Diversity Management: Stronger together

By Terine Lott-Cupido

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As leaders of an organisation, you may have a team vary in age, have different backgrounds, cultures and beliefs. This may not always be easy to manage, but as the leader you have to make it work, because your team’s productivity may suffer. According to Fortune Magazine, research showed that companies that embraced a more inclusive culture had outperformed their counterparts. There is thus value in exploring Diversity Management a bit further.

What is Diversity Management?

The Business Directory describes diversity management as, “The practice of addressing and supporting multiple lifestyles and personal characteristics within a defined group. Management activities includes educating the group and providing support for the acceptance of and respect for various racial, cultural, societal, geographic, economic and political backgrounds.”

Diversity management is aimed at creating an inclusive working environment for all employees, so that the maximum potential of each employee, is unlocked. Now, you may be wondering, how is this typically done? Let’s help answer this question for you and unpack a few tips for you to consider.

1. Diversity Awareness

Diversity awareness is aimed at sharing purpose of diversity management and eliminating the misconceptions that may have initially existed. It also helps with creating an improved awareness about different cultures, and at the same time address incorrect stereotypes. It is thus important to encourage leaders and employees to undergo diversity awareness training, to explain the role of management and employees in the company, when creating an inclusive work culture.

2. Management buy-in

Management buy-in is key in creating an inclusive work culture. Once diversity management is understood and the value is shared, management would be empowered and equipped to develop a practical diversity programme or action plan, which should be integrated into the business strategy.

3. Develop a diversity management strategy

Diversity management involves organisational actions, taken to promote the inclusion of employees, from different backgrounds into the organisation. Developing a diversity strategy enables diversity programmes to be integrated with the achievement of the business goals. For example, having teambuilding activities to promote cultural awareness to strengthen the relationships with team members.

4. Move beyond compliance

You may have heard this analogy before, a “happy employee is a productive employee”. With this in mind, employees that feel excluded, may not necessarily give their best, which ultimately affects the bottom line. Diversity interventions is more than just an event or a compliance activity, because it makes good business.

5. Review policies and procedures

Company policies and procedures should be non-discriminatory and must align with the principles of the Employment Equity Act No.55 of 1998, which is to promote equity and fair treatment in the workplace and to redress the imbalances of the past through affirmative action measures. This includes creating a working environment free from discrimination against age, gender, pregnancy, marital status, family responsibility, ethnic or social origin, colour, religion, disability, political opinion, culture, language, and birth.

6. Employment Equity Committee

An Employment Equity committee’s role is to develop, monitor and implement the employment equity plan, in line with the Employment Equity Act legislation. This team would be representative of the different race groups, gender, disability and occupational levels within the organisation. If a trade union exists within your organisation, then a trade union representative, would also form part of this committee. Their role is also to review policies, procedures and work practices, to ensure that they are fair and non-discriminatory, develop plans to address the concerns and ensure it is implemented.

7. Open and honest conversations

Be cognizant that we are not all the same. Be approachable as leader and encourage openness in your meetings, so that staff feel comfortable to address any discriminatory or harassment issue directly with you. Address their issue in a constructive manner and give timeous feedback.

8. Diversity, a strength

Having managed a diverse team myself, has helped me see its value. It assisted me in understanding different viewpoints that I would not have typically considered. This was not because I did not want to, but because of lack of exposure and context. As a diverse team, we were able to develop more holistic solutions.

9. Celebrate differences

In South Africa, we celebrate Heritage day on the 24th September each year. You could use this as an opportunity to showcase, different cultures and beliefs with all your employees through talks or other fun activities. Encourage open conversations about your differences. Explore the benefits of your differences and as leaders of the organisation, commit to address the possible challenges faced.

Closing note

It may not be a legal requirement for a business to establish an Employment Equity Committee or Diversity team, if you employ less than 50 employees, but creating an inclusive environment has a business case. It not only promotes greater teamwork, it creates a climate of belonging, tolerance, respect and mutual understanding, which people value.

This article first appeared in the Dec/Jan issue of Your Business Magazine. Read the free digital issue here.

Terine Lott-CupidoTerine Lott-Cupido is the Managing Director at EmpowerLink Services, a Human Resources consulting company, focused on providing HR solutions to small business. For more information visit www.empowerlinkservices.co.za.

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