When racial bias trumps organisational success

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Conversations in corporate professional circles are increasingly turning to the mass exodus of young, dynamic talent in the workplace, more so now when younger generations of employees feel less obliged to stay with organisations out of gratitude or a fear of their resumes looking erratic.

In order to attract (and keep) young talent whilst enjoying sustained success and longevity, organisations must develop a formula that is inclusive of the key drivers of holistic business success;

  1. Good leadership
  2. Strategy formulation & the ability to execute
  3. Operational capacity and agility
  4. Sound financial management
  5. Good governance & Ethics
  6. Marketing
  7. Technology
  8. Research & Development
  9. Customer service
  10. People

Many businesses may be able to tick the first nine boxes (except for companies like Steinhoff and KPMG, for example). However, the part that trips up most organisations is the last one: People.

In this context, “People” refers to an organisation’s employees, and is inclusive of everyone; from the lady with a gentle smile who makes sure your meeting rooms have refreshments, right up to the most senior executives.

Every organisation has a legal and ethical responsibility to ensure that they create and sustain an environment that is safe and conducive for productivity and growth for all employees, because employees who feel happy, valued and safe at work are more productive and innovative, which ultimately benefits the organisation.

Naturally, one would think all organisations would jump through hoops to ensure that all their employees are happy. They might even convince you during induction (or some random rebranding exercise) that they have adopted a “state of the art, scientifically proven methodology” that enabled them to develop their latest Employee Value Proposition.

So what happens when race dynamics come into play in the workplace and organisations begin to bleed talented, young professionals and suffer from high rates of staff turnovers?

Black professionals are, as a group, the ones who suffer most from ill-treatment in the workplace, despite being amongst the most educated and skilled people in the workplace. Older generations of Black professionals were more inclined to endure abusive bosses and working environments because of limited opportunities and exposure. That is not the case with the new generation of young, Black professionals.

Young, Black professionals are growing increasingly intolerant of abusive, stagnant and stifling organisations that are unable to adapt to the changing times and our changing needs.

What does this mean for organisations?

Corporate South Africa is notorious for its lack of transformation and perpetuation of racist and discriminatory practices against Black professionals. Black professionals have, decade after decade, continued to be the engine that keeps organisations running and successful because of their skills, their advanced levels of education and unmatched work ethic, which leads to many of them being required to teach/upskill their white counterparts (who end up being their bosses).

When organisations continue to mistreat their most valuable assets, Black professionals, they inadvertently erode their own prospects for future success and relevance. They choose systemic racism and discrimination over transformation and sustainability. And this is a choice many corporate organisations make on a daily basis.

Increasingly, organisations will be exposed for their unequal treatment of Black professionals. Black professionals will begin to use their voices fearlessly and echo each other’s calls for justice. More organisations that seek to protect and preserve the rights of Black professionals in the workplace will emerge and hopefully, legislation will catch up.

Author avatar
Sihle Bolani

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