Diversity Management & Inclusion- Core to People Management Strategy

I held a talk at PowerFM987’s midnight show, PowerZone, with the host, Mr Morio Sanyane, on the 9th January 2019. During and after the show I continued to reflect on the inputs from the callers. It became clear to me that Diversity Management & Inclusion ought to become the strategic intent of South Africa if we are to move the country forward. 

DISUNITY: South Africa is a complex and dynamic country with big ambitions but lacks structured approach to its disunity problem. This is a legacy problem from our Apartheid past. It continues to define the context in which we live, work, and function as a society. The time has come for us to face this ill head on as it is delaying us from progressing toward our dream future. We cannot stay in perpetual denial of our legacy problems like this one. Yes, is as a result of our history, especially Apartheid, but it must not define who we are to become.

ONE IDENTITY: Our new reality is our lack of the capacity at both individual and organizational levels to handle challenges of our cultural diversity. Before we can tackle global competition in all spheres we must first establish one South African identity that we are all committed to. Demands of social cohesion are not going to be put on the sideline. We must continue to cultivate the “ground” on which the seeds of democracy have been planted. We left this young democracy unattended. Our over dependency on the political organizations and their leadership to nurture our democracy is abdication of our responsibility as citizens and the society.

THE SOCIETY: Talking about the society, we are referring to all the sectors, including the political structures. The other structures that must come forward and play their role are the business sector, sport fraternity, religious organizations, cultural organizations, educational institutions, the community based structures, etc.

FORMULA: The formula I suggest to position Diversity Management & Inclusion as the national strategic imperative is as follows: Philosophy + Strategy + Programmes + Plans (i.e. Actions)

PHILOSOPHY - we must continue with dialogues, conversations, debates, and hold think tanks to formulate national philosophy on Diversity Management & Inclusion. Let us allow the thinking process to diverge for a while and ultimately converge to a common and agreed philosophy. We must interrogate the “world” around us in as far as our diversity is concerned, and sharpen our understanding of the issues that are troubling us. This philosophy must become a blueprint that the whole country is rallying around. It will inform the national strategy on Diversity Management & Inclusion; 

STRATEGY - Implementing Diversity Management & Inclusion Programmes in isolation from the country and companies strategies, especially people management strategies, is meaningless, especially in such a diverse society and country like South Africa. ”Strategy is an action that managers take to attain one or more of the organization’s goals. Strategy can also be defined as a general direction set for the company and its various components to achieve a desired state in the future. Strategy results from the detailed strategic planning process”, www.managementstudyguide.com 
This definition suggests that we must define the future goals we want to achieve,  come up with programmes, and plans that will make sure that we act and achieve our desired future state.

PROGRAMMES- To simplify the implementation of our Diversity Management & Inclusion strategy we need to identify and formulate the projects that can be grouped into national, provincial and local programmes. All the sectors of the society, mentioned above, must make sure that within their own spheres they have Diversity Management & Inclusion Programmes informed by the national philosophy and strategy, but relevant to their specific challenges.

PLANS AND ACTIONS - For the Programmes to make impact, we must have Plan of Actions, that bring us closer to the operational level. Such plans must be evaluated and revised annually to make sure that we progressively move closer to our set goals. 

DIMENSIONS OF DIVERSITY (WHEEL): Diversity is very broad and different in many aspects as per the famous Diversity Wheel. The wheel looks at the following dimensions: Internal; External; and Organizational. At the centre of the Diversity Wheel is the Individual/Personality. Organizations and Companies that employs people must require more than mere core dimensions. Segments of the external dimension need to be considered. All dimensions are connected with each other and do not follow any prioritization. 

INTERNAL DIMENSIONS: The Individual/Personality is surrounded by the internal dimensions that are nearly unchangeable, namely, Race, Gender, Age, Generation, Ethnicity, Sexual Orientation, and Physical/Mental Ability. Diversity Management & Inclusion Programmes must seek to encourage people to acknowledge these innate differences and not use them as a bases on which they discriminate against each other. It is these differences that make us unique as members of teams or groups. Our unity in these differences must contribute to our drive to achieve common team or group objectives. However, this does not happen on its own. Hence, a need to have Diversity Management & Inclusion experts to facilitate the process of developing the competences in the subject. 

EXTERNAL DIMENSIONS: This refers to Income, Personal Habits, Recreational Habits, Religion and Spirituality, Educational Background, Work Experience, Appearance, Parental Status, Marital Status, and Geographic Location. Anyone  arguing that these external dimensions cannot be changed, he or she is purposefully refusing to embrace change, and must become a subject of  Transformation and Change Management. This is a prerequisite to their understanding of the importance of Diversity Management & Inclusion to the country and organizations.

ORGANIZATIONAL DIMENSIONS: Diversity Management & Inclusion Programmes at the organizational level must seek to address the following organizational dimensions; Leadership Role, Boards and Agencies, Management Status, Work Location, Group Affiliations, Status, Period of Employment, and Functional Levels. It is at this dimension, in many cases, that nothing is done. The officers at these higher levels of the organizations often do not see themselves as candidates of Diversity Management & Inclusion programmes. They would rather sponsor such programmes for the lower levels of the organization and yet these higher levels are the drivers of the culture of the organizations. Diversity Management & Inclusion Programmes are transformational in nature and must therefore start at these levels. Otherwise, they will become cosmetic and achieve nothing. The Chairperson of the Board and the CEO must understand that it is their responsibility to sponsor Diversity Management & Inclusion Programmes, the implementation of which starts at the Board and Exco levels. 

MANAGEMENT OF DIVERSITY: Like all other strategic and operational processes in organizations, diversity must be managed. Management is a conscious process. It involves conception, planning, organizing, implementation, controlling, and stabilization to achieve effectiveness and efficiency in delivering a particular outcome. So, this suggests that organizations that ends at the philosophical level of engagement with Diversity Management & Inclusion will effect no change at all. Most companies think that by conducting seminars, conferences and workshops on Diversity Management & Inclusion are practicing it. This is self-deceiving. In fact this approach and practice cause more emotional harm to the people and the system. The seminars, conferences and workshops should be followed by the design and implementation of the company specific Diversity Management & Inclusion Programme. There must be accountability and consequence management culture for non-delivery of the process and measurable goals. The CEO and Exco must monitor such implementation process. The organization must identify and appoint champions in each division and/or department, train, provide capacity, and support them throughout the journey.

INCLUSION: By Inclusion we suggest that every Diversity element within our organization is considered, valued, appreciated, accommodated, allowed to express itself, and is integral to our culture. It influences our culture. It is our culture.

CULTURE: What is culture? It is our way of doing things here at our organization and in our country. It is our practice. This culture is embedded within all our internal and external processes. All the custodians of the processes must posses the levels of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) suitable to equip them in dealing with the dynamism brought by Diversity Management & Inclusion in our organizations and the country. If they do not posses the necessary EQ level they must be trained and developed until they are at the acceptable level. The champion whose EQ is very low will create crisis, especially in diverse organizations and country like South Africa. We have many such examples in this country to substantiate this point, and they have been widely covered in the media.

PROCESS NOT EVENT: Diversity Management & Inclusion is not an event. It is a process. Its effective practice is not achieved overnight. The organizations must take a long-term view when they adopt it as part of their people management strategy. The results take long to be achieved. 

FOCUS ON AGE STRUCTURE: Determine the age structure within your business and estimate future developments. People planning and Talent Management give insight to understand if the company has all necessary competencies for future projects. Case Study: Let’s use petroleum companies as an example. It takes about ten years from building to commissioning a refinery. Planning for talent must start simultaneously and be exposed to environment long before commissioning. In such a case you are going to have golden talent training and working with Generation Y. Results are often part of a demographic project and have personal consequences in relation to recruitment and career development. The reality is that not only women and members of the Generation Y are interested in a work-life balance, men are more and more interested in spending more time with their families. 

FOCUS ON MIXED GROUPS: Have wide ranging knowledge and experience within your company. The tendencies is to have homogenous age teams which will retire within the next couple of years. In academic sector, globally, researchers are in the late ages. You need talent pipeline for replacement when they retire. Make use of the Mentoring Relationship to smoothen the transition. 

FOCUS ON EMPLOYABILITY & WORK LIFE: The company goal is to sustain employability until retirement. Development options as well as a willingness to learn new things must exist. In consideration of the increasing retirement age, an increased flexibility of working hours and conditions becomes more and more important. To guarantee employability, it is also important to offer health programs.

FOCUS ON VARIETY OF GENERATIONS: Companies have to meet Generation Y’s expectations, with open leadership, transparent communication through social networks, a work/life balance, connectivity, employee value proposition acceptable to them, etc. Different values require good teamwork and competent managers who establish a motivating work environment 

FOCUS ON GENDER: Women are the growing resource on the job market. Studies show that most future success competences are of feminine nature so that gender-mixed teams are most promising. Gender equality is of high importance. It is important that the gender dimension does not only include female support programs, but male also. The goal is to benefit from gender-specific values, attitudes and preferences. The goal is to motivate both genders to a sophisticated performance.

FOCUS ON SEXUAL ORIENTATION: An employee’s sexual orientation does not concern corporate management. However, many companies realize that it can increase motivation and job performance when they treat this issue openly. In regard to some target groups, the sexual orientation shall be considered LGBTI

COMMON REACTIONS: Here are some common reactions to Diversity Management & Inclusion, and we should be conscious of them at our own organizations.

Exclusion: Avoiding diversity problems with maintaining homogeneous groups at certain levels and areas. Other groups suffer from decreased career opportunities.

Denial: Ignoring diversity problems. Companies claim to evaluate people, not their skin colour.

Oppression: The designated groups are asked to keep their opinions for themselves to avoid conflicts (e.g. political and religious discussions)

Isolation: The designated groups are present only in specific departments and are insulated (maybe through real divisions or limited access to information)

Assimilation: Tendency to align the designated groups to standards of the dominating group (such as a common company language). At company takeovers, for instance, when organizations have to culturally adapt to their parent company

Tolerating: Tolerating designated groups but reducing interactions. Problems are only covered and not solved. Prejudices and stereotypes within groups are perpetuated. 

Acceptance and Understanding: Employees are encouraged to develop acceptance and understanding. Looking for commonalities to overcome diversity challenges. Starting sensibility training and get togethers Understanding and accepting all participants with diverse benefits.  Willingness to enable cultural change.

IMPLEMENTATION STEPS: The following are the generic steps to follow in the implementation of the organization’s Diversity Management & Inclusion Programme; (1) Define Goals for the Programme; (2) Examine the Current State; (3) Plan Implementation Process; (4) Realize Implementation Goals; (5) Measure Success

IN CONCLUSION: As mentioned at the beginning of this article, this topic is very broad. We cannot cover all the aspects here. We will continue engaging in it as it is part of our lives and is evolving daily. For example we must deal with other elements like people with disabilities, multiculturalism, multilingualism, xenophobic tendencies, etc.

FOLLOW UP: I am the Executive Coach (PCC, ICF) and founding CEO of COMETSA GoC International (Pty) Ltd; Tel. +27 11 974 9308; Cell. +27 72 376 7503; callcentre@cometsa-goc.com ; www.cometsa-goc.com


  1. Very profound Mr Tsima, this is a very sensive issue in our corporate struggle and the more it is addressed the better our working environment will be, I have experienced some of the same challenges and it is through understanding Diversity Management that we can win, senior management tends to avoid this critical element of running their businesses. I hope this will change their mindset and we start moving in the right direction . Thank you so much for tackling this issue.. Hope


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