In our last workshop at Stephanos Foundation today, participants looked for role models in change and innovation. They came up with a list that is different from what European groups would make, except for Mandela: he is always everywhere present in the list of role models participants come up with.
Afterwards one of the managers told me that Malawi did not deal with South Africa in the apartheid period the same way other African countries did. The first president of Malawi Mr. Banda was in favour of dialogue, much in line with the inclusiveness that I experienced in Malawi during the last ten days. While other countries boycotted South Africa, Mr. Banda refused to stop his contacts and met with the president of South Africa. But when he did that, he made a statement. He helt a black child on one hand, a white child on the other hand and like that he showed that all humans are equal and that that would be the way forward also for South Africa. Mr. Banda got political ennemies in several African countries because of his vision, my manager told me, but he had a vision that suited Malawian culture and did not give it up. Later, he might have become more like a dictator, but for this attitude towards South Africa he can be considered as a role model.
I think I learned at least as much as the managers of Stephanos Foundation who followed my workshops. For me, it was like presenting familiar themes and practices in a completely unfamiliar context. Maybe it could have been better if I had known more about the local context – on the other hand, this might have been the key for interaction and participation of the managers, as I asked explicitly for their help at the beginning.
One thing is for sure, themes like culture, diversity, change, innovation and even project planning don’t differ per country: only the context differs – and the language was not an easy step to take. The workshops were highly appreciated and I highly appreciated to be given this opportunity that was really ‘out of the box’ for me. Not easy, but very rewarding!
In the first blog about diversity management during the economic crisis I mentioned that quite some organisations tend to go back to ‘single characteristic’ diversity, summarized in customer feedback like: ‘we want a more specific approach, not just diversity’. This asks a lot from the conceptual patience of Seba consultants and trainers. Another ‘after crisis trend’, merely found in large national government organisations, is the hope that we are now finally done with diversity. I was talking with a responsible person a short while ago and he was telling me this: ‘We are now doing inclusiveness. Nobody likes diversity any more, the word itself is unpopular. So we are now working on inclusion in the organisation‘.
When I hear this kind of wording, I am so surprised. It is difficult to understand that a highly educated professional does not see the contradiction in his words. Many companies all over the world work on ‘Diversity & Inclusion’, also called D&I: it is like a twin set, one can’t be there without the other and they strengthen each other.
So I asked the guy: ‘OK, so what exactly is it what your organisation wants to include?‘ He looked at me blankly, then started to explain that our government is supported by a political party that is against diversity, so no national government organisation can work on organisational diversity any more because it would be undemocratic to do so. Didn’t I understand that? But that was not my question, and I repeated it: ‘Ok I see but then what do you include?’ I then heard many words and a repeated appeal for inclusiveness but no answer. It was clear what he didn’t want, but not clear what he did want…
Of course every organisation has its own responsabilities. If this is how a national government organisation wants to prepare for the future, so be it. In my company Seba we notice that in most organisations diversity is still on the agenda, somehow, one way or the other . Although the crisis continues, most organisations expect a war for talent in the very near future and they see diversity as a future theme that might make the difference. We support those organisations. Being a company in the field of diversity management means that we go where the opportunities are.
However, as a Dutch citizen, I hope that ‘my’ governmental organisations will be the best. The challenge they face for the future is enormous and they will need the best talents to perform. What a pity to do that in ‘inclusive’ organisations where diversity is taboo…