Excerpted from The SHRM Blog By Mofota Sefali

“Diversity is the range of human differences, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, religious or ethical values system, national origin and political beliefs.”

What about race? How do we break down the fundamental differences that are inherent in people of the same race? Africans are different, African American’s are different. We don’t seem to understand that even amongst people who appear to look the same, we are different. We are not a monolithic group of people. We don’t all think, respond and react the same way.

In corporate South Africa, we have experienced behavior and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group, where blatant favoritism is displayed. In such instances lucky are those whose tribe is in the powerful/lead position for they shall find favor in all their endeavors at work, always at the cost of putting a damper on organizational culture.

Sadly, we brush it off by saying, “Oh these are the effects of colonialism, this is the mind conditioning that taught us to hate ourselves,” and we leave it there, but it’s a very serious issue because it gets in the way of us working well together. We have this undercurrent of hate amongst each other, and we see it, but we do not talk about it.

A Zulu colleague once told me that, growing up, her folks used to tell them as children that Zulu’s are better than all the other African tribes, and that we are “amashangane,” which is a derogatory term used by Zulu’s when speaking of other tribes. I have tried to understand why anyone would say that and have thought that perhaps it was a way of instilling some sense of pride in the Zulu child, to help them love themselves and to be proud of their identity. However, it seems that specific teaching created mental models that do not serve the purpose of inclusion.

As human resources practitioners, we need to understand all barriers to inclusivity. But what must happen if we are the problem? What if we have built in us this superiority complex which has put blinkers that prevent us from seeing our blind spots?

We have a problem if we are putting together guiding principles that say things like “we are an inclusive employer, we put conscious and deliberate effort into Diversity and Inclusion, our culture, policies, systems, blah, blah…,” and yet on the 24th of September which is Heritage Day in South Africa, we put together an entire program where the company has to watch how one tribe celebrates their culture, when we live in a country where there are at least eleven official languages in the country. The business looks at us as though we have completely lost it and deems us as incompetent.

It’s our time. HR can add value by showing that we understand these intricate nuances and that we can deal with their complexities to build a truly inclusive culture for all.

There are great stories to be told about how we took off our blinkers, to understand our blind spots, and how that has changed the way we think. We need to start by having real conversations in the workplace, allowing people to give us feedback, to appreciate what is in our blind and unknown areas, with the intention of widening the open space of our Johari window. The same liberation is required across the continent, where we need to all learn each other’s way’s, to better understand how to work well, together!

And as we all now work in a global marketplace, and with a global workforce, we can learn to appreciate our similarities as well as our differences to build more inclusive workplaces.