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COULD REAL CULTURAL DIVERSITY PLEASE STAND UP?

08 November 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Debbie Botha
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It was American singer-songwriter, India Arie, who said, “I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am not your expectations no, no. I am not my hair, I am not my skin. I am a soul that lives within.” With these powerful lyrics, Arie highlighted and commented on a multitude of cultural diversity issues that not only ring true in America, but also in South Africa.

The people of South Africa, a democratic country currently finding itself 22 years post-Apartheid, have fought with blood, sweat and tears to establish, promote and cultivate cultural diversity and equality in the workplace, in our schools, our government institutions and even on the streets. However, one wouldn’t expect anything less from a country which has 5 major racial population groups (which all comprise of a multitude of ethnic sub-groups), 9 different provinces, 11 official languages, and open borders which promote the inclusion of many different global cultures, religions and nationalities in our workforce and elsewhere.

In light of recent events, wherein a 13-year old girl from the Pretoria High School for Girls managed to revoke rigid and downright archaic rules and regulations specifically regarding black girl’s hair through her boldness, courage and belief, once again opened up the cultural diversity arena for public debate. And one verdict rings true: the seat of cultural diversity in our classrooms – and in the rest of our country - is very much still vacant.

This is according to KC Makhubele, president of the Federation of African Professional Staffing Organisations (APSO), who notes that although the subject of cultural diversity is one which receives a lot of attention and airtime, and rightly so, we evidently still have a very long way to go if we want to see it materialise.

 

He says, “Throughout the decades, people in South Africa have been unfairly judged and even overlooked in the workplace based on their gender, sexual orientation, culture, ethnicity, religion and other differences. Although I would say that we have made strides in terms of our open-mindedness, especially in the workforce, the fact that we still think we can judge - and even inflict unjust punishment on a young girl based on the fact that she has an afro hairstyle - shows that there is still so much room for growth.”

 

Apart from many employers still judging people on face value, often overlooking valuable skills sets and qualifications based on their own, personal prejudices and pre-conceived ideas of what’s acceptable, just and right, there are various ways in which employers can cultivate a culture of acceptance in the workplace.

 

“It all starts with a shift in old, outdated thought patterns and ideologies. In other words, we, as the people of South Africa, need to start adopting a global mind-set if we truly want to see change manifest. In the past, people were taught that the world’s standard of what’s most acceptable in life is to be white, male and English,” adds Makhubele. “Now, we find ourselves in space where we can consciously choose to be acceptant of people regardless of the colour of the skin, the state of their natural hair, whether they have tattoos or not, how they dress, what language they talk, what country they’re from, and even minor issues like whether they choose to wear make-up or not. These factors, only a handful amongst a plethora of reasons whether to accept or not accept another human being, are things which we have power over. We have the power to promote or destroy cultural diversity, and my hope is that we would migrate more and more towards the former as we mature as a nation.”

 

Makhubele also highlights that South Africans – especially leaders of organisations - can do the following to promote cultural diversity in the workplace:

  • Implement a clear, concise and convincing plan of action on how to include cultural diversity in the workplace. Make sure that your intentions are pure as opposed to offensive.
  • Create an inclusive work environment where individuals feel free to be who they truly are. Encouraging a culture of authenticity creates loyalty, openness and trust amongst people.
  • Accept and recognise the value of cultural diversity. Without it, we will never be the rainbow people under a rainbow nation like we claim to be.
  • Allow uncomfortable conversations to happen. The only way to establish how people truly feel, is to talk to them. Do not try and evoke conflict, but rather encourage openness and the voicing of many different opinions. After all, it takes all kinds of people to make the world go round.
  • Accept people for who they are, regardless of what you were taught. We need to start accepting that being different does not automatically mean being wrong. There is a place for all of us – but we need to create it.

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