Textbook co-edited by UP academic reveals slow pace of transformation in South African workplace

Posted on June 08, 2020

The first ever university and industry textbook on diversity management in the South African workplace reveals that race and gender representation remains largely elusive, in both the public and private sectors.

Managing Diversity in the South African Workplace – co-edited by Professor Nasima Carrim of the University of Pretoria (UP) and Dr Leon Moolman of North-West University – looks at topics including race, gender and the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). The textbook was authored by 10 academics across South Africa, including Professor Alewyn Nel, Head of UP’s Department of Human Resource Management, and is aimed at human resources managers as well as university students. 

“The rate of change is taking place at a very slow pace and organisations are losing talented employees in the process,” says Prof Carrim, an associate professor in UP’s Department of Human Resource Management in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences and a registered industrial psychologist. 

According to her, within the public sector (which includes government and parastatals), the government is the highest employer of the African population group at all levels, from senior to top management positions, and from professional and skilled to semi-skilled and unskilled levels. Government has made a concerted effort to bring about race parity within national, provincial and local government sectors.   

Transformation in the private sector, however, is slow, with white professionals still in the majority, especially in managerial and skilled positions. This sector is also beginning to employ more foreign nationals at these levels. There is also a high level of illiteracy, a shortage of skilled labour and a scarcity of technology and science graduates among historically disadvantaged groups in South Africa. Enrolment in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and ICT courses, for example, was found to be low.       

Prof Carrim points out that while companies are working towards achieving gender parity, many have not reached their goals. In both the private and public sectors, fewer women occupy senior and top management posts (statistics far lower than the number of economically active women). “There is a lack of women CEOs and women in senior and top management posts. Most women stagnate at middle-management levels,” she says. Additionally, women face harassment, stereotyping and discrimination, all of which deter many from pursuing higher management positions. Women who have more than one child are also not regarded as senior management material as the belief that they would be more focused on their families than work is as pervasive as ever. Not only are structural elements a hindrance to women’s upward mobility but so are women’s family commitments, cultural factors and confidence in their abilities.     

What’s needed, Prof Carrim explains, are leaders who believe in transformation and good succession planning initiatives, the lack of which among many organisations results in diverse employees not being promoted.

The concept of diversity management goes beyond that of race and gender: diversity embraces all aspects that make us similar and different, including age, sexual orientation and religion, she says. These various dimensions should be harnessed to ensure the success of companies. If things do not change the benefit of valuable employees will be lost, which will be detrimental to the company image and bottom line.           

Prof Carrim said the 4IR is having an effect on the operations of many organisations. “Many administrative jobs – for example, in the banking sector – are disappearing as a result of changes in technology. However, many new jobs may be created as a result of the fourth industrial revolution.”

The workforce will have to constantly reskill and upskill to keep up with technology, and companies will need to invest in training employees to a greater extent, she says.

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