Racism and your business

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Race and racism are topics that many people feel uncomfortable talking about, either because they fear that they will let slip politically incorrect views or because they do not want to relive painful experiences.

According to Statistics South Africa’s 2011 mid-year population estimates (Stats SA ) 79.5% of the total South African population is African, 9% is Coloured, 9% is White, and 2.5% is Indian/Coloured. This kind of racial diversity is likely to be reflected in the small business setting, along with the accompanying instances of racism which can be perpetrated by people belonging to any population group.

Racism matters for small business owners because it may create conscious and unconscious biases that influence how employees are managed, customers are treated, or suppliers are selected. Whilst some small business owners may feel justified in holding onto their beliefs and prejudices, they should stop and consider the potential negative consequences for their business. Employees may feel frustrated or humiliated, resulting in a turnover or a marked lack of initiative and interest in the business. Small business owners may find it difficult to widen their customer base and expand into new markets because they do not know how to relate to people from different backgrounds.

Competent suppliers who offer competitive products and services may be overlooked even when they are a better fit for the business.

So what is the solution?

Legislation such as the Employment Equity Act prohibits racial discrimination against employees in the workplace. However, one wonders whether legislation by itself is sufficient to effect the change in mindset and behavior required to counter and eliminate racism. Or put differently, does the typical small business owner stop to think about the Employment Equity Act before making racist comments or practicing some other form of racial discrimination?

Having frank and honest discussions about racism could be cathartic for small business owners and their employees. This would then spill over to the business’ interactions with customers, suppliers, and another stakeholder. However, if not managed correctly talking about it could merely create a heated and emotional environment without any sense of closure or progress.

How many small business owners can trust themselves to lead a mature and constructive discussion about racism?  Whatever solutions or compromises small business owners reach, racism is not something small business operating in South Africa can pretend does not exist.

 

 

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20 comments
    I recently chatted to an entrepreneur who expressed her disdain at how unbelievably racist Cape Town is. I have been here for 7 months and I have not had a racist exprience so far yes perhaps I am simply blessed or could it be a case of leaving the racist monkey on my back somewhere far far away. When my beloved female entrepreneur expressed her disdain I asked if she felt this way because the space we were in was laregely untransformed. I asked this because I had been in the same space for months and as much as it was untransformed it was NOT racist. Now this is the difference for me and perhaps my stay in East Africa tainted me because I am able to make this distinction easily. Yes we can debate the technicalites around how inherently untransformed equals racist I beg to differ.
    I think this is such an important conversation to have! Our history as a country has left many people dissolutioned as to how to deal with this issue. For the majority of the older white population it seems to be a really tough subject to talk about there is no rule book or guide to the new SA and how to deal with it effectively after being indoctrinated for all those years. As a young white female in business I see this all too oftenand I just wish people would talk about it!What do wedo to enable people to talk about this openly without fear of offending or political incorrectness?
    The sickest part of racism in the workplace and business world is how it blocks people from opportunities they rightly deserve or even a chance to be a contender. I was a fairly young person (29) when I started my business and of all the challenges I anticpated curiously racism wasn’t one of them. We discovered soon enough that corporate SA really wasn’t ready for a young black female owned company….it is infuriating but helped to create a work ethic and culture of excellence that’s been our hallmark in our 15 years of existence. What is especially problematic in the business environment today is systemic racism that plays itself out as ‘old boys/girls networks’ locking so many of us out of amazing opportunities. Often young black talent gets around this by seeking out a ‘godfather’ type figure or by being incubated by an established white-owned business.
    We must talk about this candidly as and when it pops up so we can move pass this elephant in so many rooms. Sjoe business can be tough and layered just in and of itself so I honestly do not believe in making it more complicated. We must just talk create an environmnet in your business to talk candidly in a safe space address the issues head on and get back to doing business. Yes we have legacy issues but it takes extreme will and dedication to move past our past and create the SA we want to leave to our grandkids. I really don't want to be having this same conversations twenty years from now heaven help us all. It starts with us today and having the tough conversations maturely.
    I agree lack of transformation (which takes decades in most new democracies) does not equate to racism. However what stagnates the process is the lack of open dialogue surrounding it. We need to foster a culture in which it's ok to speak openly about it about how you feel it is the only way to get past it!
    Yes Exactly!
    We have to accept that at some level if it's going to be authentic then the conversation IS going to be unpleasant and we're bound totread on one another's toes and rub each other the wrong way in how we express ourselves on this topic. It is anEXTREMELY sensitive issue because it impacts on peoples lives in such a material way. As much as possible i do suggest that in the workplace/business environment it takes place as a fasciliated conversation with an industrial psychologist who specialises in these issues to guide the dialogue and ensure it doesn't get harmfuland personal. It's hard for people to acknowledgetheir unacknowledged bias and privilege - the knee jerk reaction is to be defensive...but correctly done these tough conversations offer a real opportunity for constructive dialogue and progress in the workplace...
    We have to accept that at some level if it's going to be authentic then the conversation IS going to be unpleasant and we're bound totread on one another's toes and rub each other the wrong way in how we express ourselves on this topic. It is anEXTREMELY sensitive issue because it impacts on peoples lives in such a material way. As much as possible i do suggest that in the workplace/business environment it takes place as a fasciliated conversation with an industrial psychologist who specialises in these issues to guide the dialogue and ensure it doesn't get harmfuland personal. It's hard for people to acknowledgetheir unacknowledged bias and privilege - the knee jerk reaction is to be defensive...but correctly done these tough conversations offer a real opportunity for constructive dialogue and progress in the workplace...
    We have to accept that at some level if it's going to be authentic then the conversation on racism IS going to be unpleasant and we're bound totread on one another's toes and rub each other the wrong way in how we express ourselves on this topic. It is anEXTREMELY sensitive issue because it impacts on peoples lives in such a material way. As much as possible i do suggest that in the workplace/business environment it takes place as a fasciliated conversation with an industrial psychologist who specialises in these issues to guide the dialogue and ensure it doesn't get harmfuland personal. It's hard for people to acknowledgetheir unacknowledged bias and privilege - the knee jerk reaction is to be defensive...but correctly done these tough conversations offer a real opportunity for constructive dialogue and progress in the workplace...
    We have to accept that at some level if it's going to be authentic then the conversation on racism IS going to be unpleasant and we're bound totread on one another's toes and rub each other the wrong way in how we express ourselves on this topic. It is anEXTREMELY sensitive issue because it impacts on peoples lives in such a material way. As much as possible i do suggest that in the workplace/business environment it takes place as a fasciliated conversation with an industrial psychologist who specialises in these issues to guide the dialogue and ensure it doesn't get harmfuland personal. It's hard for people to acknowledgetheir unacknowledged bias and privilege - the knee jerk reaction is to be defensive...but correctly done these tough conversations offer a real opportunity for constructive dialogue and progress in the workplace...
    Are we not just splitting hairs here? Whether it’s racism or a lack of transformation we’re dealing with is the net effect not the same – ie blocking people of colour from the opportunities?
    We have to accept that at some level if it's going to be authentic then the conversation on racism IS going to be unpleasant and we're bound totread on one another's toes and rub each other the wrong way in how we express ourselves on this topic. It is anEXTREMELY sensitive issue because it impacts on peoples lives in such a material way. As much as possible i do suggest that in the workplace/business environment it takes place as a fasciliated conversation with an industrial psychologist who specialises in these issues to guide the dialogue and ensure it doesn't get harmfuland personal. It's hard for people to acknowledgetheir unacknowledged bias and privilege - the knee jerk reaction is to be defensive...but correctly done these tough conversations offer a real opportunity for constructive dialogue and progress in the workplace...
    I love that you turned your challenge into your biggest asset...Is that not the embodiment of transformation! I agree about the old boy network - although I feel it's a dying breed this is exactly what I was saying about older white business people without the guidance they need to navigate these waters this is how they keep themselves safe! I am speaking on a totally white behalf but am from a totally different generation so I battle to understand it moving on seems to be a battle for these guys.
    It's evolving... the old (white) boys network is still a real factor and it's been joined by new old boys networks from different race groups - so there's that old chestnut we still have to deal with... sexism but that's a topic for another day lol!
    Let's look at the untransformed space I mention all I see all day everyday are people simply getting on with it. They are not colluding in corners to keep the likes of me out they are simply keeping their heads down creating pretty impressive tech solutions. Do I feel like I ambeing held back from progrressing in this space NO. I am simply surrounded by people getting on with it. Now it is my duty to ensure that I remind them to be cognisant of the disparity and let's work together to bring all marginalized people into the space so that includes youth women and the disabled. A simple constant reminder will see this untransformed space shift drastically. Now I could be shouting racism at the top of my lungs would it change anything? I don't think so. I refuse to be blocked from any space in my country not on my watch.
    We have to accept that at some level if it's going to be authentic then the conversation on racism IS going to be unpleasant and we're bound totread on one another's toes and rub each other the wrong way in how we express ourselves on this topic. It is anEXTREMELY sensitive issue because it impacts on peoples lives in such a material way. As much as possible i do suggest that in the workplace/business environment it takes place as a facilitatedconversation with an industrial psychologist who specialises in these issues to guide the dialogue and ensure it doesn't get harmfuland personal. It's hard for people to acknowledgetheir unacknowledged bias and privilege - the knee jerk reaction is to be defensive...but correctly done these tough conversations offer a real opportunity for constructive dialogue and progress in the workplace...
    We have to accept that at some level if it's going to be authentic then the conversation on racism IS going to be unpleasant and we're bound totread on one another's toes and rub each other the wrong way in how we express ourselves on this topic. It is anEXTREMELY sensitive issue because it impacts on peoples lives in such a material way. As much as possible i do suggest that in the workplace/business environment it takes place as a facilitatedconversation with an industrial psychologist who specialises in these issues to guide the dialogue and ensure it doesn't get harmfuland personal. It's hard for people to acknowledgetheir unacknowledged bias and privilege - the knee jerk reaction is to be defensive...but correctly done these tough conversations offer a real opportunity for constructive dialogue and progress in the workplace...
    lol Marang indeed...and after sexism we can talk religion! All of the forbiden fruit. But onto the girls network I have found it so much easier to get into where as men have thought out plans on how to infiltrate we simply connect! We can smell a rat from a mile and rely on instinct to make decisions I do anyway and it serves us well.
    @antoprophy - i hear you but unless there is some acknowledgement from those on the inside that theirs is an untransformed space an acknowledgement that comeswith a commitedremedial action that is then it's all much of a muchness no? If we don't put systems and structures in place to ensure that others have a stab at opportunities then how will things ever change? Where spaces are untransformed there has to be real action to change that... and i don't think it's necessarily the duty of the few people of colour who've made it into the system... it has to come from the top.
    Antoprophy I love your attitude! You are so right everyone is trying their very best to just get their jobs done getting on with it!