A Case Study in Diversity Training - [website] Email Print
Published: 12th of Jul 2017 by: Debbie Engelbrecht CEO

Staff Training were contacted by a large national company with a request for Diversity Training. We went to visit our client to ascertain what their understanding of diversity training was and what the particular problems were that they were experiencing.

The internal challenges were identified as:

• Lack of accountability
• Occasional racism
• Late coming
• Cliques and backstabbing or “skinnering” as we South Africans know it
• Two recent sexual harassment incidents


Further pertinent information was that the majority of employees in this organisation were Millennials; they had just changed MD and they were about to enter their busy season that involved employing a large complement of casual workers.

We decided to run with a diversity programme that was extended throughout the entire organisation and that included topics such as, “What influences our thinking and actions?”, “Being the master of your own destiny”, “Diversity in the South African context”, “Aligning company values to behaviours”, linking throughout to, “Business etiquette and client care”.

The two-day workshops had many games and visuals, much discussion and many small group exercises.

We found that the bulk of this incredibly gregarious group of employees were keen to engage and were hungry for the discussions; they were ready to open up and speak about what they loved and what was not going so well. They had all had the opportunity to meet the new MD who had spent her first three weeks in office conducting face-to-face meetings with everyone - a gesture they greatly appreciated.

They were keen to reach out to those around them, but often didn’t have the confidence as they did not know how they would be received. During their individual group discussions they came up with some amazing team building ideas such as a Friday “Ouma’s lunch” where they would bring a lunch, treat or delicacy that they enjoyed as children from a special family recipe. They would then share this with others and those who wanted to could talk about the significance of this meal to them personally.

Other ideas included a possible music hour in the office where anyone who wanted to could bring their favourite music and have a 15-minute time slot to play it. They also agreed that they would have a “state of our department” stand up meeting of 10 minutes every fortnight, just to catch up, say thank you for the things that are working and maybe request small changes for those that are not.

As we had the entire company on the training it was easy for them to get quick buy-in on the smaller requests and create a parking lot for the more in-depth and serious issues. The quick buy-in proved to be very valuable and motivating for this young group.

There were one or two more serious issues that needed to be probed and opened to discussion and the first was resolved simply and easily by an “aha” moment from one of the line managers, who had not realised the impact of his extreme task orientation on his young, slightly unsure team. Much of his behaviour had been ascribed to deeper motives whilst his frustration was simply born from the pressure he experienced to get the job done.

During lunch and tea times, individuals continued open and frank discussions challenging their own mindsets on issues such as gender equality, racism, religious bias, etc.

Without exception our facilitators left at the end of the day absolutely exhausted, yet elated with the personal breakthroughs and feedback we had received.

A young, single mom who had been one of the more quiet ones approached us at the end of a workshop and the conversation went something like this:

“I think I owe my manager an apology.” Upon us asking why she would say this, her reply was: “This is my third year here and I have consistently arrived late, sulked when they spoke to me about it and often told my colleagues how unhappy I am about being singled out for my behaviour. I have been angry about being passed over for a promotion and I have pretty much blamed my manager for everything that has gone wrong with me at work. Today my eyes opened up. I do not want to be the victim in my own life, I can choose daily what approach I want to take and I want to be a more positive and happy person, I owe it to my daughter. I see now that I am teaching her to complain and be unhappy, I am not helping her at all by doing this.”

I remember telling her how I admire her courage to raise a child on her own and how difficult it is to be a single parent as often you just stumble from one exhausting day to the next.

Once all the training was complete, we presented our Closing Out Report to the client and it is now about 11 months later.

Our feedback from the client received at a meeting held yesterday, included the following:

This training had an immediate impact on the team spirit within the organisation. Our communication is much more solid and we have carried through with many of the suggestions that arose at the training. Without a doubt we have less conflict, less backstabbing and a happier environment; what is, however, particularly notable is that we have a much higher level of employee engagement, less client complaints and our absenteeism rate has dropped considerably, our late coming has reduced considerably and the challenges we used to face with shift changes are negligible. One of the line managers has noted that since the training there had been a reduction of 90% in client complaints as a result of poor shift change communication. He mentioned that one of his team had taken it upon herself to start using emoticons on the shift change logs and now the teams, even whilst working different shifts have assumed a level of accountability that is unprecedented as each shift tries to be nicer and more thorough than the previous, ensuring that the incoming team have a great day.

Upon receiving the feedback from the client I could not help but enquire about the specific young lady who had chatted to us at the end of the session. The response from HR was: She is one of the organisers for our monthly “Cultural Lunch Time” and she was promoted last month, she is now a supervisor.

The HR crew themselves were particularly proud of the fact that they had managed to get buy-in from their seniors on a recruitment and remuneration programme that is aimed at reducing the gender-based discrepancy in salaried individuals’ cost to company. This programme also includes the correction of a disproportionate ratio between male and female supervisors and managers. They already had their BEE programme running long before we met them.

In conclusion: A successful diversity programme concluded; we recognise that it has a lot to do with the way the programme was implemented.

1. The entire company, right through to senior managers, were included

2. Sufficient time was allocated to the training (two days) as opposed to a few hours

3. The time allocated allowed for intensive team work, brain storming and many solutions coming from the employees themselves, nothing was imposed

4. There were measurements in place prior to commencing the training allowing the company to quantify their ROI

5. The new MD made herself part of the solution by the way she introduced herself to the organisation

6. The HR department carried through the concept with real-time programmes, encouraging the formation of "team building committees" continually engaging with each department on their individual progress

We thank them for allowing us to be part of this journey and we look forward to meeting this happy group again later on in the year when we will be returning for a short refresher programme.

(c) Debbie Engelbrecht, MD at Staff Training. Staff Training is a leadership and soft skills training company with over 60 workshops for you to choose from. Call 0861 996 660 for more information.

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