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Lavhelesani Mainganye sat down with Vhutshilo Masibigiri to find out more about incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion into an organisational culture

Ms Vhutshilo Masibigiri is a speaker, trainer, facilitator, DEI strategist, the founder and director of Diversity SA (Pty) Ltd, a management consulting company focusing in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Diversity SA provides a range of services such as DEI training and awareness raising sessions, diversity and inclusion conversations, DEI strategy, research, and advisory to both public and private companies in Southern Africa.

She boasts more than 25 years of work experience in human resources management and has worked on several projects across many industries doing change management, talent management, skills development, organisational development, stakeholder engagements and management prior to focusing exclusively on diversity, equity, and inclusion work. She holds an MBA degree from the University of Pretoria, an Honours degree in Human Resources Management from the University of Johannesburg, as well as an International Leadership Development course with GIBS Business School, which included studying leadership development and management in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America—a study which solidified her international leadership experience. Her work focuses on creating inclusive workspaces, as well as empowering the youth and women.

Unpacking diversity, equity, and inclusion, its evolution, and why it is necessary…

Diversity can mean a lot of things in a company depending on the sector. We talk of diversity in terms of race, gender, age, ethnic groups, language, ability/disability, religion, nationality, culture, etc. We can also talk of diversity in terms of social status, experience, political views, relationship status, and so on. When we talk about a company being diverse, it is when it is employing people from diverse groups (those who are not part of the dominant group) in any of the above-mentioned areas and more. Equity is when everyone in the company is equitably treated according to what they need, and their background. Equity can be in terms of pay equity or the equitable distribution of opportunities or resources. Equity is also about fair treatment, justice, and access. Equity should take into cognisance the intersectionality of the individuals. Inclusion is when everyone, including people from diverse backgrounds and people living with disabilities, is included and they feel like they belong in the company.

DEI has changed over the years. That change can be seen in the emphasis as well. First, the emphasis was on Diversity, and then Equity was added, and then Inclusion. And recently Belonging has been added to make it DEIB. The transition and the changes in the use of these words are due to time. As time passes, countries and nations have different pain points. People become aware of other differences that they were not aware of before. So, the changes are based on the pain points of the specific country/region at a specific time. The changes are also driven by an increase in the level of awareness of different social issues. And social media also plays a critical role in spreading messages and raising the level of awareness.

How a company can promote diversity and inclusion in its operations…

Companies can promote diversity in their operations by first having policies and procedures that support diversity and inclusion. This means that the Human Resources department has a critical role to pay in diversity and inclusion. First, they must make sure that the company employs people from diverse backgrounds. In South Africa, race is important because of the injustices of the past and apartheid laws that prevented blacks from participating meaningfully in the economy. Secondly, HR must have policies and procedures that support the appointment of people from diverse backgrounds and support the implementation of diversity programmes. And, lastly, companies must make sure that there are measurements in place for the implementation of the programmes, and such measurements must be linked to the reward system.

Advantages of an inclusive environment…

South Africa has over 90% blacks as part of the population, but the JSE has less than 2% of 100% Black-owned businesses. And that is not sustainable in the long term. It is a no brainer that the country needs all its people to be successful. There has been a lot of research about how diverse companies outperforms non-diverse companies. The country also needs all its people participating meaningfully in the economic activities for it to succeed.

Some of the mistake’s organisations make regarding diversity and inclusion…

Some of the mistake that companies make is to think that bringing in more people from diverse backgrounds is all that the company needs. For example, in South Africa, our pain point is race. Therefore, companies think that hiring a few black people into the company that is white dominated will solve the challenges of exclusion. Bringing in black people only solves the diversity part. It does not solve the equity, the inclusion, and the belonging parts. If blacks and women are brought in but they are not included, the company does not achieve competitive advantage. This goes for the employment of people with disabilities. Diversity applied alone does not achieve much.

Different people face different challenges in the workplace depending on the area of their diversity…

Depending on the identity of the dominant group, the minority groups will face different challenges. Sometimes, the issues are race, and sometimes it is gender, or sexual orientation or age. People with disabilities face different challenges such as lack of access, or lack of recognition. Women face different challenges to members of the LGBTQ+ community. Most of the discrimination that happens in the company emanate from fear. Fear of people who are different, as well as fear of those we do not know and/or understand. That’s why a leader who is culturally intelligent is crucial in a company. Depending on the area or region, most people discriminate against each other based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. These are the most common areas of discrimination.

Employers/leaders making their direct reports feel included and welcome within the team…

Leadership plays a big role in creating an inclusive workspace. An inclusive leader must have certain traits which in turn help the employees and the team feel included or make them feel like they belong. A leader who is culturally intelligent and curious will want to know more about diverse people and cultures. The Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) can help in highlighting the issues concerning the employees from minority groups. Other traits of an inclusive leader are collaboration and commitment. There are more traits, but these are the main ones.

Managing discrimination in the organisation…

Employers can handle discrimination successfully by ensuring clarity, transparency, and accountability into the workplace. It should be clear that the company does not tolerate discrimination of any kind. Secondly, employers can put policies in place to fight discrimination of any kind (race, gender, age, sexual orientation, and so on). The policies should be backed by company practices. There needs to be clear rules and consequences for discrimination. The rules must be known and followed by everyone in the company—or the rules must apply to everyone in the company. One of the areas companies can get it right, is by getting pay equity right (paying the same for work of equal value). Whether its pay equity for women or pay equity for black people, this shows that a company is committed to an inclusive workplace.

Developing and maintaining an inclusive workplace culture…

An inclusive workplace starts with a leader that is culturally intelligent and is curious about issues of inclusivity. Once the leader understands the importance of having a diverse workforce, then HR can come up with policies and procedures that support inclusivity. It’s very difficult for the company to be inclusive if the leader is not inclusive. Employees need to be intentional in dealing with their colleagues who are different from them, and continuously challenge their unconscious bias. Intentional in learning about others that are different, and intentional about challenging their own biases. For those employees or managers who are part of the dominant group, they can become allies for others who are less privileged. They can be the voice of those who are not in the room.

Approaches employers can use to advocate for inclusivity in the workplace…

It is important that companies encourage the formation of Employee Resource Groups (ERG) for minority groups. The benefit of an ERG is that they are composed of members of the minority groups that are being discussed. There are ERGs for women, for people living with disabilities, and some for LGBTQ+. Which means because of the ERGs companies can get first-hand information from the employees who are affected by what is happening in the company. Members of the ERGs can share information on the practices within the company, and they can also offer solutions on how these problems can be sorted. Companies can make available sponsors at the highest level possible to support the ERGs or to support members of the minority groups. Sponsors should be individuals who have the influence (to make meaningful decisions) and the resources (like funding) to support the ERG programmes. Employers can also have measurements and tracking systems in place to check the implementation of the DEI programmes. It is true that if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it. The measurement must be known, clearly understood by all, and linked to performance management and bonuses. That’s the only way they can be taken seriously.

Educating employees on diversity and inclusion in the workplace…

It is important for employees to know that people are more similar than different, and diversity in the workplace is important, especially in South Africa. Race and gender are what they see on the outside, the tip of the iceberg, inside people are the same. Race and gender are more visible than other diversity elements such as political views or religion. With race and gender, someone can look at you and conclude that you are this or that because you look like this and that. We assume that if a person is this race, they are like this, and if they are this gender, they must be like that. People are more than their race and gender.

Event, trend, or change that will change diversity and inclusion in the next five years…

The changes that have happened in the past five years are in the awareness part of such issues. Social media has been able to put a spotlight on DEI issues that would not have been taken up. We have also seen the rise of social justice movements being amplified. The voice of the LGBTQ+ has also been strengthened in the past five years, these are the global trends. In South Africa, the spotlight has been on the fight against gender-based violence (GBV). The next five years in South Africa are going to see the explosion of the youth crisis. I am not sure how we are going to deal with it when it happens, but it will happen. In the other areas of diversity such as race and gender, we seem to be doing well in the government and the public sector. Social populism can drastically change the direction of events in any direction that it is focused. The rise of political populism will influence the direction of the social movements.

Lavhelesani Mainganye is a PRISA accredited communication practitioner with considerable experience in the field.