Is Diversity Receiving Enough Attention in Corporate Training?
I’m proud to be the owner and CEO of the I Can Help Africa Foundation (ICHAF). We’ve been in the training business for over a decade, and I can look back on many challenges surmounted and successes achieved over the years. I always try to stay in touch with what our students and clients are saying and relate it to what I am doing.
I pause to consider: Are ICHAF programmes making a difference and how big is that difference? Is it workplace-related or does it also lead to personal growth and the forging of good relationships in the context of diversity? Diversity is of critical concern to South African organisations. I wonder if even our entry-level qualifications make a difference in terms of diversity. Do ICHAF students feel their learning experiences are not only relevant to their jobs, but also offer some guidance on getting along with people who are different?
Recently having co-authored a book about diversity and conducting diversity seminars as well as serving as a mediator in diversity-related conflict situations, diversity is constantly on my mind. I also recently had the opportunity to speak about immigration issues in the workplace – another important diversity variable in South Africa – on the etv Morning Show.
So what have ICHAF students to say about the effect of our learning programmes on them? I was particularly interested in our entry-level programme, the NQF1 Business Practices course, which is a great way to get staff training started for just about any staff member. It is a year-long course, and there is a lot of focus therein on business skills like finance, computer use, customer care, etc. It is all very well having these skills, but if people can’t get along, we will never truly realise our goals, feel true fulfilment in our work, and make a difference in other people’s lives.
I had to know what our students are saying and two of the responses received were:
I know the do’s and do not’s when it comes to customers. The accounting and information about personal finances is helpful. I also find that I’m communicating better and more often with people at work and customers. I have more confidence in that. I’m playing around with ideas for new businesses since learning about business planning. Actually, it’s not exactly a business idea. I’ve long wanted to start a non-profit organisation to help people in my community. It seems like an ever-more possible thing I can do… I want to get older people together with unemployed people, especially youths, to share their skills and help them learn and thus get jobs – Leonard, Cape Town.
Working with different people allowed me to approach different situations in a different manner. It allowed me to help others, but at the same time, I learnt from others. I enjoyed being in a diverse learning environment because it showed me how to receive and give knowledge to help others and myself – Kasevan, Johannesburg.
It’s fascinating how our own learning often prompts us to teach others. It deepens our desire to share what we know, and it helps us see that the learner can become the teacher. Through this entry-level programme, we are seeing budding social entrepreneurs interested in NPO and charity work. Our learners are looking for ways to apply their skills for the benefit of their community. There is always the concern over high unemployment, and programmes such as those run by ICHAF can address that and have a compounding effect whereby learners become leaders who create jobs.
It was beneficial indeed. I got to understand how a business operates including all the dynamics thereof. Working with people in general is never easy. People are different in many ways, character, beliefs, opinion, etc. As for conflict, one has to listen and find a possible solution to resolve the situation at hand. It is important to show tolerance, respect, and kindness and treat people with humanity. I have the pleasure to be in the presence of different cultures and my character defines who I am! – Adlie, Western Cape.
I know now it’s important to treat people with HIV/AIDS and different sexualities in a fair way, to treat them with equality. I know I need to be professional at work no matter a person’s background or characteristics. I also realise the importance of knowing one’s HIV status, and that ARVs have come a long way, and now HIV is not a death sentence. I also understand what it is about people who are gay. Although I don’t agree with it personally, I would not let anyone hurt someone simply for that. It is against our Constitution and many policies – Cynthia, Cape Town.
These two learners hit on some very important diversity topics: cultural differences and conflict resolution, HIV/AIDS, sexuality and the law. It is really encouraging to see how ICHAF’s entry-level programme has got learners thinking about these big issues and even reconsidering their own beliefs, finding better ways to get along, and displaying an awareness of policies and legislation that affect their lives.
Many South Africans have a poor understanding of the policies and laws we have for a variety of issues, but our training is helping to change that. It will be important for us to see in future what other policies and legislation we can teach our students about to make their lives and their performance at work better.
Making life easier in the workplace and in society for the LGBTQI community, and for those affected by HIV/AIDS are also a reality through this type of training. The desire to get along and cooperate is there – we just need to start the conversation and teach the skills. Trainers must speak about what people don’t usually discuss about in the workplace. It often takes an outsider, like a trainer or motivational speaker, to break open these tough subjects and get us to confront them. Being able to talk about something makes it more manageable, and we can even be more objective about it.
This small amount of evidence I collected from only four learners from one of our programmes tells me a lot about the learning spaces ICHAF is creating. Our learning spaces give students many opportunities to tackle big diversity issues. Skills building is always a core part of the programmes, but I’m so pleased that our learners are taking away so much more: hope for a better, increasingly diverse South Africa.
Devan Moonsamy is author of Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us with Bronwyn J King, available from the ICHAF Training Institute.
The book tackles contemporary issues in the South African workplace, including a variety of diversity-related challenges and how these can be overcome. It is an excellent guide for managers to harnessing diversity for success.
Devan specialises in conflict and diversity management, and regularly conducts seminars on these issues for corporates. To book a seminar with Devan, please use the contact details below.
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