How *Woke is Your Business?

DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) is an acronym that is rapidly gaining recognition in the workplace, globally. The concept of DEI refers to the promotion of fair treatment and full participation of all people, particularly in a work context, and embraces the philosophy of recognising, accepting and supporting all individuals regardless of their background, race, sexual identity, disability, religion, etc.

Despite the gradual gains being made towards more tolerance and greater equity, we still live in a world largely dominated by fear of “the other”, perpetuating ongoing prejudice and injustice towards those perceived to be “different”. As a company deeply immersed within the disability landscape, Progression is often exposed to the negative biases and marginalisation faced regularly by people with disabilities. Too many employees are still reluctant to disclose their disabilities at work for fear of the stigma and discrimination that accompanies this label.

So how do we overcome our prejudices and build more inclusive and accepting workplaces? The short answer: it starts from the top. The leaders of the organisation should be role models in setting the standards of behaviour and providing guidance and motivation to the rest of the company. Good leaders are able to communicate, drive and inspire their vision for their businesses. In addition to steering the organisation along the desired path, leaders also need to be able to transfer key leadership skills to others in the business in order to ensure ongoing growth in the right direction. Training employees on the skills required for leadership is as important as providing them with the technical skills they need in order to perform their jobs.

Designing and implementing an effective leadership programme that specifically speaks to the culture you want to create is key to transforming workplace attitudes. The programme should encourage open communication at all levels within the organisation with an emphasis on listening and valuing the input of every single employee. Diversity training is another valuable tool to create awareness and appreciation of differences while cultivating a cohesive team. Aligning the programme to SAQA (South African Qualifications Authority) unit standards and obtaining accreditation can also provide credibility and added incentive for participation.

In our skills-scarce country, development programmes are incredibly important to empower those that have been marginalised and disadvantaged in the past. There are so many individuals out there with limitless potential who deserve an opportunity and who, given half a chance, could go on to achieve great success. The ripple effect of investing in the development of people is exponential; leaders impart their knowledge and experience to employees resulting in increased confidence, higher job satisfaction, greater commitment and improved productivity. The advantages for the business are undeniable however the rewards to the individual can be enormous, enhancing their life circumstances and having immeasurable knock-on benefits for their families and communities.

In today’s world, DEI is not a ‘nice-to-have’ but rather a workplace imperative and companies that refuse to adapt to new societal norms risk becoming irrelevant or even failing altogether. Trying to effect change in organisational culture can seem like a daunting task, but with a deliberate strategy and practical staff development programmes, it is possible to foster a culture of inclusion, disclosure and belonging in your business. However it needs to be more than mere lip service; each person needs to live and breathe these values every day until they become ingrained into employees’ mindsets and hardwired into their daily habits. With effective support and intention, leaders can fuel the changes required to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace.

Contact Progression for advice and information about our range of inclusive solutions including disability management, diversity training, awareness and sensitisation programmes as well as our learnerships and other skills development initiatives.

*Woke (adjective): aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).


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