Diversity within the workplace

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Diversity within the workplace has been an important issue over the past two decades and still continues as an integral and distinctive subject within our workplaces and organisations. Within the South African framework, diversity has been largely driven by compliance with the Employment Equity Act as well as Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment. Government and unions have been advocating for these structures to be applied effectively and ensure transformation in the workplace. The pace of transformation has however been slow and tardy.

Talks of transformation and diversity is not something new. The implementation of these strategies have however been unsuccessful to a large extent. Organisations have failed to align their employment equity and diversity goals with their organisational goals leaving diversity strategies and goals only noted on a piece of paper without actual implementation thereof. Organisations have to make a conscious commitment to ensure diversity strategies are implemented and that the set targets are realistic and measurable.

The necessity for creating an inclusive organisation is the foundation of diversity and transformational practices. In order to ensure this, organisations are required to ensure their operations and working environment are inclusive of all diversity groups. When this is put into practice, no business decisions will be made because of diversity, but will be made to include all diversity groups as part of the decision making process. Organisations need to take a stand that directs and communicates their transformational process and goals to their workforce so that the buy-in is that of all stakeholders.

Line management needs to communicate, uphold and enforce the process to ensure its effectiveness. Once this is done, an organisation will start to transform and be inclusive leading to a diverse workforce. A diverse workforce and organisation does not only lead to a transformed organisation, but it is an opportunity to have a diverse group of employees that are developed into a competent workforce that not only achieve the requirements of legislation, but also a workforce that is highly skilled and poses numerous benefits for the organisation.

A diverse workforce allows an organisation to broaden their scope in terms of client base as a representative workforce can more easily connect with a representative client base where the client can also relate to the organisation. The more an organisation’s workforce consists of and identifies or represents that of the market, the more access the organisation has to different insights, views and perspectives. This ensures for a respectable client relationship where both the employee and the client is valued and respected.

Additional benefits also include better performance and problem solving skills as different minds think different and when a collective has to resolve a problem, different inputs solve problems more easily. This also speaks to innovation within organisations that is then driven by consensus on the organisational goals instead of a diversity target.

Employees from different and diverse backgrounds brings a bigger playing field into the working environment as it is a different set of talents and skills in one organisation. A diverse workforce not only draws the attention of the market, but also draws a different talent pool to an organisation.

Employers are also obligated to ensure that the working environment is free of harassment. Policies and procedures should make provision for employee’s too be protected against forms of harassment. Harassment can include spreading of rumours, bullying, unfair treatment, exclusion or victimisation or in any from making or suggesting a distinction on the grounds of race, gender, disability and so forth. Any form of harassment hinders productivity and an employee’s ability to productively work and contribute to organisational goals.

Employers have to ensure that employees are aware of the company’s point of view on harassment as well as the consequences of such conduct. Policies and procedures will dictate this and give guidance on how to handle the occurrence of such conduct, but also give employees the ability to bring such conduct to the attention of management.

Harassment is classified as a form of discrimination and results in a violation of a person’s constitutional rights. The effect on the organisation is immense as it creates poor morale among employees, lack of motivation and commitment from employees that leads to high turnover.

Diversity, today is much more than just racial transformation but also includes gender, religion, disability, education, experiences, ethnic backgrounds etc. Organisations should embrace this to their advantage and although diversity in the workplace is a challenge, it is without a doubt a benefit to an organisation and should be safeguarded and protected for both the employee and the organisation.

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