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Diversity is Humanity. We start and end with Diversity

A reflection of the Clarkhouse Human Capital Diversity Day

Perception and paradigms, choices in a split second, fear, legacy, internal dialogues, stereotypes. These and many more impasses were brought up throughout the day in response to the question of: Diversity – why are we getting it so wrong? But before we delve into the vast abyss of blame and retribution it’s important to understand that this question morphed and weaved throughout the Clarkhouse Human Capital Diversity Day between speakers, between guests, between the silence of every uncomfortable question about race, sexuality, gender, age or passion and between what was and what can be, for at the end the question was not why are we getting it so wrong, but rather, how can we get it right? And this above everything else is what Clarkhouse Human Capital was offering, a chance to stop what we’re doing, what we’re doing so wrong, and changing. For the sake of humanity.

As an attendee I had the privileged perspective to watch, observe and be a part of the energy that was being created. I didn’t have to worry about my talk, my view, was everyone paying attention? I had the luxury of being totally immersed and listening to every detail, every nuance and every passion point made about this topic. So what did I learn? (These are completely my own interpretations, and being the diverse human that I am, it is by no means a reflection of the whole)

1. Why do companies get it so wrong?

What struck me the most over this entire day was how many emotions it evoked. There is this desperate need as human beings, to connect to one another. No amount of technology or education can deviate from the fact that we are all on this journey on earth, together. As soon as people and in this case businesses understand that, the tick box exercise of diversity falls away. It becomes one of understanding and meaning. So with this in mind, surely companies can get it right? Through cultural innovation, a cultural understanding and understanding the science of diversity, companies CAN get it right.

2. No one is exempt from Diversity

As much as we are the same, we are different. But different to me may be poles apart from what different is to you. Liesl Bebb-McKay (Head of The FOUNDeRY, RMB’s innovation and disruptive technology division) made reference to the Mogli Syndrome which really sums up the human character very well. Women in business specifically find it a challenge in modern corporate to run with the "wolf-pack" but still being comfortable being a women and being feminine and not acting like a man to be successful. We run with the wolf-pack but actually want to run with the man-cubs, but feel most comfortable with the wolf pack and therefore never challenge ourselves to be man-cubs. So in essence we need to make ourselves and others feel comfortable enough to let their true self shine. This is our responsibility.

(Catherine Marshall, Richard Warren-Tangney, Nwabisa Piki, Liesl Bebb-McKay having a panel discussion)

3. You are not in the business of making money, you are in the business of humanity

As much as a business runs for profit, it is nothing without people and the many layers of culture that makes up the business. Stan Slap (New York Times and Wall St. Journal bestselling author, CEO of SLAP and renowned thought leader about business culture) enlightened us to the 3 cultures of a business – employee culture, management culture and customer culture. Each of these living, breathing organisms that shape the trajectory of your business, whether you like it or not.

4. Take courage

I cannot emphasise enough how inspired I was by all the women speakers on the day. This could of course be because I am myself a working mother so I share the many sentiments and understanding of the battle that each one went through to be where they are today. (Of course the men in the room have most probably had an equal battle but I’m not able to comment on behalf of them.) Lindiwe Mazibuko (First black woman in South African history to be elected Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, UCT and Harvard Kennedy School of Government in the United States graduate), what an incredible person, so inspiring and so strong, whose overall message was where and how are we growing Africa’s next generation of public leaders? There is a huge deficit, political parties won’t grow them. It’s our responsibility as parents and business leaders to ensure that we mentor effective, ethical and transformative leaders.

(Joké Coker, sharing her vision of Human Excellence)

Catherine Marshall, one of the first female wine makers in South Africa, the most wonderfully talented, honest and genuine person I have met in a long time who just quietly shared her journey, never once realising how incredibly powerful and inspiring she is.

Joké Coker (Awarded top 40 Nigerian female professionals in the world, Outstanding Achiever’s Award from the Women in Banking Finance and Investments Association & Venture Capital Leadership Prize (UK) as well as the Woman of the Year Award from the National Association of Professional Women (NAPW) USA), who profoundly brought home the realities of how Africa still deals with diversity (pitifully). But uplifted us all with her understanding and passion for Human Excellence. That we can all achieve human excellence, if we just take courage.

5. Diversity is not fluffy

Niven Postma (Head of Leadership and Culture at Standard Bank Group) made us open our eyes to the fact that we are dehumanising one another each and every day. That we have to get out of the mind-set that culture is a fluffy, nice to have strategy, but that it’s a force that can catapult a business from mediocre to exceptional if harnessed correctly. Humans are the engine, diversity is the fuel, it should therefore by no means be a second thought, a soft skill or a nice to have. It is our foundation, it is all that we are.

(Niven Postma and Stanley Slap addressing questions from the audience)

6. How is vulnerability perceived in organisations?

The stillness in the room whilst Liesel Scott (co-founder of Appletree Culture Catalysts, an internationally accredited facilitator and coach, and a Certified Daring Way Facilitator) and her way of teaching made me realise that we all want the same thing. To be who we truly are, to be vulnerable when we need to be and to connect. This is especially so in a work environment where we spend the majority of our lives and it’s especially true to become an effective leader.  Liesel posed questions such as is the discomfort of learning, trying new things, giving and receiving feedback normalised or is there a premium out on comfort in your organisation? Do people feel safe and supported talking about how they feel and asking for what they need?

7. Everyone else is fighting a greater battle

Richard Warren-Tangney certainly put the spotlight firmly on the repulsive culture of non- acceptance, bullying and discrimination of the LGBTI community. This is a battle he has crusaded for most of his life and it is by no means over, even in 2017. (You would think we would have evolved somewhat by now). If we can create a culture in each business of acceptance and understanding, as well as embracing each person as they are, then we can create a society where this is reflected. Richard is a thought leader and speaker around the issues faced by the LGBTI community across Africa.

Essentially this day was full to the brim of lessons, ideologies and gifts that will take me many months and perhaps even years to unpack. Every day I keep remembering something new about how we think of one another, how we grow and how we survive. But fundamentally what I understood as clear as day is that inside every business there lies a secret weapon, and that secret weapon is diversity. It has the power to change the trajectory of a business (good or bad), of a culture, of society, it just needs to be unlocked, and that is our responsibility as the human race.

An insightful panel discussion on: Issues for consideration in unpacking Diversity in Africa, moderated by Sneha Shah MD of Thomson Reuters with Vuyo Dunjwa (Executive Chairman of the Board), Njabulo Mashigo (Director of Human Resources at Heineken), Lebogang Chaka (CEO) and Joké Coker.

Jo-Ann Pohl was MC and bound together the thoughts, insights and perceptions of the day most beautifully into digestible pieces to really think about and action. 

 

 

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