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Workforce Diversity in South Africa

Updated on June 25, 2020
Melusi Jeisal Ngwenya profile image

Melusi Jeisal Ngwenya has a bachelor's degree in social psychology and has been a fan of battle rap for years.

Embracing Workforce Diversity in South Africa

Workforce Diversity
Workforce Diversity | Source

As the modern workplace becomes more global, companies are putting a bigger emphasis on an employee’s intercultural skills in the office. Now more than ever, companies are no longer just looking for technical skills, they are also putting a greater focus on an employee’s ability to speak another language, demonstrate respect for others, and cope with cultural differences. Intercultural skills are important to companies for several reasons. They not only give employees a better understanding of their workplace and co-workers, but they also help them adapt to new work environments and prevent culture shock, while enhancing their cultural awareness, knowledge, and practical skills.


Culture refers to a system of shared beliefs, values, behaviours and artifacts that members of society use to cope with their world and with one another and that are transferred from generation to generation. Mclead (2002) stipulates that culture comprises of elements of behaviour such as language, values, standards, religion and customs that are shared by a group of people. Culture is not inherited but acquired from the environment which one grows in In South Africa there is an African Culture in which different groups like the Xhosa, Zulu, Venda, Tswana, Ndebele etc. have their own sub cultures within the broad African Culture, on the other side there is non-African cultures like Indians, Europeans, Asians etc. Culture includes the things people believe in and the way they do them.


Communication is the exchange and flow of information and ideas from one person to another. It involves a sender transmitting an idea to a receiver. Effective communication occurs only if the receiver understands the exact information or idea that the sender intended to transmit. Many of the problems that occur in an organization are the direct result of people failing to communicate. Leaders of organizations who keep everything inside or cannot communicate a message, leave individuals to their devices to try and figure out what they may, or may not, want. This is a failure of leadership and communication (Baldoni, 2003). Faulty communication causes the most problems. It leads to confusion and can cause a good plan to fail. Communication is the key factor in the success of any organization. When it comes to effective communication there are certain barriers that every organization faces that why open or effective communication is not always obtained.

Intercultural communication is a symbolic, interpretive, transactional, contextual process, in which people from different cultures create shared meanings. Intercultural communication refers to the effects on communication behaviour when different cultures interact together. Hence, one way of viewing intercultural communication is as communication that unfolds in symbolic intercultural spaces. In general, one can safely say Intercultural communication is the communication between people from two different cultures.


One major step in achieving intercultural communication for South African businesses is doing away with ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is the feeling that one's group has a mode of living, values, and patterns of adaptation that are superior to those of other groups. Hence, ethnocentrism is recognized as an obstacle leading to failure in intercultural communication. The reason is because one of the critical terms for effective intercultural communication is to understand and respect different cultures. Nonetheless, individuals who are ethnocentric are almost certainly not able to appreciate another culture but will engage in judgmental behaviour of other cultures which differ from theirs. For this reason, ethnocentrism must necessarily be avoided by South African companies.

Both business owners and clients in South Africa can no longer assume that their own values and ethics are the only correct way to approach policy making and other business strategies. The world has become a global village which means business environment is constantly changing and becoming more diverse. The right company policy in organizations ensures that the differences between cultures are being used as an advantage in an organisation rather than a point of conflict. Having a diverse workforce with people from different cultures is an advantage as it helps the organisation to create a huge client pool. Company policy is supposed to be laid in a manner that helps employees better understand how to best approach their work as the company is bound to deal with people of different cultural background.


Now, if South African businesses are to learn about intercultural communication, it's important to understand what this is, but it's also important to understand what it isn't. Intercultural communication is targeted at allowing for positive and productive interaction within people of different culture. You are not joining this culture, you are not becoming a member of another society, you are not abandoning your own culture. That would be assimilation and that's not what intercultural communication should be about.


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