Accelerate Change

Rather transform the workplace now than face the wrath of graduates from the hashtag protests. Mncane Mthunzi

In recent years, the Black Management Forum (BMF) has been struggling to find companies to award for their achievements in transformation – a clear indication that there is no model company for transformation in South Africa today. The Jack Hammer Executive Report, released late last year, reveals that the proportion of black South African CEOs has fallen from 15% in 2012 to 10% in 2015.

More than 40% of black people are unemployed, compared with only 6% of white people. White families earn six times more than their black counterparts. According to the report, a black family’s annual income is R60 000, whereas a white family earns an annual income of R365 000.

As far as management representation goes, whites make up only 10% of the economically active population, but occupy more than 70% of the top management positions. This is compared with 13.6% held by black Africans. Coloured and Indian people hold 4.7% and 8.4% of top management level positions, respectively.

Business and other institutions have been subscribing to a minimalist approach as far as the implementation of transformation is concerned, but it is evident that self-regulation in matters of transformation has failed. Can we successfully implement BEE and transformation without the significantor widespread permission from those who are in control?

I think we can, and this is how: First, the rule of law and parts of our legislation, such as – but not limited to – the Employment Equity Act and the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act must be put to test. Companies must be taken to court for disregarding these laws and must publically explain their recruitment and decision-making processes. The former Act must also apply at CEO and executive levels to ensure they reflect our broader societal demographics.

Second, there should be an Employment Equity Tribunal, which will determine the fines for companies not complying with the Employment Equity Act, based on the work done by the Commission for Employment Equity.

This would work in a similar way to how the Competition Commission and Competition Tribunal are currently structured.

Third, the director-general reviews conducted by the Department of Labour must be publicised to understand the explanations for the transformation impasse. The Department of Labour’s inspectorate must be capacitated and strengthened to execute its responsibility effectively. The outcome of their work will help provide transformation watchdog organisations, such as the BMF, with reliable and concrete evidence for legal challenge.

Fourth, the JSE-listing requirements must include diversity, and further stipulate representation of black people and women based on the turnover, size and industry in which companies operate.

Fifth, black people who are executives or nonexecutive directors must know that they carry the responsibility for transformation, whether they like it or not. These people are our role models and sources of inspiration as black professionals, and their behaviour and conduct must reflect that.

Finally, it is about time that we take transformation as seriously as we take exchange controls, corporate governance, accounting reporting standards and the creation of shareholder value. It is only then that transformation will become a business imperative.

The hashtag movements (#RhodesMustFall, #FeesMustFall and others) that caused revolt at our institutions of higher learning will soon be coming to corporate South Africa. These students will be graduating in the next two to three years, and the majority of them will be employees at our private-sector companies.

Companies are currently struggling to manage the Millennial generation, so I can only imagine the complex dimension that this influx will bring to the workplace.

It would be better for them to enter a transformed workplace. Otherwise there will be another leaderless revolution – with the corporate workplace as the battlefield. Mark my words.

 

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