Many companies in South Africa are becoming aware of the need to manage their employee diversity more effectively. This might be in order to better achieve employment equity targets or to improve organisational culture, or to improve levels of attraction and retention of designated groups. The important role of managing diversity cannot be underestimated in these areas.

The critical aspect in successfully managing diversity is to conceptualise it as a process, and not as a training intervention alone. It can be part and parcel of an effective change management intervention and can add considerable value to the overall change management process in any company.

Managing diversity should ideally be preceded by an assessment of the target group’s existing level of skills and competencies. A diversity skills assessment should be undertaken to evaluate this. It should be noted that managing diversity is far more comprehensive than merely managing cultural diversity. Culture is only one of a plethora of diversity areas which confront the South African manager.

An effective diversity skills assessment will help to identify the specific areas in which managers require further development. These can include attraction and retention of members of designated and non-designated groups as well as deepening understanding of how to motivate acknowledge and reward employees in line with diversity competencies.

Managers may also require better understanding of the different norms and cultural practices as well as the needs of the differently abled and those of employees of different sexual orientations and different religious groupings. It can include understanding of terms like discrimination, prejudice, racism and harassment and how these might be regarded as barriers in the working environment.

Once the diversity skills assessment has been evaluated, the Managing Diversity training process should be developed in line with the results. Usually it is more effective to plan the training component as a series of modules so that on the job practice can be undertaken between the various modules. The first module should incorporate diversity awareness training, since managers cannot be expected to manage what they do not understand.

The other modules will be determined following the pre-training assessment but will probably incorporate elements of recruitment, effective communication, organisational engagement, career development and retention all with a focus on diversity. The elements of diversity will include gender, race, age or generation, culture, religion, disability, language and others.

Once the modular training has been effectively facilitated, preferably by an external company with accredited assessors, the managers should be required to practice on the job what they have learned in the training module. This can be presented and assessed as a portfolio of evidence or less formally in a group feedback session with other members. The practice of diversity skills is very important in order to cement the learning.

Thereafter the measurement and rewarding of diversity skills and competencies should be incorporated into the Key Performance Indicators and ongoing assessment of the performance of managers. It is important that diversity skills and competencies are regarded as important in evaluating the overall performance of managers and a suitable weighting can be accorded to these, in line with the company’s specific vision, goals and targets.

Assessing diversity competencies should preferably be done in line with a 360 degree model incorporating views of employees who are subordinates as well as senior managers. In this way a more holistic view of diversity competency can be established. Regular assessment should be accompanied by ongoing managing diversity training in line with the changing diversity needs of the company.

A company which addresses managing diversity as a process, assessing the specific needs, training in line with identified needs and measuring and rewarding results can expect to achieve real measurable benefits. These should relate first and foremost to the bottom line since effective diversity management should result in improved productivity and profitability. Relationships drive performance and a company in which managers understand and manage the cultural and other diversity of employees can expect to be the kind of companies where employees want to work and want to stay.

If you would like further customised assistance with diversity management processes contact the thought leaders in this area; Diverse-T.

By Teresa Oakley-Smith
Managing Director of Diversi-T