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Building bridges for equal opportunity

Taking a critical look at employment equity and its role in the BEE process.
Read time 4min 20sec

The Employment Equity Act basically aims to create an involved diversity within the workplace.

The Act tries to accomplish this by creating a philosophy and ethos of equal opportunity, something that clearly was not an employment philosophy in the past, and attempts to correct this through deliberate employment practices.

So why is this necessary? If we allow market forces to prevail, the skills and know-how that have always been the preserve of a select sector of the population will remain in their hands.

Diversity

Diversity in the workplace outside of Employment Equity or BEE is always seen as a good thing from a global practice point of view where internationally, many countries have also had to deal with prejudice and diversity.

Here in SA, management needs to realise diversity in the workplace creates tremendous value in helping to understanding the market in which an enterprise operates.

In fact, it is almost a requirement for success; one always has to reflect the diversity of the environment in which you operate. Obviously in SA, you have unique nuances that differ from region to region. In the Western Cape, the population diversity is quite different to that of Gauteng or the Eastern Cape, for example. So, depending in which area you operate, you need to reflect the marketplace in your company.

Diversity doesn't occur naturally; and sometimes it gets mixed up with the negativity that so often surrounds affirmative action. It's important for companies trying to achieve employment equity and promote diversity, to not implement it at the expense of a particular workforce. Implementing diversity is not about firing whites and bringing in blacks - employees should only get fired for incompetence.

Where equal opportunity exists, it doesn't equate to entitlement, and people of colour are not treated differently to anyone else. What has to be created is a fine balance between managing the fear of the existing white workforce and managing the expectations of an incoming black workforce to ensure they don't come into a hostile environment.

Employment equity is always a balancing act, and one has to find the right mix of equity balanced with quality and productivity.

Hasmukh Gajjar, deputy CEO and executive director of Faritec

Employment equity is always a balancing act, and one has to find the right mix of equity balanced with quality and productivity - some of the essentials necessary for the marketplace to buy goods and services. The role of management in this area is critical.

Management requires a greater amount of dexterity in balancing so as to minimise conflicting areas around employment equity and also to provide bridging mechanisms that will help new recruits from previously disadvantaged backgrounds fill their roles competently and effectively.

Skills shortage

It is a sad fact though that corporate SA has not risen to the challenge at all in providing bridging mechanisms. In the IT industry, for example, there is an acute shortage of skills as corporate SA has always done well in implementing leading-edge technology, resulting in a consequent demand for specialised skills.

Many service providers have much difficulty in dealing with quality while at the same time, creating a diverse workforce. There is no workable formula right now, but I believe this requires three players to achieve employment equity and diversity targets: the service provider, the customer and the technology vendor. There is a cost that has to be identified and absorbed by all three rather than a single party.

Customers demand diversity, while at the same time, also expect excellent pricing as well as the same high level of service that they're accustomed to. So where does the cost of implementing diversity sit and who will absorb it?

What is needed is a triad of mutual cooperation to address the cost issue and obviously, within the cooperation, there needs to be an identified plan of action if the customer is benevolent and continues to buy from the service provider on the understanding that the service provider will encourage and promote diversity.

The service provider then has the obligation to channel additional resources into training and bridging initiatives that form part of an institutionalised programme. This would include aspects relating to recruitment, for example, where the service provider must have a programme in place on how to recruit people and place them throughout the enterprise, which then becomes the bridging programme.

Making it happen

For employment equity and diversity in an enterprise to become a reality, a lot of thought and planning are required, as it will not happen with wishful thinking.

Involve management in the process of making these things happen in an integrated way, as diversity is not just the responsibility of the HR director - it extends across the organisation.

In the area of black economic empowerment, employment equity and affirmative action, it may be the government that paints the broad strokes, but it's the industry that makes it happen.

Hasmukh Gajjar

Deputy CEO and executive director of Faritec.

Dr Hasmukh Gajjar, MB ChB (UCT), is an entrepreneur with extensive IT experience and was previously CEO of IT firm Consilience Technologies, former chairman of the Black IT Forum and past president of the Black Business Council. He serves on numerous IT and telecom bodies. Gajjar is deputy CEO and executive director of Faritec, responsible for driving business transformation and black economic empowerment.

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