Diversity in the channel: How are we doing?

Photo Unsplash/Tim Mossholde

The channel remains stubbornly behind the times when it comes to diversity and inclusion, but there are some companies leaping out in front.

According to PwC, women remain significantly underrepresented in the emerging technology workplace. Gender equality is still a distant dream. But what happens when you widen this conversation? When you look at how diversity and inclusion don’t just carry the mantle of women, but also of LGBT and people who are disabled? How does the channel open its doors to them? Well, not very widely it seems.

Out of the 15 companies approached within the South African channel, only four came forward with proven strategies and stories of diversity and inclusion, opening discussions with their own people to make the workplace more inclusive. The rest? The answers varied between ‘we’ve got nothing in place as yet’ and ‘we don’t have a spokesperson’, which begs another question – why not? The diversity conversation has been going on for years. As far back as 1996, Harvard Business Review published an article that unpacked the value of diversity in the workforce, but almost 20 years later, this value is still being limited by views that are just that – limited.

Spectrum of diversity

A diverse channel is an innovative one. It’s one that can problem-solve in ingenious ways, find new markets, explore new opportunities, and engage with people from varied backgrounds, beliefs and lifestyles to deliver solutions and client services that exceed expectations. This is not an imagined world. Companies that have invested in the tenets of diversity and inclusion are better at capturing new market attention, decision-making and innovation. Deloitte Insights found that innovation increases by 20% and that organisations with inclusive cultures are more likely to meet financial targets, become high performers, be agile, and achieve better business outcomes.

While the picture painted by the South African channel looks bleak, there are companies that have stepped up and done more. Tarsus Technologies is one. CEO Anton Herbst is honest when he says: “We are not at the level we want to be yet, but we are focused on both inclusion and diversity.” The company has ensured that its buildings are disabled-friendly, and pregnant women get their own parking bays.

“Being pregnant is not a disability, but we recognise that women have different needs at this time so we make a plan for it,” he says. “We are applying this thinking across the spectrum, recognising that the broader our approaches, the better we can be when it comes to diversity and inclusion. We want teams of successful people regardless of where they sit on the diversity spectrum, because this is how we can celebrate uniqueness. It’s a far better approach than celebrating what makes us all average.”

It’s also something that has been felt by employees at the company. Says Tshegofatso Pilane, an account manager at Tarsus Distribution Portal Online: “Tarsus provided me with all the assistive devices I needed and took extra steps to help me perform and grow based on my capabilities, not my disabilities. Being blind is very challenging, especially when it comes to employment.”

It’s a view shared by Zameer Mohamed, a junior systems manager in IT at Tarsus, who says: “Moving away from the stereotypes that are associated with disadvantaged people can help bring about a change in diversity. And Tarsus has provided me with equipment and support resources to do my job on a daily basis.” This is echoed by Neels van Niekerk, a national SMB team leader who recently lost his partner.

“The support from the company was amazing – calls from the CEO and colleagues, the warehouse, accounts. HR helped with funeral costs and spousal insurance within days. The company encourages people to understand other cultures and thinking and involves people from different sexual orientations, which only makes a company stronger.”

Representation and equity

Another company that stands out in its willingness to talk about how it has embraced diversity is Cummins. Rene du Plessis, the company’s senior human resources generalist, corporate functions, unexpectedly lost the sight in her right eye and was trying to find her feet and a job.

“I was struggling with the transition to disability, and I didn’t know what I had to do to disclose it when I looked for work,” she says. “In South Africa, there’s a lot of bias so if you say 'person with disability’, they put your CV to the side. When I was offered the role at Cummins, I was scared about disclosing my disability – would I lose the opportunity? The first question they asked was – how can we help you? No discrimination at all.”

The company continues to provide her with the support she needs and she’s never experienced any discrimination. In fact, the company is now in its third year of collaboration with SITA for a learnership programme for people with disabilities.

Mimecast is another company that has put diversity and inclusion at the top of the agenda. It recently appointed Andile Kungwayo as the diversity and transformation manager to advance representation and equity for underrepresented employees and increase the company’s competitiveness. Mimecast also partnered with a disability placement company called I Can!, and with other organisations that are focused on attracting and recruiting diverse talent such as WomenTech Network, the Massachusetts LGBT Chamber of Commerce and the Black Young Professionals Network.

Dimension Data has also dug deeply into the diversity and inclusion bucket to create a focused strategy around equal employment and opportunity.

“We have a benchmarking policy that ensures people are paid equally for the same job requirements, and we have a zero tolerance policy for any harassment whatsoever, with a third-party hotline for the reporting of sexual harassment,” says Natalie Munemo, head of sustainability and diversity at Dimension Data MEA. We have a gender-neutral and wheelchair-friendly bathroom on every floor, have increased the female representation in the leadership team by 30% over the past two years, and have compulsory disability awareness training for managers and employees.”

Those paying attention to diversity and inclusion across all the different touchpoints and spheres are doing it with gusto. Dimension Data’s list of diversity mandates and inclusion solutions is an opus; Cummins is taking inclusion seriously with its employee awareness training, and both Mimecast and Tarsus are paying consistent attention to the value of people who are defined by diversity. And the rest? It seems that perhaps the channel needs a bit more of a shove to recognise the value of diversity in the company, and how, as Herbst puts it, celebrating what makes people different is actually an advantage in a highly competitive landscape.