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Mastering diversity strategies that work

Mastering diversity strategies that work

By Devan Moonsamy – CEO The ICHAF Training Institute

Despite the challenges that come with managing and getting the best out of and for diverse teams, ways to handle diversity successfully have been identified, tested and shown to work. Specific skills and knowledge are required, but they are usually not what one would expect.

Too often, if employees are trained on diversity, the focus is on their peers’ culture, and even mundane things like what type of foods certain groups might prefer. This may have some value, but in a very limited sense. Even teaching staff to greet one another in their home language may help, but again, it will not remove or even begin to address those deep-seated prejudices preventing us from really making progress.

Much more in-depth and focused interventions are required to get people to understand, acknowledge, and embrace the true value of diversity. After this initial process of improving interpersonal relationships begins, employees can then be guided in the creation of a conducive workplace environment for the advantages of diversity to be realised.

One major advantage of maintaining a sound diversity structure in the workplace is that it ensures we draw all types of customers to our business. There are many other advantages, all of which can be taught along with the means to implement them.

To begin teaching the necessary skills, we need to start on the individual level, introducing powerful tools for the employee to use in interrogating their own views and getting to the heart of their own prejudices, fears and worries. Once these have been acknowledged in the safe and carefully facilitated training space, work begins on implementing interpersonal diversity strategies that are effective in the South African environment.

A diversity expert should tailor diversity strategies for the target group and seek to address the specific problems that are cropping up and preventing the company or team from performing optimally. There are a number of ways that have proved to work, but again, they are not the traditional methods one expects, and they require a skilled facilitator or trainer to implement.

One effective way of managing diversity and maximising its value is to form task forces or project teams to address obstacles related to diversity and also to find ways to increase equitable representation in the company. This method has been tested and implemented with great success in companies such as IBM and Deloitte. IBM, in particular, has used this method for decades with wonderful results for employee diversity.

In the training space, employees and managers are taught how to form and operate these teams through team-building exercises. A diversity task force can be formed from those present at a training session, and trainees can begin with some of the planning involved under the guidance of the facilitator.

Corporate diversity task forces can be trained to promote social accountability, to address recruitment issues, and to monitor the progress of women, black people, those with disabilities and other groups that are often side-lined to ensure they are well treated and retained, among many other diversity-related interventions.

As an example of what team-building and task forces can do, Deloitte, through these same interventions, found that transparency in decision-making is a key way to get positive results for diversity goals. Without first building a cohesive team and setting them to work on diversity challenges, Deloitte would not have discovered how important this factor is to its over 250 000 employees. The value of transparency has thus emerged as a critical input for diversity success.

IBM also launched hugely successful diversity task forces in the 1990s. They were so effective that these task forces are a pillar of the company’s HR strategy to this day. Some advantages for IBM included that the number of female executives worldwide increased by 370%; ethnic minorities by 233%; LGBT executives rose by 733%; and those with disabilities more than tripled (David Thomas, HBR).

We can thus see the incredible value that team-building and 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.

If you want the same for your business and your team, train them for the success they deserve. Diversity is a wonderful resource which, if nurtured through training and team-building, will bring excellent returns for you the individual, for communities and companies.

Book a diversity management or team-building seminar with expert Devan Moonsamy of the ICHAF Training Foundation.

Sessions are available country-wide to train all types of businesses and teams on handling the many challenges that come with a diverse South African workforce. Despite the challenges, diversity can be harnessed for success and the needed skills taught.

Devan Moonsamy’s new book Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us (ISBN: 978-0-620-80807-1), is also available as the perfect guide for managers, employees and teams to learn to work together successfully despite interpersonal differences.

To book a training session or order the new book, contact the ICHAF Training Foundation on 011 262 2461 or email, or visit the website  or

Harnessing Diversity for Success: Sameness is not Fairness

Harnessing Diversity for Success: Sameness is not Fairness

By Devan Moonsamy – CEO The ICHAF Training Institute

Sameness, specifically in terms of trying to treat everyone the same, is not the right way to view diversity. We must be careful of the trap of thinking that everyone must be treated the same. This is true of some things (such as remuneration for the same work done), yet the overriding factor should be fairness.

Sameness means that things are alike, there’s no differences or variety. We don’t live in a world of uniformity or monotony. All teenagers are not mere duplicates of one another on the inside or outside, neither are their elders.

People have different needs and desires. The way we speak to a five-, 15- or 55-year-old would all differ, as would the topics we would talk about. So, instead of getting caught up in the trap of ‘sameness’, rather apply fairness across the age, gender and race groups, and in all matters of diversity.

We can’t treat everyone the same, but we can and should treat them fairly and respectfully, and as fits with their personal characteristics and views as well.

It would probably not be right to send your 60-year-old accountant up a ladder to find something on a high shelf in the factory. Neither would you expect your newly employed 20-year-old factory assistant to draw up the quarterly budget. They have different skills and abilities, and the age factor is relevant here. These situations would both be overwhelming for the person, but swap them around, and it makes sense. It becomes fair.

Thus, sameness is not what people mean when they speak about equality, women and children’s rights, age gaps, etc. – it’s about being fair and reasonable in our treatment and expectations of others.

We need to have a good understanding of the various demographic groups’ needs if we are to harness their beautifully diverse characteristics for optimum performance and achieve employee engagement. To handle, cooperate with, retain and get the best value from all employees, we must apply the overriding factor of fairness, rather than falling into the trap of narrow-minded sameness.

The assistance that a girl or woman needs to reach self-sufficiency is different from what a boy or man needs, particularly because of social norms and expected duties, and the availability of resources. This is true also for those who’ve had little access to education compared to those who have had better access. Different interventions are required and special consideration for different people’s needs.

Feminists and other activists are trying to get recognition for this. They are not saying don’t educate men and boys; they are saying educate everyone while taking into consideration their unique needs in conducting education.

Boys and men struggle when their needs are not taken into account. Neurological and behavioural research has shown why boys tend to perform worse overall than girls in our schooling system. Boys’ ways of learning differ in that many require more hands-on education experiences, which schools provide too little of.

This is true for some girls as well but, overall, girls tend to perform better under the current education system than boys. We need to address this – not by treating children all the same, but by treating them fairly according to their needs.

At the same time, we know that in some societies girls’ education is not a priority. This keeps women and girls trapped in a cycle of poverty and at the mercy of men who don’t always have their best interests at heart.

We need to correctly interpret the messages that activists, feminists, social rights advocates, etc. are sending. They are not asking for blind equality. They certainly do want equality. However, for us all to get there, interventions, policies, training, and treatment in all types of organisations need to take the diverse needs of individuals into account. Often these needs are not what we expect.

If you would like to find out more about the needs of your diverse employees and colleagues, get a copy of the book Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us (Devan Moonsamy, 2018).

It is specially designed for the needs of contemporary South African workplaces. It offers valuable insight into diversity-related challenges faced by all South Africans.

The book looks at overcoming instant separation magnets (ISMs), and how to manage diversity so that everybody wins. The aspects of diversity are considered in detail with real examples and practical information on dealing with and preventing diversity-related problems.

Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us  (ISBN: 978-0-620-80807-1) is available from the ICHAF Training Institute.

Tel: 011 262 2461 | Email: | Website: or

Muslim Womens Rights

Muslim women’s rights rulings: Are we still in denial?

By Devan Moonsamy – CEO The ICHAF Training Institute

About a week ago, the Western Cape High Court made a ruling which provides legal protection to Muslim women and their children in cases of divorce. The Weekend Argus reported, ‘The Western Cape High Court judgment ordering Muslim marriages to be legally recognised speaks directly to “a very patriarchal Muslim society”, which has always benefited men and left women with nothing after divorce.’ The Muslim Judicial Council welcomed the decision, which it seems should have been made long ago.

It is not the only recent legal development which has sought to protect women’s rights in Muslim marriages. Why should there even be a need for this? South Africa is supposed to be among the nations with the best legislation worldwide. Isn’t this already in place? Surely when we got our full Constitution in 1996 it cleared all this away?

No, it didn’t. It hasn’t solved all our problems. The High Court and the Constitutional Court still have a lot of work to do in protecting people by ensuring the correct interpretation and implementation of our laws.

This is a strong case in point when it comes to women’s rights denialists who continue to stare blank-faced at the plight of women (and other victims of discrimination too). By this I mean that some people assume women have equal rights in law – they definitely do not in all cases – and this has fixed everything. But even where everyone has equal rights in law, in practice true justice is sorely lacking.

Why do genuine victims of discrimination still get no recognition? Some women are still cast aside when their husband dies. Our laws and rulings like these are not an excuse to sit back on our laurels and turn away from the plight of others. Black people still suffer in this country because of their colour. Women still suffer because of their gender. Children, youths and the elderly still suffer because of their age.

We have to stop denying these facts. I feel so frustrated sometimes when I hear people say things like, ‘But women/black people/youths have been given everything they want.’ The real attitude behind such statements is that they have ‘lost out’ because of this. ‘We’ve given you what you want – equal rights, jobs, education, etc. – what more must we do for you?’ They think it’s because people who are facing serious challenges are just ungrateful.

Do we really think that people in subordinate positions are complaining because they have nothing better to do? If this is true, why do we still need court rulings to protect women after the death of their husband? Despite such developments, women’s struggle against patriarchal dominance continues.

We have to start seeing the truth behind excuses that people have ‘equal rights’, that the women’s liberation movement has already achieved its ends, that racism and sexism outlawed has brought a closure to the matter.

We need to keep our eyes and hearts open to the plight of anyone and be willing to see and empathise with their pain. If we don’t, injustice of all kinds will continue to eat away at our lives because ‘None of us are free until all of us are free.’

Combating Body Type Discrimination

Combating Body Type Discrimination in the Workplace
By Devan Moonsamy – CEO The ICHAF Training Institute

It happens at corporate parties, in social circles, and in the family – skinny, large, short, tall, or somehow different from the ‘ideal’ others have in mind leads to body shaming.
It’s not just against others, however. Consider: what’s the thing you like least about yourself? Most likely it’s related to your appearance. We are unreasonably hard on ourselves and others in this way.
Knowing the stresses weighing on people today, why do we still have such high expectations? Perhaps two main reasons are that we lack awareness, and that we are ‘trained’ by the media and society from a young age to criticise ourselves and others.
Advertising and celebrity culture are much to blame. Idolised body forms are daunting, and they are highly exploited in the media. Society thus pressures us to ‘be’ this or ‘be’ that. We need to choose to defy these unrealistic notions and help others feel comfortable around us, no matter their physical characteristics. A world of diversity is much more interesting, valuable and productive than a world of carbon copies.
Let’s look at this problem from the inside out through an example of what is really happening for people who are body shamed.
Mandisa grew up in a home where there was little money, even for food. She begged on the streets for something to eat from a young age. Often, the only time there was happiness at home was when there was food on the table. Her parents could be abusive, but never when there was food. As a result, she developed a difficult relationship with food without realising it. Mandisa began to see food as a comfort, as a sign that all was well with the world, and that she could relax and not be afraid.
Mandisa developed a sugar addiction, and although she knows people judge her for her weight, she can’t help turning to food because she sees it as a source of security, sometimes her only friend. Like other people whose bodies don’t fit what people believe is ‘attractive’, she is painfully aware of it. Her husband tries to hide food away from her, but this only makes life more difficult, and she starts to eat in secret, further marring her relationship with food.
One day at work, in front of her, Mandisa’s boss tells someone to move some equipment around because she has some difficulty getting past it as she is ‘a heavy lady’. Mandisa is humiliated and rushes to the bathroom to hide her tears.
Mandisa’s boss didn’t mean to insult her, but at times people aren’t even aware that they are ‘fat shaming’. How might Mandisa’s boss have handled the situation with more tact? And, what could her husband do to help her?
People are highly critical about body types, likely because we are such visual creatures. We are swayed by what we see, and we often fail to find out more about a situation.
People may say that it’s good to be strict with others and that we have a duty to warn them about their being overweight for health reasons. Being extremely thin is also unhealthy, and can indicate an emotional problem. So aren’t people justified in pointing it out and telling the person to change their eating habits? When people do manage to do this, they are highly praised, even used in advertising to sell products. Those who don’t are often ostracised.
A critical question is: what do we do when we see someone isn’t responding to ‘advice’ to change their body? Do we nit-pick at the issue or treat the person badly? Some people may even punish the person for not complying. But does this really have any chance of helping them when they are already fighting a battle against an underlying health problem they may not even know about, battling stress and emotional scars, or their weight has changed because of medication, allergies, surgery or for many other reasons?
If you are struggling with these problems, and they are affecting employee satisfaction and performance in the workplace, it needs to be taken very seriously and addressed. Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us delves into these issues and offers practical solutions to problems surrounding body diversity, as well as other diversity issues which can hamper organisational progress and cause deep hurt to individuals if not handled with care.
The book looks at overcoming instant separation magnets (ISMs) in the South African context, and how to manage diversity so that everybody wins. The aspects of diversity are considered in detail with real examples and practical information on dealing with and preventing diversity-related problems.
Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us helps readers bring about transformation in their everyday dealings and in their organisations. It is useful for managers, HR departments, corporate trainers, strategists, students, and anyone facing situations of diversity which require strategic and prudent interventions. It helps in inspiring positive change, changing mindsets, and transforming the status quo for the better of all.
Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us (ISBN: 978-0-620-80807-1) by Devan Moonsamy is available from the ICHAF Training Institute.
Tel: 011 262 2461 | Email: | Website:

Living for Diversity

Living for Diversity

By Devan Moonsamy

Diversity as a ‘Festival of Sacrifice’ – but what kind of sacrifice?

Eid-ul-Adha is just ending, and I am reminded of the struggles many Muslims are undergoing for various reasons. Eid-ul-Adha is the Festival of Sacrifice, a commemoration of how Ibrahim’s (or Abraham’s) faith was tested by God, how he proved himself worthy, and how God approved of him for his incredible show of faith.

Something often pointed out is that, even though Ibrahim was willing to sacrifice his own son at God’s command, God prevented the actual killing, and supplied an animal to be sacrificed instead. Therefore, many conclude that the sacrifice of human life is not in fact required by God to prove faith.

It would seem that what one does in service of God and obedience while alive are more important. What service and obedience require exactly people will not necessarily agree on. Some believe it does include the sacrifice of human life, not just to prove faith, but also to seek revenge and carry out justice.

However, the majority of Muslims are really peace-loving people. They have been spending a lot of time in congregated prayer for the festival, and while the theme of sacrifice is important, thoughts of revenge and seeking justice for wrongs are not on their minds. Many religious people will agree that it is for God ultimately to judge and punish humans if they deserve it. Our limited knowledge cannot substitute for God’s omnipotence and wisdom.

Muslims have a strong desire to worship God as their sacred text instructs, and to work and socialise together in a wholesome and meaningful life. Involvement in ‘terrorism’ runs contrary to this way of life.

That is why millions of Muslims align with the #NotInMyName campaign. The campaign was originally started by Muslims in the UK, who state on their website ‘we utterly condemn ISIS who are abusing the name of Islam with their acts of terrorism.’ Muslims are saying that ISIS does not speak for them and is misrepresenting their faith.

I am reminded of the 2014 hostage crisis which took place in a café in Sydney, Australia. I relate what a Muslim man named Umar from Australia said soon after the incident. He was extremely upset and said some things which at first were unexpected. He agreed that Muslims are being given such a terrible reputation by these acts of terrorism. However, Umar said that Muslims are being given this burden to carry for some reason. They are being persecuted for their faith, and that is to be expected.

Umar’s main concern was for ‘the righteous name of Allah’. That God is used as a justification for taking people hostage and killing them – that is the worst part. Muslims don’t want to be labelled terrorists. But more than that, they don’t want their God associated with terrorism. It’s not what people think about Muslims as much as what they think of Allah, who is an all-merciful, all-compassionate God.

According to many people’s religious faiths, God has the power to bring people back to life, to heal them, even to place them in a paradise, heaven or state of Nirvana. So the things we suffer will eventually be completely gone and replaced with something far better. Even in the here and now, the issue is not about our human worries and complaints. For many religious people, it’s about steadfast faith and humility.

One can certainly sense strong humility from someone like Umar, and a willingness to sacrifice his life, but not through his death, through his living for God. This is not easy when people point to you as the bad guy because of this decision. What this really means is that people must live for God every day, acting out their faith in all they do.

It’s not about seeking a heroic and glorious death with a one-way ticket to paradise. In comparison to the daily struggles we all face, the fight to resist various temptations, the latter seems something of a cop-out.

Yet, Muslims whose daily lives are such a far cry from the labels of ‘terrorist’ or ‘criminal’ are still being pasted with them by the ignorant. Some years ago, alarming evidence came forward that the 9/11 attacks on the US were more part of a kind of secret civil war than the acts of foreign-based terrorists. We probably won’t be able to settle on the truth of this matter for years to come because of the repercussions for citizens’ trust in their government.

Not everyone in current generations may be ready to admit the truth because the ‘War on Terror’ is all too fresh. In fact, it’s not over. It has been going on for a shocking 17 years and has required a massive sacrifice of human life, and I would include those who live with the scars in their daily life as part of that group. It has been America’s longest war ever, and predictions are that it will continue for about the next six years!

This not what the vast majority of Muslims want, or what the vast majority of people worldwide want. So why does it continue? There are still people who are angry and afraid to the point that they won’t or can’t give up the fighting. After almost two decades of fighting, some may not even know another way of life.

The evidence is certainly hard to swallow, and leaves one with such a sick feeling – even as a South African who may never have been to the US. I wonder if a better term for this ongoing war is the ‘War for Terror’.

There is too little being said about the needs of Muslims and others who have been caught in the crossfire. There are millions of displaced refugees who are struggling to find a safe place to settle down where they are welcome and can start to rebuild their lives. Even where they are being taken in, they may remain ostracised by the broader community for generations.

In South Africa, we have been largely shielded from the effects of the war, because our government did not become involved. Nevertheless, South Africans have been tested on their tolerance and ability to embrace and leverage diversity for everyone’s benefit, and people everywhere are facing this test.

Will we be willing to sacrifice our own comfort and advantage for the sake of diversity? Will we live our lives with conviction in being part of the solution? Will the world in time reject the senseless sacrifice of lives in favour of a different sacrifice – a sacrifice we can celebrate as a festival of the much higher cause to live for peace, for harmony, and guided by love for one another?