South African technology companies are wrestling with transformation on two levels: the need to transform their businesses to become more representative of their society and the imperative of digital transformation. Both forms of transformation should be about people first and foremost, but instead the focus is on compliance in Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE ) and tech in digital transformation.
When it comes to B-BBEE and employment equity, companies are scrambling to comply with the letter of the legislation. If you look below the top two layers of leadership – which remain largely grey, white and male even at companies making a sincere attempt to transform – you’ll find a workforce that is more diverse than it has ever been in South Africa’s history.
Job done, right? In most cases, far from it. While the HR department and business leaders may pat themselves on the back for meeting their B-BBEE scorecard and Employment Equity Act targets, their work isn’t complete until the company truly embraces the spirit of inclusivity in everyday business. There are few companies that are getting this right.
All too many people join a company and find themselves without mentorship, learning opportunities, and the chance to make a real difference to the company. So, a question that is as important as ‘How many black females do we employ as a percentage of our workforce?’ is ‘How are equity candidates meaningfully included in the business?’
For example, Which resources are put at their disposal? How is their culture and perspective acknowledged and celebrated in the business? What opportunities are they given to contribute? Many business leaders in South Africa, even those with the best intentions, may not be attuned to the bereavement rituals of many people they work with every day or their lived experiences in a country still scarred by apartheid.
Consider something as seemingly inconsequential as corporate canteens serving more western dishes over morogo or uphuthu. How can anyone feel truly integrated into a workplace when so little effort is made to truly include their culture in its culture?
There are also the challenges of knowledge transfer and genuinely empowering people to be at their best, especially when top B-BBEE talent is in such high demand. Many people with real potential are promoted too quickly without the opportunity to gain the experience that will enable them to shine and make a real difference – and once again, often because there is a target to meet. This is setting people up for failure. What should companies be doing to set up their people for success?
While all of this is going on, the global work environment is changing at an unprecedented pace and scale. Automation is destroying many traditional roles, especially those built around repeatable, rules-bound tasks and processes. In so doing, it’s creating new jobs that have creativity, entrepreneurial thinking, empathy and problem-solving as their central requirements.
Keeping your eye on a moving target
As a corporate strategist, you do not have a clear idea about what roles and skills you’ll need in five years’ time. How then, do you hire appropriately when the future is such a moving target? Sure, we know that artificial intelligence and other intelligent automation technologies will proliferate in this time, but the consequences are as yet unpredictable.
The speed at which job roles are changing is outpacing the ability of people to reskill and new-skill themselves, raising questions about what responsibilities companies have in a country where unemployment is close to 30%. How do companies help people to keep up with a changing job market and what can they do to be kind to those that cannot reskill themselves for a new workplace?
There are no easy resolutions to these questions, but perhaps a good place to start seeking the answers is by being more human. Speak to the people to understand what their plans and expectations are for the years to come. Share your vision for the culture you’re trying to build and get them excited about it. Put aside the scorecard and the technology and start having the right conversations.
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