Connected Career Women Series

Ubuntu, Or How To Get From Diversity To Belonging

Whether it is pressure from customers or employees, a fact is that the workforce of many companies does not yet accurately reflect the diversity of the customer base. This phenomenon is more pronounced the higher you go up the corporate hierarchy. In fact, there are undocumented cultural practices, unconscious bias, processes and procedures that favor some people to disproportionately drop out or get stuck as they ascend the corporate hierarchy. It is understood that we have to be intentional about valuing diversity, fostering inclusion, yet something is still missing… belonging!

When it comes to creating business results for companies, the human capital and their productivity is key.

How do you get the most out of your employees? It depends on various factors, the time they put in, the passion they bring to work, their self-motivation or drive, the way they are able to collaborate on projects, the way they are able to bounce creative ideas off one another and transform these into viable products, services or improved processes.

The duration of time that employees stay engaged and productive is also key. Succession planning and career progression, opportunities to be on career-building projects, the ability to see oneself in a C-level position, etc. – these aspects affect employee retention. 

Diversity and inclusion, then, are not ‘nice’ to have, but key to core business processes and company results. How do we get from diversity and inclusion to results? How do we reduce high employee turnover? 

Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Verna Myers
Diversity

Representation is a very visual thing.

Just a quick glance at a panel, a quick peek around the room at a general assembly or during a board meeting will show you the representation – at least of those groups that are visually different – of women and men, different races, different religions, if they wear visible symbols or clothing.

Whatever product or service you are producing or delivering, chances are your customer base has diversified a lot. What about your workforce, and how is the representation at higher levels? Diversity may not be a topic that is discussed at your specific company or organization, but people are watching this and sometimes voting with their feet when they are not happy with what they see and live.

Even if diversity is discussed, it takes more than talk. That is why representation at higher levels – and especially in line functions – that can potentially prepare for the CEO role, is key. It demonstrates that your company is walking the walk and talking the talk. Diversity is important to capture different expertise, different angles and frames of reference. Diversity is about seeing the value in difference and understanding how these differences are necessary for a better whole.

Inclusion

If diversity is tolerating differences and even inviting differences in, inclusion is about accepting and welcoming differences and sharing opportunities and collaborating on projects and in diverse teams. Inclusion is about tapping into the opportunity that diversity offers.

Inclusion goes beyond understanding the power of numbers and representation to making use of that potential and transforming it into tangible business results. You now have different people with different backgrounds and points of view and you are making use of those differences.

So it seems that once you achieve diversity as well as inclusion, you are done. Not quite. To get long-term human capital retention, to change organizational cultures, to engage your diverse workforce, they need to feel invited to the party, they need to dance, but they also need to feel that they belong there.

If we build on Verna Myers’ metaphor and with diversity, we got people to attend the party and through inclusion, we got them to dance… how do we make sure they will go back to the next party, because they feel like they belong in this crowd and have every reason to be there?

To tap into the promise of improved innovation, to allow people to find purpose and meaning, to get them to perform beyond expectations, there is… belonging.

Belonging

Have you ever dressed up for the World Cup in your national colors? Have you sung your national anthem during a celebration? What is that feeling – that distinct sensation of belonging to something bigger than oneself?

To feel safe to bring one’s whole self to the table, to feel empowered to be oneself and bring one’s own ideas and perspectives to the table, one needs to feel that same sense of belonging.

Many people stay in roles or in companies because of the team – the sense of belonging to a community of people working together to create something bigger, better, faster, more reliable, or totally new.

Unfortunately, due to certain working cultures, certain practices in terms of recruitment, bonuses, promotion, etc, that feeling is not one everyone can easily access. It is hard to unlock the sense of belonging when egos and privilege get in the way. The ego-self judges and criticizes; it creates separation and distance, it ranks people by certain criteria and assigns superior and inferior worth to them.

Belonging comes from a culture of humanity, respect, humility, and dignity. There is belonging where we understand that we are all different expressions of the same humanity. 

Ubuntu

Could it be that our experience of difference is an illusion? Could it be that fear has driven us to focus on our differences rather than on our common humanity? We are not all that different as we may think.

Xenophobia, racism, judgement, and the like are all rooted in fear.

We are reproducing systems that are keeping both perpetrators and victims small. We choose the world we live in. If we approach the world with fear, we will experience a dangerous, scary and violent world; if we approach it with love and joy, we experience a welcoming and kind world.

At first when you cross boundaries, you notice your difference. You learn who you are through your difference from others. Later, you recognize your shared humanity and understand that the world is in fact your home, that you belong here.

Southern and Eastern African cultures have their own unity consciousness in the form of Ubuntu, or loosely translated to ‘humanity’. It is the understanding that we are because others are, that we are the same and yet different – different expressions of the same humanity deriving our unique characteristics through the difference of expression from others, but fundamentally the same, human, goodness.

It [Ubuntu] is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness; it speaks about compassion. A person with Ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Could it be that the spiritual traditions of the world, and specifically those of Southern and Eastern Africa, have always known the secret of diversity, inclusion, and belonging? That we are made of the same fundamental life energy – that stardust that became conscious and manifest in an abundant diversity of human experiences, to serve a myriad of expressions of our higher selves… 

Curving back within myself I create again and again.”

Bhagvad Gita

About the Author

Lucy Schalkwijk is a women’s empowerment champion, a connector and a skills development enthusiast. She is passionate about connecting and empowering women in the workplace and writes about careers, networking, women’s empowerment, and leadership.

Want to join a tribe of successful women who have your back? Contact the Career Women’s Network Kigali: info@careerwomensnetwork-kigali.com and +250783719431.


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