How leaders can use D&I to make things better for their people and companies


Webinar unpacks how diversity leaders can ensure good intentions become lasting change.

At a webinar sponsored by Workday, researcher Daniela Porr and local expert Bandile Jwili from Workday outlined the outcomes of research the team conducted with input from 2,200 business and diversity leaders across the EMEA region. Absa’s group head: transformation, diversity and inclusion Busisiwe Sithole, also shared practical tips and examples of how South African firms can improve their D&I to make things better for their people, their company and their country.

According to Daniela, the reason they care about equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging and think now is the right moment to talk about it at Workday, is because they believe they are in a now-or-never moment for diversity and inclusion.

“This is partly because there’s massive societal change at a global scale. But also, the pandemic has shed light on other areas such as mental and physical wellbeing. For the first time, no matter where we looked, it became clear that we needed to care for the physical wellbeing of our employees, but also have good discussions about mental wellbeing, as burnout has become such a big thing.”

She noted that there is also a change in the way we are as a society, and we are also living in a changing world of work.

Daniela explained that how she communicates and collaborates with her colleagues, customers and partners all over the world has taken on a different shape and been fundamentally shaken up, and this offers a lot of change, both positive and negative, but it also offers a lot of opportunities.

“Suddenly, what we’re experiencing is that old uncertainties and the ability to plan ahead have changed, and adaptability is a core skill that offers us diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

“Luckily, we have a technology shift: we have more technology, data, insights, and power at our fingertips to actually understand what’s going on, to take action to connect with each other all over the world.

“It has become clear to companies all over the world that prioritising D&I is the right thing to do for the people and also for the business.”

Changing a world of human resources
Daniela says now is the time to strategically and systematically move into the future and create workplaces that actually work for all.
Looking at some of the challenges in the D&I space, she said, “As we talk to our customers, prospects and partners, about the issues in the HR space, typically the same challenges and trends emerge and they are all intertwined.”

The challenges are:
1. Diversity and belonging: Creating a culture centred around diversity, belonging, and equity.
2. Employee engagement: Engaging a dispersed and distracted workforce.
3. Work support: Building efficient, secure and personalised HR service delivery processes.
4. Future-proofing talent: Reskilling and rebuilding for future success.
5. Workforce Agility : Improving the efficiency of workforce operations and payroll management.

But Daniela raised a question: “Is it really human resources that we should be talking about or are we in fact moving to a world where we should rethink that? Is it a changing world of HR? Or is it a changing world of human relations that we are trying to shape and make better, so that we can work better together, for the goals of the company and for our own individual goals?”

Outcomes don’t always match intentions
So why are the outcomes of this hard and important work not matching the intentions of organisations? “At Workday we believe that it is time to move from tactical to strategic and systematic to long lasting DE&I strategies, and that is not to say that the work that’s being done isn’t great, but we see an opportunity to scale it up a little bit,” said Daniela.

Research insights for South Africa
Bandile shared insights from a McKinsey study that when looking at the number of opportunities for recruitment, South Africa has the highest levels of opportunity for improvement.

“Sixty percent of business leaders see that there’s a need to attract and recruit a diverse workforce. And 64 percent say there’s a need to develop and promote people from a diverse workforce. Fifty-five percent speak to employee engagement and attracting and developing the actual talent within the organisation.

“These speak to changing what HR actually is. So changing the ‘R’ in HR we speak of human resources as an intervention. And this is quite important to me, because I believe that organisations need to stop looking at resources.

“Just stop looking at the transactional things that HR does for the body of employees within the organisation and start looking at building the relationships.”

Busisiwe says it is critical to ask: Why do we do what we do, as transformation, diversity and inclusion practitioners in businesses?

“At Absa our strategic focus areas intentionally focus on five elements. First, generational diversity speaks to how we ensure that we are taking the young people on this journey of transformation, diversity and inclusion, but at the same time, including the older generation, and not making them feel like they are no longer needed.

“The second is around gender diversity, where we ask how we ensure that we are balancing in terms of gender, and whether we are allowing women to meaningfully participate in the decision-making of the business as well as driving that strategy.

“The third is about people with disabilities. The fourth is around the LGBTQIA community, and lastly around racial as well as ethnic diversity.”

Busisiwe says their approach is firstly asking, “How do we know if we are okay in terms of diversity, how do we create opportunities and moments for our colleagues’ voices to be heard in boardrooms, where the decisions are made, and take it up a notch up and ask – if we are not diverse enough, how does that affect our efforts to be able to attract the customers that are actually speaking to the economically active population?

“We have intentionally decided to move from the transactional approach to the transformational approach, and actually look at the whole agenda of the employee lifecycle, holistically from the time before people even join the company, to the time they exit.”

In conclusion, Busisiwe said in each and every touch point of the employee lifecycle, they ensure that transformation, diversity and inclusion is part of Absa’s DNA.

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