Five ways African employers can benefit from a more diverse workforce

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Africa’s most sought-after employers are increasingly recognising that diversity is a key driver of performance, recent data has shown. Indeed, the business case for diversity is compelling with an increasing number of global studies, including recent research by McKinsey, demonstrating a clear link between greater diversity and better financial results.

Research conducted on HR policies, strategies and practices of Africa’s certified Top Employers reveals that the overwhelming majority of these companies follow recommended best practice guidelines for managing diversity. “This is crucial because managing diversity successfully is more than just ticking the boxes of ethnicity and gender,” says Billy Elliott, Country Manager: Africa for the Top Employers Institute.

“And when properly understood, diversity is not just black and white – it’s gold. It brings in more revenue, makes for happier customers, and ultimately builds more sustainable businesses.”

According to Elliott, organisations that want to reap the benefits of true diversity must go beyond scratching the surface. “Diversity is a theme companies need to embrace and integrate,” he explains. “It can’t be candy-coated. It’s about much more than what you look like.” A diverse workforce means diverse behaviour, says Elliott – which means employers must engage fully with making it work.

Based on data from the Top Employers Institute annual certification of HR best practice in Africa, Elliott says there are five key lessons in diversity management that can help to set companies apart:

1. Define and communicate your diversity programme

Eighty six per cent of Africa’s Top Employers have clearly defined and communicated an organisation-wide diversity programme. And 74% of Africa’s Top Employers ensure details of their diversity programmes are easily accessible via the intranet or handbooks.

For DHL Express, one of just 10 Global Top Employers and certified in 12 African countries, diversity is a core business imperative. The company relies on diverse teams for more creative problem solving. “We have a number of programmes that emphasise the need to continually develop a more diverse and inclusive workforce to help drive our business forward on the continent,” says Paul Clegg, Vice President Human Resources – Sub-Saharan Africa.

DHL Express has an unparalleled footprint in Africa, one of the most ethnically diverse continents in the world with 3,000 distinct ethnic groups and 2,000 languages. Elliott believes that Top Employers like DHL Express have a key role to play in facilitating diversity management in the workplace that can play in vital role in building social cohesion.

Legislation differs from country to country, but Clegg says irrespective of the minimum requirements, DHL Express, as a business, places great emphasis on employee engagement. “Having motivated people is the first pillar of our global Focus strategy and being an Employer of Choice is one of our three bottom lines. This demonstrates how seriously we take employee engagement and development at a global level and on the ground in sub-Saharan Africa. We are fortunate to be the most international company in the world, which enables us to give our employees the very best learning and development opportunities. Our diverse network, which spans across 220 countries and territories, provides the opportunity for employees to learn and share experiences in different markets. The value of cross-country, on-the-job learning is immense.”

2. Invest in diversity training

Eighty one per cent of Africa’s Top Employers have trained specific employee groups regarding relevant diversity practices to enable them to build an engaged workforce through authentic and inclusive employee engagement. According to the Global Human Capital Trends report 2015 from Deloitte University, employee engagement is a priority both for HR and for the business and plays a critical role in business performance.

According to Linda Ronnie, Senior Lecturer in HR at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business (GSB), employee engagement can provide explicit recognition of personhood which is key to success especially in African organisations where there are diverse cultural and personal needs in play and mutual understanding in the workplace cannot be taken for granted.

A central part of overcoming barriers within a large and diverse workforce such as DHL Express’ is getting everyone on the same page from the start, says Clegg. “We have a global cultural change programme called Certified International Specialist (CIS), which revolves around four attributes: Speed, Can-Do Attitude, Right First Time and Passion. Everyone from the Global CEO to our couriers have gone through this training programme which reinforces our core competencies. It’s a fully inclusive programme which cuts across all diversity indicators and levels of occupation and we consider it to be an important driver of employee engagement and retention, and ultimately business performance.”

3. Measure the results of your diversity programme

Around 70% of Africa’s top employers evaluate the impact and effectiveness of their diversity programme regularly.

DHL Express and other top employers in Africa understand that what you measure is what you manage. And they are not alone. In the past few years tech giant Google has gone big on diversity, investing US$150m into its own diversity programmes in 2015 alone and also setting up a dedicated diversity-related page designed to make its diversity statistics more public – and triggering other Silicon Valley companies to do the same.

In an interview with USA Today Nancy Lee, Google’s vice president of people operations, explained that the move was not about altruism. Google wants to secure its own future by establishing itself as a leader in diversity. “The tech industry really understands that the future of our industry means we have to be more inclusive,” Lee says. “We are literally building products for the world. It can’t be this homogeneous.”

4. Employ people from disadvantaged backgrounds

An impressive 80% of Africa’s Top Employers employ people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The latter refers to groups that do not have optimal chances in the labour market because of their socio-economic situation.

For global beverage company Pernod Ricard, which also has a strong footprint in Africa, current efforts are targeted specifically at increasing diversity at middle and senior management levels. “More than 75% of our external hires are equity hires, in line with our aim to reflect the demographic of the economically active population,” says Andre Muller, Head of Human Resources. “A major challenge in any organisation is getting people at all levels to buy into the concept of diversity and to live it on a day-to-day basis. As to what levels of success we have achieved, we believe this is an ongoing process. We have set clear objectives and track and monitor our progress in key elements of diversity. Our employee turnover is low (around 6% per year) so we are doing some things right,” he says.

5. Education and age are diversity too

Just under 40% of Africa’s Top Employers ensure that they monitor and manage the differences in employees’ educational backgrounds. “Creating departments or teams with different educational backgrounds ensures a more diverse way of thinking,” says Elliott. “Employees can approach challenges with different perspectives.”

“A more uniform workforce has a more uniform and a less creative problem solving perspective,” agrees DHL’s Clegg.

Furthermore, says Elliott, over a quarter of African Top Employers have programmes in place to attract, engage and retain older people and 87% of them set out also to employ younger staff, driving greater age diversity.

This too is part of a global trend. A recent study by McDonald’s, for example, found that age diversity made for a happier and more productive workforce. Employees reported that they were up to 10% happier working in a multi-generational environment and that this also resulted in improved customer satisfaction.

“The power of diversity in all its facets is a tremendous business advantage,” concludes Elliott. “It’s something we see gaining momentum in Top Employers across the continent. I believe that Africa’s history and context has made employers here that much more attuned to the power and possibility of diversity.”