5 lessons on why diversity isn’t black and white – it’s gold

artice image Building a diverse workforce is about building synergy within diverse teams and cultivating diverse behaviour. (Shutterstock)

South Africa’s most sought-after employers are increasingly recognising that diversity is a key driver of performance, recent data has shown. Indeed, the business case for diversity is compelling with an increasing number of global studies, including recent research by McKinsey, demonstrating a clear link between greater diversity and better financial results. 

Research conducted on HR policies, strategies and practices of South Africa’s certified Top Employers reveals that the overwhelming majority of these companies follow recommended best practice guidelines for managing diversity. Billy Elliott, Country Manager Top Employers Institute in South Africa explains: “This is crucial because managing diversity successfully is more than just ticking the boxes of race and gender.

And when properly understood, diversity is not just black and white – it’s gold. It brings in more revenue, makes for happier customers, and ultimately builds more sustainable businesses."

Based on data from the Top Employers Institute annual certification of HR best practice in South Africa, Elliott says there are 5 key lessons in diversity management that can help to set companies apart:

1. Define and communicate your diversity programme   

78% of South Africa’s Top Employers have clearly defined and communicated an organisation-wide diversity programme. And 74% of South Africa’s Top Employers ensure details of their diversity programme(s) are easily accessible via the intranet or handbooks.

For British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA), managing diversity is non-negotiable. “Diversity is a key business imperative for BATSA, given the landscape of our organisation which includes more than 137 nationalities represented in over 180 markets,” explains Candice Watson, HR Director: Sub-Saharan Africa. She adds that the company’s tactical approach to diversity starts with making everyone feel valued for what they can offer and that this is clearly communicated. The programme is called ‘Bring Your Difference’. “We believe that from difference comes strength,” she says.

2. Invest in diversity training

78% of South Africa’s Top Employers have trained specific employee groups regarding relevant diversity practices to enable them to build an engaged workforce through authentic and inclusive employee engagement. According to the Global Human Capital Trends report 2015 from Deloitte University, employee engagement is a priority both for HR and for the business and plays a critical role in business performance.

Knowing this, Santam’s Organisational Development Manager Annemarie Christodoulou says the company’s core value of humanity is expressed through a variety of diversity celebrations around Heritage Day and Women’s Day and concrete steps are taken to build an inclusive workforce for persons with disabilities. Historically, she says, diversity appreciation interventions have been run externally, but this is increasingly managed internally. A key role of HR is to equip front line managers with the tools they need to build greater synergy within teams. “We see diversity as a source of strength, and are constantly looking for ways to leverage that and communicate it to our people,” she says.

3. Measure the results of your diversity programme

Around 85% of South Africa’s Top Employers evaluate the impact and effectiveness of their diversity programme regularly.

BATSA and other Top Employers in South Africa understand that what you measure is what you manage. At BATSA, diversity measures are tracked and monitored against markers such as female representation at senior levels. There is also a culture of grow-from-within and inspirational leadership, says Watson. In fact, 94% of Top Employers have programmes in place to help women progress to senior management.

Read: 3 ways HR can make recruitment and retainment strategies effective

4. Employ people from disadvantaged backgrounds

An impressive 100% of South Africa’s Top Employers employ people from disadvantaged backgrounds. For Pernod Ricard, current efforts are targeted specifically at increasing diversity at middle and senior management levels. “More than 75% of our external hires are equity hires, in line with our aim to reflect the demographic of the economically active population,” says Andre Muller, Head of Human Resources. In order to encourage buy-in among staff and address diversity-related challenges, there is an EEC committee tasked with collecting and responding to staff feedback. “Our staff turnover is low, at around 6% per year, so we are doing some things right,” says Muller.

5. Education and age are diversity too

Over 40% of South Africa’s Top Employers ensure that they monitor and manage the differences in employees’ educational backgrounds. “Creating departments or teams with different educational backgrounds ensures a more diverse way of thinking,” says Elliott. “Employees can approach challenges with different perspectives.”

Furthermore, says Elliott, over a third of South African Top Employers have programmes in place to attract, engage and retain older people and 90% of them set out also to employ younger staff, driving greater age diversity.

Also read: Why hiring older people is better than the alternative

The power of diversity in all its facets is a tremendous business advantage,” concludes Elliott. “It’s something we see gaining momentum in Top Employers in South Africa. I believe that the country’s history and context has made employers here that much more attuned to the power and possibility of diversity.”

The Top Employers Institute has been running its global HR certification programme, recognising the world’s leading employers, for over 25 years. Certified Top Employers – more than 1200 worldwide – are given access to leading edge global HR best practices. Do you want your organisation to join the exclusive global community of Top Employers? Visit Top Employers Institute for more information.

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