Diversity management as a key leadership skill in South Africa

Fourie, Rebecca Leony Dr
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Abstract. Orientation South Africa is one of the most diverse countries in the world and this diversity is often reflected in the work place. South African organisations may derive many benefits from effective diversity leadership. These benefits may not only be at the level of society, but business performance may be improved in effectively led diverse organisations. Businesses and organisations that perform better are more sustainable and contribute to the economic growth of the country. In South Africa it is important to understand the challenges faced by, leaders of diverse groups and to understand the skills and practices associated with effective leadership of diverse teams. Non-whites and females are under-represented in top positions and leadership roles. A clear understanding of where the bottlenecks are and the factors causing barriers to diversity at the top is central to this discussion. Research Purpose The purpose of this study is to gain an understanding of the leadership skills, challenges and best practices required to lead diverse organisations. This study will also aim to investigate senior management and leader’s opinion on diversity management and their opinion on the impact of diversity on their organisation’s performance. The study additionally aims to describe the barriers to diversity in top positions. Motivation for study Efficiency in diversity leadership is associated with beter business and financial performance. Businesses that perform better are more sustainable. South Africa’s past has resulted in social and economic inequalities this has impacted the socio-economic landscape. Current government policies and the constitution means that many organisations now have a diverse work-force that should be effectively managed. Research design, approach and method This study employs both qualitative and quantitative techniques. It is a cross-sectional observational study and data is collected by means of a survey questionnaire distributed to people who occupy senior management and executive level positions in South Africa. Data was also collected by means of a structured interview. The data is descriptive and is illustrated by using graphs and charts. In this study 100 online surveys were e mailed, 20 people completed the survey and 3 of those were excluded from the study. The survey identified 7 participants who were willing to be interviewed. Main Findings The challenges experienced in leading diverse groups were rated by participants. The majority agreed that communication can be a challenge, the majority did not agree that diverse teams will be challenged by conflict, but the majority agreed that lack of cohesion is a challenge. Most of study participants did agree that factors like high staff turnover, slow collective decision making, low work satisfaction and low motivation is a challenge in diverse organisations. The survey asked participants to rate the relevance of leadership skills the participants agreed that emotional awareness, self-awareness, fostering awareness in organisations were useful skills for leaders of diverse organisations. Most participants agreed that Inclusiveness, accountability, fairness, good communication, professionalism, active listening and respect is are valuable skills. The study participants were asked to report on the best practises of their organisation, 70% reported that their organisation had a strategic plan for diversity, 23% agreed or strongly agreed that there was leadership commitment in place, 23% agreed that there was a system of accountability in their organisation, and 23% of the study participants agreed that their organisation had a system of linking diversity management to performance appraisals. Regarding training, 47% agreed that training is not available in their organisation,17% agreed or strongly agreed that their company is measuring the impact of diversity and 82% of the study participants did not agree that their organisation had a system of diversity audits. Most of the participants thought that diversity training should be started from high school level. 5.9% felt that it should be introduced at tertiary level,5.9% reported management level,5.9% reported at entry level and 5.9% senior management level. The participants were asked what impact diversity had on their organisation,76% of the study participants agreed that diversity improved creativity and innovation in the organisation,47% of the study participants agreed that diversity improved financial outcomes in their organisation and 35% of the study participants agreed that diversity reduced staff turnover in their organisation. The study participants were asked for an interview and 7 people agreed to the interview. I identified five major themes from the interview discussion bias, lack of leadership commitment, bottlenecks to diversity in top positions, implementation of government acts and policies and concerns of causing racial offense.
MBA Thesis
Diversity in the workplace, Leadership -- South Africa.