DIVERSITY & INCLUSION – South Africa sets a global benchmark


Event Africa Contributor 25/08/2021 Industry News

The GECN (Government and Executive Compensation Experts) recently hosted its webinar, CC-Circle: The CC’s role in creating a diverse and inclusive culture, motivated by current research showing that a more diverse, equal and inclusive culture generally supports outperformance. Together with distinctive keynote speakers and panelists, the webinar addressed how the CC (Compensation Committee) can foster the mindset of a more diverse, equal and inclusive landscape. Among the speakers was Chris Blair, CEO of HR, Rewards and Remuneration experts, 21st Century, who shares his insights here. Every continent in the world, except for South America, was represented by speakers, with 21st Century representing Africa.

Says Chris Blair, “I find it most interesting that, when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, many global specialists primarily consider representation of women in the boardroom. And while the importance of female representation certainly can’t be diminished in any way, it is only one of many aspects that constitutes the concepts of diversity and inclusion. In South Africa, there are 18 specific grounds for discrimination in the workplace. These include gender, race, age, language, education, religion and sexual orientation.

“While the UK, for example, also considers race in their policies, it considers little else. I’m proud to say that South African D&I policies are extremely advanced in global terms. And this is largely due to policies that have been designed to address many of the injustices of our Apartheid past, which excluded 80% of South Africans from executive positions and business ownership. Now, the Labour Relations Act, passed in 1995, addresses a full gambit of diversity and inclusion issues.

Scratching the surface

“The rest of the word has only just begun to scratch the surface of D&I, following issues like the George Floyd killing, which sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. The primary factor that slows international D&I policies down is that they are often not driven by legislation or regulation; whereas in South Africa, companies are required to have a B-BBEE scorecard and struggle to trade and function if requirements are not met. Effectively, the scorecard is a license to operate effectively.

“Yes, there are still non-compliant companies – particularly old, family-owned businesses – but, by and large, their product or service goes straight to the end user, and they don’t rely on the other companies in between. The Employment Equity Act was passed in 1998 to achieve equity in the workplace by promoting equal opportunity and elimination of unfair discrimination.             

“Additionally, the principle of Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value is geared towards eliminating workplace discrimination when it comes to pay, and South Africa has added this to its policy portfolio so that it is not just about who you employ, but how you employ them. This is not even a consideration in other countries.

Why inclusion matters

“In South Africa, we consider diversity throughout the supply chain and foster formal skills development programmes at all levels.

“Inclusion is a true driver of innovation, as we are selling and catering to a diverse population. And if you don’t have diversity in your own company, how can you understand the market? When it comes to brass tacks, we do it because we must do it to operate effectively. It is legislated, after all. But that is precisely what puts South Africa 20 years ahead on the world stage. Other countries may be driven by social causes – like George Floyd. But South Africa’s policies are a shining example in the big picture and others could really take a leaf out of our book.

Motivators for change

“For South Africa, Apartheid was a huge driving force in getting inclusion regulated. But what would the motivation be for other countries to follow suit? It’s difficult for many countries to understand context because they live in a world where they cannot even imagine what it means to be non-white (for argument’s sake). In fact, many individuals in these countries may not even have worked with a person of colour before, even though it is theoretically exerted in the workplace that companies need to be cognisant of different races, cultures and people. Theory and practice, however, are every different from each other.

“Change begins with education, development, employee activism and inclusive leadership, as leaders always set the pace. An understanding must be fostered that, in order for someone to gain an opportunity, someone else doesn’t need to lose one.

“Transparency about pay and working conditions, listening to society and formal audits keeping track of all these things should be taking centre stage globally and if certain  groups don’t have the skills white employees do, they should have upskilling and training opportunities afforded to them.

“If diversity is encouraged in communities, companies will know they are getting it right because they will have higher employee engagement levels; there will be transparency and performance feedback and when people are at the centre of the company’s universe, the communities they serve will more readily work with them. South African companies have seen this in practice, and it will work globally too, if (or when) it is allowed to happen.

Adding stakeholder value

“Diversity, equity and inclusion should be about adding value for all stakeholders in any company – not just shareholders. But this concept is very limited in workplaces in most countries. South Africa is unique in that legislation drives this already. D&I has become a business imperative. It is not optional in South Africa because of the five-pillar value chain:

  • Ownership
  • Management & employment Equity
  • Skills Development
  • Enterprise & Supplier Development/Preferential Procurement
  • Socio-Economic Development

“These are the pillars that could be rolled out on a global scale to see D&I deliver the true value it is capable of all over the world.”