Why train on diversity specifically?

This article looks at why diversity training programmes are so crucial.

Business places are the context of ongoing racial and other forms of diversity-related tension. At the interpersonal level, colleagues struggle to find the words to discuss latent tension among themselves. Tension goes unaddressed until it boils over into petty or serious arguments – both with highly destructive outcomes. Deep hurt is felt by those on the receiving end of prejudice, and valuable reputations are damaged.

Transformation – which should benefit everyone and promote diversity – is mostly ignored by corporates. There seems to be a belief that these problems will solve themselves eventually when we are somehow “ready” for transformation. Examining this belief, however, quickly shows that it is incorrect. We must actively undertake the transformation process as groups and individuals because the tension will certainly not resolve itself. A major obstacle here is that businesses don’t view transformation as their responsibility. Generally, they avoid addressing interpersonal problems, racially related or otherwise.

Nevertheless, diversity problems are systemic social issues which corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts ought to be addressing. Businesses are ideally positioned to tackle them and make radical changes through training and sensitisation initiatives. The fact is that companies have always had the resources and capacity to effectively mitigate such problems before they even began to take root. Now we have the democracy and legislation to support this. Why wait any longer to start the healing process which will benefit all our relationships and networks?

Admittedly, addressing contentious issues at work is awkward. People rather vent to their families and friends, deepening existing community divisions. Constructive diversity discussions remain rare. A neutral, qualified third party is indispensable here. Good training companies show people how to manage diversity to benefit individual relationships, business performance as well as the broader community. Training officers guide and promote constructive dialogue in a respectful manner and in line with relevant policies.

To fulfil their leadership responsibilities, CEOs and senior management in general must be change makers, charting the way forward in social revitalisation. Transformation starts with strong leaders taking a stand on behalf of communities. Business leaders making wise training and CSR investments will make a massive impact. There is no point in wishing for a better South Africa when CEOs, who wield considerable power in society, are not determined to ensure diversity training happens.

To address the diversity problem, we have to speak to individuals’ perceptions of what diversity is. In the training environment, we must dig deeper, appealing to each learner in order to change attitudes and behaviours around race and cohesiveness. The ICHAF Diversity Programme uses this approach, following a carefully designed method to help businesses and South Africans individually. Our formula allows people to talk about issues openly and in depth. More importantly, it ensures they return to work (and the community) with new skills and the ability to implement them for positive change.