In brief

In uncertain times, the benefits of a robust diversity and inclusion (D&I) program should not be underestimated. Lerisha Naidu, Partner and Head of the D&I Committee in Johannesburg, explains how those businesses with successful D&I programs are likely to weather the time ahead with resilience, easing the process of recovery during times of crisis.

In times of crisis, the benefits of having a robust diversity and inclusion (D&I) program should not be underestimated. Diverse and inclusive corporate cultures lead to increased productivity and meaningful employee engagement, which ultimately offer immense value to businesses.

D&I fosters innovative participation, which gives rise to a confluence of creative ideas arising from the richness of different backgrounds and experiences, all of which work together in the formulation of solutions to business challenges and idea-generation. Diverse spaces ultimately lead to better outcomes than homogenous spaces.

In the rapidly changing environment precipitated by the global pandemic, a successful D&I program is an important part of a business’s resilience and recovery strategy.

D&I is firmly on the agenda of most organizations and businesses around the world. Conscious and forward-looking businesses consider D&I to be a measure of their success and indispensable to their overall sustainability. In my role as the head of Diversity & Inclusion at Baker McKenzie in Johannesburg, I have been meaningfully engaged in the global D&I discourse, observing that D&I challenges, while undoubtedly nuanced based on the country, region and historical context in which they arise, are certainly not uniquely South African. It remains a challenge, across corporates the world over, to overcome traditional workplace norms that have persisted for time immemorial and ensure the meaningful embedding of inclusive practices/ the fostering of inclusive cultures in diversely constituted environments.

In achieving inclusive workplace cultures, businesses should be encouraged to invite and embrace employees that bring their best selves to the space. Requiring employees to fit into static workplace cultures undermines the ability to truly 'show up' with authenticity, which is an indispensable component of the overall inclusion project. Embracing the authenticity of each individual employee fosters trust and belonging while the converse results in sub-optimal team dynamics, disengagement, a lack of drive, an absence of innovation and an inevitable loss of key talent.

Overall, meaningful and effective D&I programs require a qualitative approach as opposed to reducing it to a pure numbers game. To do this, D&I considerations should permeate all business processes that relate to and influence the employee experience - from recruitment to inclusive onboarding initiatives, teambuilding culture, performance reviews, succession planning, mentoring and sponsorship.  It goes without saying that the execution of these processes must be underpinned by a clear, genuine and committed tone from the top, which filters into the microcosms of the organization. This tone should empower all members within the organization to engage proactivity and invoke their own sense of agency to contribute to the overall project and to pay it forward.

The D&I agenda does not entail a quick fix, requiring consistent focus and collective energy to achieve marginal gains and facilitate progress forward. At this unprecedented time in which innovative ideas are required to navigate a new world characterized by overwhelming uncertainty, it has never been more important to foster and harness the power of diverse teams who are empowered to work together to find new solutions. Those businesses that have successful D&I programs are expected to weather the time ahead with resilience, easing the process of recovery during times of crisis.