What's Happening?

How to be deliberate about diversity



It’s World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development on Tuesday, 21 May. It’s a day that drives UNESCO’s urgent agenda to bridge the gap between cultures and promote fundamental human rights and freedoms. For businesses, diversity has become a differentiator it’s impossible to ignore, especially given the current climate of globalisation and cross-continent expansion.

There are countless studies providing proof of how diverse teams benefit bottom-lines, catalysing above-average profitability and long-term value creation. In South Africa, our workplaces need to go beyond ticking boxes. We need to make it an imperative to reflect the true, demographic profile of our country to further socio-economic inclusion, shared value and job creation, and long-term sustainability. This calls for a concerted effort on skills development, mentorship, leadership and succession planning.

As Head of Learning and Development, I’ve been privileged to play a strong part in driving Santam’s transformation agenda, primarily through a focus on creating an inclusive, learning culture. Our approach to ensure Santam has the capability required currently, and in the future, is multipronged and includes:

  • Targeted external talent acquisition using various recruitment strategies with clear focus on diversity with respect to race, gender and generations
  • Deploying internal talent through promotions, assignments and secondments within Santam and the larger Sanlam Group
  • Internal capacity-building through development programmes that grow the talent pipeline in the short, medium and long term
  • An external talent pipeline drive via the Strategic Resourcing Plan (SRP) and the Skills Development Academy


The work’s paying off; we’re currently a BBBEE level 1 business with 57.7% women employees and 71.4% black employees. We also have multiple generations (predominantly millennials) working side-by-side. In 2018 alone, 120 learners and graduates have been trained through our learnership and internships, with an 82% placement rate in Santam and our wider network and industry. But there’s so much more to be done.

Learning and development must support a bigger transformational agenda. At Santam, we have employment equity group targets we cascade to every business unit, which makes all our people accountable for advancing transformation. We believe in proactively changing the nature of our workforce at mid-to-senior level especially. Diversity for us means a broader, generational mix of people. It means creating an inclusive culture that is welcoming to individuals who may be differently abled and from varying cultures, beliefs, backgrounds, sexual orientations and demographics.

How do we do this? It’s a work in progress, but over the last 100 years, we’ve learned several lessons. Firstly, skills are scarce so in-house talent development cannot be underestimated.  Filling key senior roles is often a challenge, so it’s best to identify candidates early on so there are a few years to groom them for strategic positions. Businesses need to grow a succession of younger people with critical capabilities. That means first identifying current – and future – skill gaps and resource requirements. Then it’s about investing in graduate programmes and learnerships to have a pipeline of ready placements.

To be able to do this, you must have future-fit leaders who are capable of optimising diverse talent. Working with different generations means knowing how to motivate, engage and lead team members of every age. We’ve been deliberate in upskilling our leaders with this knowledge through ongoing training that empowers them to sensitively navigate cultural differences and get the best from each employee. 

Then, it’s about future-fit leaders entrenching a learning culture that’s deliberate in creating awareness and sensitising people. It’s cliché, but true; it makes a big difference to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.  It can be invaluable for team members to share their unique experiences of the world – personal and professional. This goes a long way to overcome stigmas and promote a two-way process of people sharing their perspectives and management using these to create a more inclusive environment for everyone.

The three steps to starting the transformation journey

Transformation takes deliberateness. It takes empathy and strong leadership. If I had to give three steps for other leaders to begin the process, I’d start with the definition. What is your view of transformation? It needs to be expressed as a key driver of a sustainable business, otherwise it will fail. There needs to be greater appreciation of how critical it is to the long-term success of an entity.

Next, I think business leaders need to actively seek opportunities to advance transformation within their own areas of control. Diversity of thought and experience allow for a unique approach that drives creativity, innovation and the greater good of an organisation.

Finally, it’s about accountability. If people aren’t held accountable for identifying these opportunities, then transformation won’t happen. The performance of leaders must be assessed with these mandates in mind. This will create a greater drive for leaders to find innovative ways to diversify a team. At the centre of an organisation’s future is its ability to optimise diverse talent and skills. This depends on a culture change and a culture change equates to the accountability of a business’s leaders.

The reality is the future lies in Gen X and Z currently. We need to recognise this and continuously ask ourselves, as leaders, how are we making our organisations attractive to these generations and equipping ourselves effectively to lead them. We must be cognisant of the workforce of the future – for example, an excellent underwriter could also be a DJ by-night. How do we leverage the full scope of her talents through flexible work practises? How do we engage, remunerate and offer her benefits that are tailored to her needs.  Organisations that hit these sweet spots will create the talent cohorts of the future.