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Leadership: Perspectives from the Front Line

Diversity & Inclusion – South Africa Let’s Talk


Why is inclusion so hard?

Maybe it is because exclusion happens without us really thinking…

Diversity and Inclusion in South Africa

 Why is “Inclusion” missing? Following on from our first…

Diversity and Inclusion in South Africa

What ‘Inclusion’ is and what it could look like – 1 Building…

National Survey on Transformation, Diversity and Inclusion.


Felt unsafe to speak up about exclusion and discrimination

Reported authority figures favoured employees of the same ethnicity

Stated that managers understood the importance of transformation and their role therein

Of white respondents felt incidents of racism are dealt with fairly and decisively while less than half of black respondents agreed

A culture of inclusion is defined as one in which individuals feel they belong as they are, where the diversity of the workforce is not simply a demographic profiling, but where the diversity of perspectives is welcomed and engaged with.

In the survey responses, various formal and informal inclusive practices were acknowledged as taking place in South African organisations, such as inclusive use of languages in business meetings, and inclusive year-end functions.  However, when it came to more nuanced indicators of inclusion and exclusion, such as favouritism and safety to speak up, a more complex picture emerged.

This points to a difference identified in diversity and inclusion theory; that between assimilation versus inclusion.  With assimilation, there can be high levels of belonging, but each individual’s uniqueness is downplayed, thus limiting the benefits of having a diverse team.

In addition, the qualitative findings spoke to a culture of ‘whiteness’ dominating, with black voices and perspectives being questioned and undermined in the face of the dominant cultural group. Approximately half of respondents worked in organisations that employed a model of assimilation as opposed to one of inclusion, which is cause for concern.  It is therefore not surprising that the diversity marker causing the most conflict and tension in organisations was identified as race, followed by job title or position (pulling rank, pointing to a culture of exclusion). The highest levels of discrimination were reported against African individuals, followed by women and people with disabilities.

The role of leadership and management in transforming South African organisations cannot be underestimated. Whatever legislation and policy may be in place, if there is not buy-in and ownership for change from the top, these initiatives can fall flat.  Similarly, if there is no effective strategy for implementation, the best of intentions cannot succeed in driving forward change.

Management scored more poorly than top leadership, which is a common pattern in terms of the implementation of diversity initiatives globally. Only 40% of respondents felt that their managers regarded transformation as important and understood their role in relation to transformation, which is concerning, as managers are the interface with the bulk of the workforce and thus best positioned to begin implementing a change in culture. Similarly, 42% stated that their senior and middle managers never or rarely developed or implemented strategies to achieve transformation goals.  Respondents called for better education, and less apprehension, on the part of managers towards transformation, as well as the same call for ownership, commitment and drive.

87% of white respondents and 45% of black respondents felt incidents of racism are dealt with fairly and decisively

Confirming research demonstrating the dominance of white males in organisational culture, the survey statistics for black people and women were strikingly similar. Breaking down responses by race and gender revealed that black, coloured and Indian people, and women, reported far higher levels of exclusion. People with disabilities are also left behind, in terms of having accessible workplaces and being earnestly considered when making appointments or recruitment. In contrast, lower levels of discrimination in terms of parental needs, LGBTI dimensions, nationality, religion and age demonstrated more inclusion along these dimensions.


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