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  • Writer's pictureJulia Makhubela

Why diversity, equity and inclusion is important: benefits in the workplace

In this article, we’ll discuss DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion). We’ll talk about its importance in the workplace, offer up some examples of it being put into practice, and discuss its role from the South African perspective. 

But first, here’s a diversity, equity and inclusion definition: 

DEI is a people management framework, and in an organisation, it is the framework upon which a large number of important processes rest: recruitment, remuneration, onboarding, work allocation, growth opportunities and more. 

In theory, people should be treated fairly and allowed to participate freely. In practice, people should be able to excel irrespective of their background. 

In fact, we like to think that companies do better because of the diversity of thought in the building.

Let’s break DEI down into its component parts:

Why is diversity, equity and inclusion important?

Diversity, equity and inclusion in South Africa is particularly important because there have historically been groups that have been marginalised, while other groups have been advantaged. DEI helps to break down these historic systems of control and create a level playing field for all. 

Sticking with South Africa, we all know our society is diverse. So how can we live in a country where only the top 1% ever gets the chance to run a JSE-listed company? Or a country where CEOs are overwhelmingly men

DEI isn’t simply about redressing this imbalance. It’s about acknowledging that an equal playing field will be beneficial to society as a whole. 

As soon as you create a homogenous environment - i.e., where the same sorts of people exercise ultimate control - you create a “walled garden”. A walled garden has figuratively high walls, and is inaccessible to most. Those that control the garden are incentivised to pick and choose people that look and speak like them, because this creates a sense of safety. 

This might be a good time to take a look at the article we wrote on the topic of unconscious bias. In it, we wrote:

“Often we do our best to be fair-minded, but we typically end up [hiring] someone who looks like us and talks like us. The literature on this topic is ubiquitous: we favour people who are similar to us because similarities make us feel safe.” 

In a sense, these walled gardens are a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more entrenched they become, the more the participants are incentivised to keep them going, whether consciously or not.  

As humans, we hate change, but change is necessary. The DEI framework is designed to uproot entrenched systems of power and create a more equal playing field - for the betterment of society as a whole.  

Diversity, equity and inclusion in practice: 

At 54twentyfour, we’re passionate about DEI, which is why we offer inclusive employee experience design and leadership development.

Inclusive Employee experience

The employee experience is the journey that someone embarks on through your organisation. It begins with recruitment, then onboarding, then encompasses the day-to-day work. Are there career development opportunities? Are relationships with colleagues good? Are an employee’s personal circumstances considered? 

In other words, if a new hire has an arduous commute to work, is there a framework in place that gives them flexibility? They might be allowed to work from home, for example, or arrive at the office after rush hour. Similarly, this goes for employees juggling children. 

The goal is to assess someone, their individual needs, and cater to them with empathy.  

Employees can be your most vocal critics or your biggest advocates. Treating them well is important.

Leadership development 

Our leadership development offering is designed to get the most out of leaders. Are you leading with empathy? Are you falling back on old habits? Are you making blind-faith decisions without all the requisite information? Are you letting bias creep into your appraisal of work? We don’t like to admit it, but we all hold biases, and interrogating these assumptions is a critical development tool. Along the way, you’ll not only become a better leader, but develop personal mastery too. 

DEI is a fascinating topic and it takes constant work. As we like to say, it’s like health and fitness. “You first work at having it, and then you work at keeping it. It is a continuous process that requires proactive and deliberate effort.”

In short, we tend to fall back on what we know. We tend to associate with people who look like us. We tend to make decisions that we’re used to making. We are, in a sense, often on auto-pilot without realising it. DEI is here to help guard against the walled gardens we so often construct.

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