Since South Africa became a democracy more than two decades ago, government and unions have been at the forefront of championing employment equity in the workplace. However, the performance of business in the area of employment equity has been disappointing and after twenty four years we have failed to transform workplaces. On the other hand, several government departments managed to achieve and exceed employment equity targets, so much so that these organisations have started to recruit whites, coloureds and Indians in recent advertising campaigns.
Sadly though, government’s good progress in employment equity occurred in some cases at the expense of service delivery. In the private sector, not even the Employment Equity Act, coupled with several versions of broad-based black economic empowerment laws and codes have managed to make a significant difference to employment equity profiles of organisations. While it was believed that legislated employment equity plans would turn things around, unfortunately these plans managed to only make progress in the area of gender equity, so much so that South Africa is now one of the top 30 countries in the world regarding gender equity in senior management. Yet, despite the rhetoric of the rainbow nation, our underperformance in workplace racial equity and disability remains an ongoing challenge. A lot of work still needs to be done to accelerate transformation in the workplace and society at large.
Against this backdrop of perpetual inequality in the workplace, SABPP managed to develop a set of 25 HR Professional Practice Standards since 2014. This is part of the first set of HR standards world-wide in an attempt to reduce inconsistencies in HR practice and to improve the quality of HR work in organisations throughout South Africa. Moreover, it will also standardise approaches to current challenges in areas such as absenteeism management, leadership development and change management. The standards also focus on addressing the current poor progress in the critical area of employment equity by drafting a specific standard in this area.
The SABPP standard on employment equity and diversity management is defined as the systematic application of HR Management processes towards attaining and retaining a state of employment equity whilst developing a competent workforce to achieve social justice and organisational objectives in an organisation where diverse employees are highly engaged because they feel valued, respected, supported and treated as insiders within the organisation. The standard goes on to assert that a state of employment equity will only be reached when all previously disadvantaged groups are equitably represented in all occupationally categories and levels in the workforce sustainably over time. With the current slow progress in employment equity it may take another thirty years before workplace racial equality is eventually achieved – a situation that is simply not acceptable after so many years of a democratic dispensation in South Africa.
In addition to the definition outlined above, the standard specify fundamental requirements for good employment equity and diversity inclusion practices. These requirements are as follows:
I am sure that very few business leaders will argue against the principles of employment equity and diversity management. Surely, no business leader wants to be accused of being discriminatory or exclusive in terms of its employment and workplace practices. Being untransformed is not only evidence of social inequality, it also poses significant reputational risk for business. However, effective implementation of employment equity has been as elusive as the achievement of employment equity targets. Chasing employment equity targets in the absence of an integrated employment equity and diversity management strategy coupled with sound supporting HR practices has been one of the major reasons for the lack of progress in employment equity. Hence, building on the fundamental requirements of the HR standard on employment equity and diversity management, the standard continues with a three phase strategy for implementation:
The SABPP HR professional practice standard on employment equity and diversity management ushers in a new era of creating truly inclusive work places – places where all employees irrespective of their diversity profile can be themselves and deliver their best performance for their organisations. At a national level, we cannot afford to waste another twenty years with no or slow progress in employment equity. The perpetuation of workplace and social inequality remains one of the biggest obstacles to labour and social stability in South Africa.
Last year, at the special SABPP morning session on racism, the keynote speaker, Dr Danny Titus from the Human Rights Commission challenged HR Managers to play their rightful role as the people experts in organisations. He also commended SABPP’s HR Professionals for signing an anti-racism pledge. By signing the anti-racism pledge, HR professionals of SABPP commit to eradicate racism in the workplace and to be change agents for transformation.
Applying the spirit and guidelines contained in the SABPP diversity and employment equity standard positions your dynamic approach to people management in a proactive and inclusive manner for the benefit of all stakeholders. I invite HR Managers to join SABPP at our inaugural employment equity, diversity and transformation awards on 14 May 2018 to share their success stories about transformation in the workplace. Let us unite as HR professionals and let us create diverse and united companies reflecting the broader population of South Africa.
Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP). You can follow him on twitter @MariusSABPP More information about the EEDT awards is available on www.sabppawards.co.za