both, as well as a support structure, and funding to get their artworks in the public eye. They also need to be adept in the use of social media, have good interpersonal skills, networks and confidence. Many artists can’t manage all this, they lose hope, and end up leaving the industry altogether, especially if they are tired of being invisible. Partners, commissioners, and employers of artists who do have certain other skills and funding end up taking all the credit for the artists’ work.

Jessica Horn of AWDF thus wants to change the traditional development model which is intended to promote women’s equality and empowerment. She explains: ‘Nobody likes being oppressed, but sometimes resisting carries too much loss, stigma, so a lot of people fear that.’ On the other hand, those who need to be resisted are more confident and have no qualms about using others.  She thus concludes that ‘it’s about being able to meet that attitude.’ This requires completely different skills to those traditionally taught to women.  Rather than teaching handicrafts (alone), women need confidence-building, administrative and business skills, entrepreneurial skills, job skills to help secure employment, and social media, communication and technology use skills. Training may need to begin with literacy and numeracy in some cases as well.

Devan Moonsamy is the author of Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us, available from the ICHAF Training Institute.

The book tackles contemporary issues in the South African workplace, including a variety of diversity-related challenges and how these can be overcome. It is an excellent guide for managers to harnessing diversity for success.

ICHAF offers SETA-approved training in business skills, computer use, and soft skills. Devan specialises in conflict and diversity management, and regularly conducts seminars on these issues for corporates. To book a seminar with Devan or for other training courses, please use the contact details below.

Tel: 011 262 2461 | Email: info@ichaftraining.co.za | Website: ichaftraining.co.za