News 2008


Firms face test of boosting ethnic diversity

February 04, 2008


Beatrice Gachenge

“We cannot divorce ourselves from is happening in the community, since it is from these communities that we seek the talent.”

February 04, 2008: Human Resource managers are facing a tough time following the outbreak of violence in parts of the country - and the task ahead is arduous.

“I have had to transfer 36 of my staff members and it is a very expensive endeavour, but a there is no other way out since we have to look out for our staff members,” said Mr David Ruchiu, executive director of Kenya Agency for the Development of Enterprise and Technology.

Kenya Commercial Bank, the country’s largest branch network bank with 135 outlets, has also had to transfer 50 employees to safer areas. However, the most affected organisation has been the Teacher’s Service Commission. In Western province alone, over 80 teachers have been relocated.

“At this point in time, a most pressing issue facing employers is how to ensure that their employees are safe from the animosity in some parts of the country. These are real urgent practical issues organisations are faced by at this time,” said Dr Ceaser Mwangi, director of ET Consult, a human resource management firm.

And the sentiments across the board is that the country has been reduced to retrogression since it is utterly impossible to have just one tribe working in certain areas.

As companies handle the situation by transferring staff to more safer locations, human resource managers are faced with the delicate issues of how to promote and enhance diversity in their organisations.

Following the disputed 2007 elections and the tensions that have arisen, experts say that Kenyan organisations will need to assess the way they manage diverse work forces in relation to ethnic diversity.

In the short-run, the future is not as buoyant for the human resource managers according to Ms Sally Mukwana, a director at Adept Systems.

“When you tell HR managers to hire from different communities in order to embrace diversity in the company, and in light of how the social fabric has been destroyed, how is the HR manager expected to make the different communities work together as a team? We cannot divorce ourselves from is happening in the community, since it is from these communities that we seek the talent,” says Ms Mukwana.

She says that social integration is pertinent and can be achieved through atonement. This, she added, could be achieved when the perpetrators of the violence take responsibility as the people uptake reconciliation in order to rebuild trust.

Mr Mwangi advised that it is important to understand how the issue of one’s tribe will affect performance, motivation, success, and interactions with others.

But as much as the most important issue may be ethnicity, diversity encompasses age, gender, physical abilities or disability.

Qualification, race, sexual orientation, educational background, geographic location, income, marital status, military experience, religious beliefs, parental status, and work experience also come into play.

A long-term solution that management consultants have suggested to employers is that in particular situations such as in recruitment and in communication, managers should be particularly careful as it is easy to be misunderstood by vulnerable groups.

Frank Ndolo of Frank Management Consult Ltd suggests that resumes should cease to have any reference on gender, religion, age, or even physical abilities

“Talent is present in all corners and all companies need it to invest into their recruitment, develop their own set of assortment.

Management trainees would be a good head start for companies to nurture their assortment,” said Ndolo. In an era where flexibility and creativity are keys to competitiveness, proper management of diversity can provide distinct advantages such as meet new customer needs. Moreover, a diverse work force is able to effectively service a diverse customer base.

“Heterogeneity promotes creativity and heterogeneous groups have been shown to produce better solutions to problems and a higher level of critical analysis. This can be a vital asset to any organization striving to improve on its organizational effectiveness,” explained Mr Mwangi.

He added that with effective management of diversity, an organisation will develop a reputation as an employer of choice and further have the ability to attract the best talent from the job market, thus save time and money in recruitment and employee turnover costs.

Given the situation in Kenya, management should be aware that they have a key role in transforming the organisational culture so that it does not leave some ethnic groups to be more vulnerable to others.

Direct support and commitment from key executives throughout the organization is critical in the process of embracing diversity. At the same time management should devote itself to improving communication skills surrounding diversity, while learning to respect, appreciate and understand other people’s different backgrounds.

Nonetheless, management’s commitment should be tied to individual performance appraisals, as well as departmental goals with a significant weighting toward their overall rating.

“There is no easy recipe to manage the diverse groups in the work place and advice and strategies given for one situation may not work given the same situation in another context.

However it is clear that Kenyan HR managers should acknowledge there is a difficult situation which the country is facing and tribal sensitivities have been heightened,” said Mwangi.

“ They should therefore avoid any practices that may suggest that they are discriminating between vulnerable groups and always promote inclusiveness, ” he added.