Equality, diversity and inclusion: a strategic initiative | by Yasmine Miemiec

Yasmine Miemiec 2Globally, many organisations recognise that diversity means good business, that embracing a multiplicity of viewpoints and cultures drives innovation, improves decision-making, increases employee productivity and retention, and leads to better served customers. Yet, despite 77% of executives stating their strong support for diversity and inclusion initiatives, a Global Labour market survey found that only 40% of employees believe that their organisations are truly diverse and inclusive.

Letter of the law

Companies around the world are legally and ethically compelled to implement practices that ensure discrimination is eliminated and expectations of equality are always met in the workplace. Laws (with varying coverage and implementation) are designed to encourage that all workers be treated equally and be given the same set of opportunities regardless of age, gender, sexuality, disability, culture or any other feature that might be discriminated against.

In South Africa, in particular, legislation exists to ensure that an inclusive working environment is always fostered, and that any form of ‘difference’ should never present an obstacle to obtaining a job or to career advancement. There, organisations are incentivised to hire a more diverse workforce and to remove the barriers to development that stand in the way of previously disadvantaged groups.

This legislation is important and well meaning, but it has also bred a culture where many companies focus on equality diversity and inclusion (EDI) management as an issue of compliance and ‘getting the numbers right’. EDI is so much more than that. With a compliance viewpoint, companies are blind to the creation of an organisational culture that encourages the effective contribution of all employees to the mission and objectives of the organisation. It also means missing out the opportunities for increased innovation, better access to talent, and improved business performance.

Benefits of EDI

A good EDI programme has many benefits for staff and organisations alike: the working environment is improved, productivity is heightened, and success and business performance increases. When staff in an organisation feel that their differences are understood and appreciated, and when there are no barriers to job access and progression, employee morale is lifted, which in turn raises motivation and productivity.

Encouraging understanding of and respect for diversity among the staff results in contrasting perspectives and experiences being encouraged, which leads to team harmony and productivity. Communication among team members becomes more effective and this too leads to efficiency. Treating diverse employees equally means that staff members know that they will be given commensurate opportunities for promotion and progression, resulting in better retention and loyalty.

Employing people from all walks of life gives business a boost through having access to a wide range of knowledge, skills, experience, and even markets. A competitive edge is gained from the increased market share, improved productivity, and the resulting boost in company profile.
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Some of the key benefits of actively seeking and encouraging a diverse workforce are:
  • Knowledge of different sectors of the workforce can be used for business benefit,
  • A better understanding of market segments and behaviour can be attained,
  • The organisation becomes an employer of choice,
  • A wider talent pool becomes available for recruitment,
  • The workforce becomes more representative and therefore, more balanced.
So how do organisations close the gap between executive and employee perception?

There are five best practices which have been developed for enterprises to look beyond the visible differences of gender, age, and race and to arrive at an acceptance of diversity of all types.
  1. Looking beyond compliance, to understanding that building a truly inclusive organisation involves creating a workforce as diverse as the customer base and then using those difference to drive business.
  2. Identifying new talent pools. Increasing employees are having to look beyond traditional sources of universities and industry bodies to identify new talent.
  3. Addressing diversity in every aspect of talent management. Diversity and inclusion need to be incorporated into every phase of talent management – from recruiting and onboarding, to professional development training, performance management and career-pathing.
  4. Creating ways for people to connect. Organisations can foster inclusion is through organising employee affinity groups or communities within the company which allow people of similar backgrounds and experiences to connect.
  5. Making diversity part of the brand. Companies need to let the world know that they embrace differences and welcome all people.
Yasmine Miemiec is a Senior Associate at Bespoke CfSD Group and a director of 5Inc, a project implementation company operating in the areas of B-BBEE implementation and corporate waste reengineering - www.bespoke.co.za

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Posted on April 10, 2019