The recent Penny Sparrow debacle on social media, followed by the Stellenbosch “black facing” incident, highlights the need for businesses to carefully manage diversity within the workplace. In addition to ensuring sensitivity and respect among employees, diversity must also be wielded as a key business strength.
This is according to Francois Wilbers, MD at Work Dynamics, who says that In the South African landscape, where socio-economic inequalities are rife and ethnic and cultural diversity is ever present, companies often face stern challenges with regards to effective human resource management (HRM).
Rather than viewing diversity and cultural variety as a challenge, organisations can embrace diversity as a platform through which to better understand its diverse stakeholder base.
He adds that as a democracy coming into adulthood, the country’s efficiency levels, leadership conviction, skills development and value systems come under close and often harsh scrutiny.
“These challenges we face as a young democracy, inevitably filter through into the businesses operating within the country and as a result, organisations big and small need to deal with several challenges on a daily basis. Nonetheless, valuing diversity throughout an organisation’s leadership and staff opens up a world of possibility with regards to interacting and engaging with a diverse stakeholder base – as is the case in South Africa.”
Wilbers explains that cultural-driven organisations often tend to outperform others, especially during troublesome economic conditions and says that company-culture is the building block on which the acceptance of diversity within an organisation is based.
“By building a company culture that is accepting of diversity and mutual respect, organisations create a space that is conducive to participation from employees with an alternative viewpoint.”
In order to build a company culture of acceptance, effective HRM is required, says Wilbers.
“Culture defines the accepted way of acting, thinking and interacting with colleagues within a business and an effective HR campaign can assist in defining or even reinventing company culture.”
He points out that in order to change the culture of an organisation, effective research in the form of internal meetings or surveys is essential to first define the current perception of employees regarding the company culture.
“It is advisable for organisations to partner with an independent HR partner to conduct this research to ensure that employees can freely discuss their views and opinions without feeling threatened.”
Wilbers says that secondly, strategic relationship building, internal communication and protocol development is required to filter in a new “collective attitude”.
“Managing change in an organisation is often challenging and businesses must remember that consistence, transparency and effective communication are key elements of success here.”
He highlights the fact that new generations are continuously entering the workplace and therefore culture management must not be viewed as a once-off exercise.
“Continuous assessment of the organisational culture is necessary to ensure that different cultural backgrounds and expectations are constantly being addressed.
“Aside from the business benefits of building a diverse workforce that mirrors and understands the country’s diversity, cultivating a culture of acceptance within an organisation will also do wonders for staff retention and overall employee morale,” concludes Wilbers.