The Importance of Employment Equity and its Implementation

February 2016

In discussions around Employment Equity, Affirmative Action is usually the first thing that springs to mind. However, the truth is that Affirmative Action is only a small piece of the Employment Equity puzzle.

Merusha Singh, recently appointed Skills Development Facilitator at Progression, unpacks the purpose of South Africa’s Employment Equity legislation as well as the various elements involved in its implementation. In this article she highlights the role of the Employment Equity Committee, the value that it adds to the implementation of the EE Act within the organisation as well as some of the challenges that it faces. 

To set the tone, I think it is important to take a brief look at the key drivers behind the introduction of Employment Equity into our country’s legislation. Prior to South Africa becoming a democratic state, laws dating back to the colonial and apartheid times excluded black people from fully participating in the South African education system and labour market. To bring this to an end, the Constitution was put in place, giving everyone the right to equality. However, government was aware that a shift to equality would not take place immediately and therefore made provision for legislation that would assist in achieving complete equality. The Employment Equity Act is a direct result of this realisation.

What is Employment Equity?

The purpose of the Employment Equity Act, as laid out in the Act itself, is to “achieve equity in the workplace, by a) promoting equal opportunity and fair treatment in employment through the elimination of unfair discrimination; and b) implementing affirmative action measures to redress the disadvantages in employment experienced by designated groups, to ensure their equitable representation in all occupational categories and levels in the workforce.”

In other words, the aim of the Act is to regulate how people within an organisation are managed in terms of their skills, roles and remuneration in a fair and non-discriminatory manner. Furthermore, an organisation’s processes around recruitment and advancement within the business also need to be managed with the Act in mind. This raises a critical issue for businesses in that, while endeavouring to meet their strategic objectives, they are also driven by an element of compliance. In my experience it is therefore critical for organisations to align their compliance requirements with the overall business strategy and objectives.

Successfully Implementing Employment Equity

In unpacking and understanding Employment Equity and its implementation, we are able to identify how it creates value at a strategic level. In fact, if we consider Employment Equity as a considerable driver of the human capital within our business, going beyond compliance becomes a necessity.

Let us take a look at some of the six steps taken when implementing Employment Equity throughout any organisation, as well as some important considerations.

Before embarking on any compliance drive within an organisation, education is key. As with Employment Equity, ensuring that all employees are aware of what you are trying to achieve is vital. Creating awareness can be managed through the likes of a multi touch point communications strategy which speaks to all areas of your business. This, done over time, will create awareness about the strategic objectives of Employment Equity within your business, allowing barriers to be addressed and ensuring buy-in from your employees.

The selection of an Employment Equity Committee is a critical step towards implementing the act. The main role of this committee is to ensure that the organisation is meeting their Employment Equity requirements by drafting the organisation’s EE plan and ensuring its effective implementation. It is the EE Committee’s responsibility to ensure that both the plan and implementation are aligned with the strategic objectives of the business.

When selecting members for your organisation’s EE committee, it is important to ensure that there is equal representation amongst committee members, including race, gender, disability, skill level and position within the organisation. Your Committee will be engaging with the business so it is important to ensure that everyone within the company can be reached on a level that they are comfortable with. Time is another critical factor when nominating Committee members; members’ responsibilities will become an additional role on top of their existing job function. Nominated members will need to feel comfortable with allocating at least 2 hours a week to their role as an EE Committee member.

Once the Committee has been established, the next step is to engage with employees. The purpose of this engagement is to establish the growth plans of the organisation’s staff. Questions like “How do you think we can improve productivity within your department?”, “What skills do you think you need to improve on?”, “What do you think is your perfect growth path within the organisation?” or “Do you see any barriers within the organisation restricting growth, equal and fair demographics?” typically not only establish a two-way communication between an organisation and its employees, but may give an indication of the direction in which the organisation’s EE plan will grow.

This engagement also offers a platform to understand and explore some negative perceptions that may exist around EE within the organisation, which can further assist in developing the awareness campaign mentioned earlier. It is commonplace for the EE Committee to face barriers to implementation within the organisation. These barriers could include stereotypes or prejudices linked to race, disability and gender in relation to the positions, roles or levels that are fulfilled. Understanding employees’ attitudes and perceptions can assist the EE committee in addressing the barriers early, rather than letting them intensify and potentially leading to a toxic working environment. 

Maxi-Lee Machado, Chief Empowerment Advisor at ET Consult, a transformation and empowerment driven firm which assists companies in meeting their compliance needs, believes that effective implementation of Employment Equity helps the company truly transform from the ground up. “Transformation is a constitutional, business and social imperative. It is therefore critical for the sustainability of society and the business environment. Implementing transformation and Employment Equity in a strategic and sustainable manner will always give rise to greater opportunities and benefits for both the organisation and society,” states Maxi-Lee.

The next step in the process is the development of the plan. In my experience, there are two key elements which need to be considered.

Firstly, do not allow your staff growth to exceed your business growth. Many organisations rush to fulfil their (quota) requirements by hiring extra staff simply to 'fit the bill’. If your business growth cannot justify the additional staff, don’t chase the numbers. Following on from this, use your EE plan to develop your existing staff.  For example, where you need a qualified senior manager, find someone at a junior level that you can upskill and mentor to fulfil the role later on. This in turn will allow a junior position to become vacant which may offer an opportunity for a first time entrant into the workplace and so in essence, job creation ensues.

When promoting people within the company, remain mindful of employees’ skills and experience; ultimately these are the key factors which determine positions within the business. Also keep in mind the issue of remuneration. Promotion to a position with a fancy title holds no weighting if that individual’s remuneration does not align with his/her colleagues on a similar level. If it does not, there needs to a plan in place that indicates how the company intends to ensure that the individual will be compensated over time.

Conclusion

In looking at the steps involved in implementation, it should become clear that Employment Equity is more involved than simply having your employees complete and submit an EEA1 form and managing an annual report submission. As with any legislation, embracing the spirit of the legislation is key to ensuring successful implementation that makes business sense. Ticking the boxes should then follow naturally. 

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