Failing to transform

Talking transformation ahead of inaugural CHRO SA master class

CHRO SA will be hosting its first-ever master class on 26 July, where the theme will be 'transformation' and, particularly, why the HR professional has seemingly failed to get it right. CHRO brother company, CFO South Africa, recently hosted a similar master class wherein finance executives took a hard look at themselves and dissected the reasons for the roles they have played in the snail-pace transformation of South Africa’s skilled workforce. Next week, HR execs will partake in a similar introspective exercise in an effort to bring to light the uncomfortable issues about inequality, the real impact of BEE, and prejudices that all business leaders still have, whether they are white or black.

In this article, we speak to some HR executives who will be attending the event to get their thoughts on why Corporate South Africa is failing to execute the country’s transformation agenda.

Juliet Mhango, Group Human Resources Executive at Life Healthcare, says that, while the transformation is evident at lower levels, particularly in the healthcare space, middle and top-level management remains untransformed and she would like to have a discussion that speaks to how HR execs can make an effort to improve transformation at higher levels.

Sungeetha Sewpersad, HR executive at Barclays Africa, says that transformation, in the South African context, is mostly in relation to race demographics and female representation whereas the conversation, in the global context, is considering things like the inclusion of the LGBTI community. That, in her view, means that HR executives have to have a very nuanced discussion, which relates to South Africa’s specific history.

Khosi Matshitse, Group Executive Human Capital at the AECI Group, is passionate about transformation with regard to improving inclusiveness. She says corporate South Africa has made commendable headway in terms of growing the number of designated groups within the workplace but there is still a lot of work that has to be done towards making sure that those employees feel valued within the organisations that they work for.  

She says inclusiveness is about making sure designated groups feel that they are empowered to make appropriate decisions, and that they are given the confidence to make themselves heard within an organisation, but that corporate South Africa remains very far behind in that regard. 

The reason, she says, is that the history of the country has conditioned people to think and feel a certain way during their childhood and that it is difficult to change those sometimes subconscious preconceptions and emotions within people when they are already in adults that are at the peaks of their professional careers.

“The hearts of senior people in South Africa are not in the right place and that is why there continues to be a feeling of an elephant in the room with regard to transformation, irrespective of whether we are talking about black representation or female representation,” says Matshitse.

Tswelo Kodisang, CHRO at Tigerbrands, says his approach to transformation is to build people, rather than simply poach transformation candidates from other companies because there is a very limited pool of people who can fit the criteria for critical leadership roles, and adding demographic criteria only serves to further reduce the size of that pool.  That is why he prefers to hire people and train them to be ready for strong leadership roles.

“It’s one thing to say you want a black female for a particular role, but if there is no person within that demographic that has the requisite skills and experience, you have to approach the goal/plan holistically by ensuring you drive continuous development with the right support structure and sustainability in mind,” says Kodisang. “Because, otherwise, you will appoint someone that is bound to fail which will damage our transformation ambition and goals.”