A culture of inclusion is defined as one in which individuals feel they belong as they are, where the diversity of the workforce is not simply a demographic profiling, but where the diversity of perspectives is welcomed and engaged with.
In the survey responses, various formal and informal inclusive practices were acknowledged as taking place in South African organisations, such as the inclusive use of languages in business meetings, and inclusive year-end functions. However, when it came to more nuanced indicators of inclusion and exclusion, such as favouritism and safety to speak up, a more complex picture emerged.
This points to a difference identified in diversity and inclusion theory; that between assimilation versus inclusion. With assimilation, there can be high levels of belonging, but each individual’s uniqueness is downplayed, thus limiting the benefits of having a diverse team.
In addition, the qualitative findings spoke to a culture of ‘whiteness’ dominating, with black voices and perspectives being questioned and undermined in the face of the dominant cultural group. Approximately half of the respondents worked in organisations that employed a model of assimilation as opposed to one of inclusion, which is cause for concern. It is therefore not surprising that the diversity marker causing the most conflict and tension in organisations was identified as race, followed by job title or position (pulling rank, pointing to a culture of exclusion). The highest levels of discrimination were reported against African individuals, followed by women and people with disabilities.