Racism in the Workplace: The Need for Diversity and Inclusion Training in South Africa

Updated: Feb 19

Brief Summary

South African workplaces are in desperate need of diversity and inclusion training in the workplace. While overt racism may not be obvious, there are nevertheless great inequality structures and racial discrimination undertones that persist in workplaces. This creates a divisive workforce and undermines the potential South African society can reach.

South Africa has one of the most liberal and progressive Constitutions in the world. The Constitution and various laws enacted to give effect to its enshrined rights, provide that all people have the right to equality and dignity in the workplace. The Employment Equity Act (“EEA”) 55 of 1998 recognises that structural racism exists in the workplace and due to Apartheid, there inequalities in the employment and labour sector. The EEA attempts to rectify this by eradicating unfair discrimination faced by employees. However, despite the law’s intervention, inequality and discrimination in the workplace continues to exist. Racial bias and racial discrimination plague workplaces to the detriment of both employees and employers.


This is not a South African problem; the World Economic Forum is partnering for racial justice in business, in a recent project, "A global coalition for organisations to use their power to create just and equitable workplaces for professionals that are under-represented racially and ethnically."


According to the World Economic Forum:


“Racism and racial bias is manifested in current social, economic and political disenfranchisement of historically marginalized and minority ethnic groups such as the lack of opportunities, lower socio-economic status, higher unemployment and the racial wealth gap. Professionals of colour and minority ethnic backgrounds continue to face racial injustice and inequity in the workplace, and they have been severely underrepresented in leadership.”

Certainly, South Africa’s situation is unique in that racial discrimination and racial bias in the workplace is targeted against a majority in this country; this is deeply rooted in our past. That is not to say that non-POC do not experience feelings of exclusion and bias in the workplace. While some companies choose to address issues of bias, racial discrimination, and exclusion, with policies of diversity and inclusion (“D&I”), it is not mandatory to offer training to employees on D&I in South African law. But should it be a requirement of the law?


What do the words ‘diversity,’ ‘inclusion’ and ‘transformation’ entail? They’re thrown around in companies D&I policies, and that’s where they’re left. Employees seldom receive detailed training on D&I in the workplace. Issues of exclusion, bias, discrimination, and race are left to ferment; it is taken for granted that employees know how to interact with other employees who are different from them. The reality paints a very different picture: language, culture, and religion all act as barriers to open and honest communication and interaction. Instead of these issues being raised to management’s attention and openly addressed by companies, they are swept under the carpet.

Employee training on D&I should not only include employees in the Human Resources department and all employees occupying managerial and leadership positions. A transformative workplace includes a buy-in from all in the workplace, the training should include a consultative process whereby issues faced by employees are raised and addressed by management.


When considering the long-lasting and far-reaching consequences of toxic workplaces on employees’ mental wellbeing, career progression, personal growth and companies’ productivity, culture, and reputation, it makes sense for employee training on D&I policies to become the norm rather than the anomaly in companies and organisations.



How can MW assist?


MW has a diverse panel of highly experienced experts from enquiry chairpersons, investigators, facilitators, mediators, counselors and lawyers to assist. Over the past year, we have sucessfully assisted a number of companies to train hundreds of employees on Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace. MW conducts processes both online and in-person at an affordable rate


We have adapted our processes to comply with the law, your disciplinary framework and the need to comply with the current lockdown regulations. We use secure and efficient online platforms to deliver. Send an email to info@mediateworks.com and find out how we can help you.


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