How to foster diverse and competitive teams

UCT GSB PRESS OFFICE - 11 March 2020

How can today’s forward-looking companies get better at attracting and retaining talent from broader socio-economic backgrounds? We ask three people in the know: a member of our faculty, one of our alumni and a current student.

Dr Badri Zolfaghari, UCT GSB lecturer in Organisational Behaviour

A blanket approach won’t work here. You need to expand the way you think about recruitment and recognise diverse employees have different needs and priorities.

Companies operating in South Africa have to become more aware of the socio-economic environment they are operating in, and more intentional regarding the value they are adding to that environment. A company’s make-up should reflect, and therefore include, an economically, socially, and culturally diverse workforce if it wants to stay innovative and meet the complex challenges of today’s environment.

In order to do this, companies have to adopt policies and practices that support this inclusion. To attract talent from a broad socio-economic background for example, they need to formulate job advertisements that do not instantly exclude those who don’t meet their criteria of following a linear ‘success’ trajectory. Consider those skilled individuals who have had to take time off studies, or work, in order to attend to urgent family matters. This gap in the applicant’s CV can be interpreted differently by the employer. Another way is to devise and support outreach programmes in different communities for those potential applicants who have mastered skills through alternative ways, not necessarily having obtained degrees from ranked universities.

Taking the time to develop, or obtain measurement tools that measure potential applicants’ skills and expertise based on their exposure and experience, can help companies identify sure talent. An important, yet underestimated factor is the advertisement platforms used by companies. Often, less thought is given to where the job is being advertised. Companies need to ask themselves, who has access to these platforms and how practical is it for applicants to apply through these platforms?

Of course, attracting talent from broader socio-economic backgrounds is one part of the process, the other important part is retaining them. For this, it’s important for companies to reflect on not just what they can get from the employee, but what value they provide to the overall development and well-being of the employee, taking into consideration their needs and necessities for performance. A blanket approach towards employee reward and retention does not work in such diverse organisational environments, as individuals coming from different socio-economic backgrounds have different priorities and needs, which must be accounted for and discussed during the contractual stages of employment.

To effect these changes and become contributing entities of South Africa’s economy and society, requires effort. Companies must make minor yet reflective adjustments to their current processes and practices to make sure they are not only targeting potential employees from diverse backgrounds, but retaining, and developing them, so that they can become values-driven leaders of tomorrow.

Anthea Houston, CEO Communicare (MBA Class of 2015)

It starts with celebrating diversity and creating a vibrant workplace culture. You also need to clearly communicate the purpose and passion of your brand in order to attract talent that is aligned with this.

Communicare is a dynamic independent social enterprise tackling the country’s housing crisis. We manage a growing residential portfolio in the affordable and social housing markets. Our social enterprise business model makes us the most sustainable provider of discounted rental housing in South Africa. Our social development arm, Vulamathuba, provides support services to our tenants to improve their income generating potential, resilience and reduce their vulnerability. 

Recruiting high potential talent from a broad range of socio-economic backgrounds is important for us. We don’t only believe in diversity, we practise inclusivity. We celebrate our differences and have deep-rooted values that guide our ongoing transformation.

Our people say that one of the top reasons for joining our team is that our work has meaning.  Our work connects people to a deeper sense of purpose – working on one of the country’s biggest social problems inside an innovative social enterprise. We offer our current and potential employees an opportunity to use their talents and professional skills to make a difference.

As a social enterprise in the property sector, we can’t compete with the remuneration offered by listed companies and organisations in the public sectors. Yet we are succeeding in attracting vibrant, competent and diverse talent at all levels of the organisation. We recruit people who are passionate about the work they do and who are aligned to our organisational culture.

Our amazing workplace culture offers employees a challenging yet supportive environment. We embrace growth, learning, inclusivity and employee wellness as keys to our organisation’s success. Employee growth and development is supported – this has enabled our sterling track record of promoting from within.

Along with this, we recognise that employees in today’s workplace want flexibility to integrate work and other aspects of their lives. We offer flexible working hours and use technology to enable working from remote locations.

Our recruitment strategies involve a range of approaches to search widely for the right talent. We use online recruitment portals, Linkedin and referrals from existing staff. We partner with recruiters specialising in our industry and aligned with our values and culture. We also identify and retain talent from our twelve-month graduate recruitment programme (the Compass Internship & Learnership Programme). Our proudest recruitment strategy however, is that we invest in the growth and development of our people and first recruit and promote from within our organisation.

Robin Bleekers, Bertha Scholar and UCT GSB Modular MBA Class President (2020)

Recognise that we are all different and respect each person for who they are.

There are two elements to this. Firstly, how we approach recruitment and selection and secondly retention of the recruited talent.

With recruitment, we need to revisit our selection criteria, be conscious of social bias and stop using pedigree as a proxy for ability to perform within the pre-screening process. A clear balance needs to be struck between the different criterion chosen and the incorporation of short tests related to the critical soft and hard skills required for the job at the pre-screening stage. This can help reduce social bias by increasing the data points for decision-making. Further, organisations need to ensure that the story they sell when recruiting is not disconnected from the reality within the organisation.

Regarding retention, we need to look at how we design our working environments and how they may, intentionally or otherwise, be prejudicial or discriminatory. This can be achieved by placing an emphasis on empathy within the workplace and by treating each employee as a unique individual. Avoid as much as possible the mechanistic standardisation of people-oriented processes and activities. This is because as you diversify your talent, a one-size-fits-all approach will become less appropriate.

To conclude, I go back to an important tenet articulated by Immanual Kant: to treat no person as a means to an end, but rather as an end in themselves.

Managing people | Organizational culture | HR management

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