Employment equity is business imperative

By Adam Samie

The release of the 2011/2012 annual report on the Commission for Employment Equity (CEE) revealed that there is a gross under-representation of black people, women and people with disabilities in key labour markets, with the Western Cape the worst performing of all provinces.

 

Although there are enough employment equity regulations and legislations in place, the lack of employment equity compliance in the financial services sector is due to businesses having no commercial motivation to transform.

 

Businesses need to begin to understand the commercial benefits of introducing employment equity practices, as well as the potential commercial drawbacks, such as being precluded from government contract, due to non-compliance.

 

Government therefore needs to lead the charge in a visible way by only considering companies with favourable employment equity scorecards, at the expense of those companies who are less compliant.

South Africa’s businesses need to foster the idea that transformation is good for their business. Businesses need to engender an environment that recognises diversity as a strength and not a disadvantage. This is a change process whereby the mind-sets of business leaders need to change to see that there is no inherent difference between a black person and a white person and that they both aspire to the same ideals.

 

This is by no means a complex process. An example is Woolworths recently landing itself in hot water with consumers when it placed a new appointment announcement, only considering black candidates. The announcement was perceived as negative by some as it excluded one racial group in favour of another. I believe Woolworths set a good example, as the company set out to encapsulate the commercial prerogative and priority to implement necessary changes for a diversified workforce. Woolworths should be viewed as a primary example of what companies in South Africa should be doing to ensure cultural diversity is implemented in the workplace.

 

However, South Africa’s businesses are not trying hard enough to overcome employment equity. The key is for businesses to recognise that South Africa aspires to multi-cultural non-racial society.

The problem with many of South Africa’s businesses is that they do not make the effort to change the demographics of a company’s staffing.

 

When running a business CEO’s often have their eye on profit, minimising costs and managing staff, which is the biggest single cost for a company to bear, especially in the financial services sector where people with experience and education are sought after.

 

Companies are often not that set on hiring previously disadvantaged individuals, as they will have to invest significant time and money into their development. In order for businesses to survive in the future they need to cater for a broader South African community. Change therefore needs to start at the top with the CEO and the board who need to adopt the principles of diversity, in order for it to become a priority at HR level.

It has to become a key performance area of CEO’s and boards, to encourage and inculcate culture diversity within the company. If there is no buy-in from the board, or the CEO, then the rest of the company won’t adopt equity standards.

 

Organisations ought to look within the various divisions within the company and begin to see where they can impose quotas and bring in people of colour. The introduction of more diversity into the workplace has a cascading benefit to businesses in terms of expanding their customer bases into new communities and areas previously untapped. Black Like Me, which is a range of hair care products dedicated to the African consumer, is a perfect example of a business that has been built around black historically disadvantaged people. They’ve built themselves into a multi-million rand business that now exports into Africa.

 

Furthermore, employees will gain value and insight into their business and will gain experience and education that they will take back to their communities and immediate families. From a financial service perspective, the more we bring historically disadvantaged people into to our business, the more we assist in the transformation of communities and the intellectual capacity of South Africa as a nation.

Adam Samie is CEO of short term insurer Lion of Africa

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