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Edna Montse | The pivotal role in inclusion and diversity within SA's banking industry

Edna Montse | The pivotal role in inclusion and diversity within SA's banking industry
05-10-23 / Edna Montse

Edna Montse | The pivotal role in inclusion and diversity within SA's banking industry

Transformation, diversity and inclusion are not merely buzzwords or boxes to be checked off in today's corporate environment. They are fundamental drivers for sustainable growth and social progress; and nowhere is this more critical than in South Africa's banking industry. In a country marked by a tumultuous past, the need for change runs deep. Transformation is a catalyst, pushing us to break away from the past, harnessing diversity, fostering inclusion, and inspiring progress in our banking sector.

The banking industry, the lifeblood of any economy, is the epitome of a institution that should mirror the diversity of the society it serves. By embracing transformation, the industry can better understand and meet the unique needs of its diverse clientele. This approach goes beyond the standard offerings and taps into specific nuances such as tailored financial products for women, individuals with disabilities, and the youth, among others. Thus, diversity is not just about representation but also about delivering on inclusivity in terms of our service offering.

The journey for any company is not without its difficulties. The most significant obstacle to transformation is resistance from both individuals and institutional structures. People are naturally resistant to change, and this can slow down or even derail transformation initiatives. Institutions, built over years, often possess entrenched ways of thinking and behaving that can be difficult to change.

The lack of diverse leadership can hinder the transformation process. If top-level management does not represent the diversity of the broader workforce or customer base, it can be difficult to understand and address the unique needs and challenges of diverse groups.

Often, transformation is seen as merely a compliance issue rather than a strategic business priority. This leads to superficial implementation of policies without fully understanding their purpose or importance, and without a comprehensive strategy for implementing and monitoring these policies.

Transformation requires not only commitment but also resources – including time, money, and personnel. Inadequate resource allocation can lead to poorly executed transformation efforts. Without sufficient support and commitment from all levels of the organisation, transformation initiatives may fail.

Major reason transformation initiatives fail is due to the lack of an inclusive culture within the organisation. For transformation to be successful, it is crucial to foster a culture that respects diversity and promotes inclusion at all levels of the organisation. Without such a culture, transformation efforts may not yield the desired results.

At African Bank, we have always believed in the power of diverse perspectives to drive innovation and progress. One cannot downplay the resistance that often comes with change – it is an inevitable part of the human condition. We have had to grapple with deeply ingrained beliefs and behaviours, institutional barriers, and the fear of change.

But confronting these obstacles head-on has brought us a long way. Through open dialogue, continuous education, and patience, we have begun to dismantle resistance. We have learnt that the transformation process is not an overnight event, but a gradual cultural shift that requires persistent effort and a commitment to progress, however incremental.

In addressing the challenge of inclusivity, African Bank has adopted a multi-faceted approach. Our focus is not merely on promoting diversity across our workforce but fostering a deep sense of belonging, ensuring every individual feels valued and heard. We have put in place robust policies and processes, from recruitment to performance evaluation, which are devoid of bias and discrimination. We believe in harnessing the full potential of every team member, nurturing their unique strengths to drive the bank's success.

In our quest for gender balance, African Bank has championed women in leadership roles and created safe spaces for female employees to thrive. We have continuously fostered a working environment that respects and values all dimensions of diversity, including age, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

Furthermore, we recognise that true transformation must extend beyond the confines of our organisation. As part of our sustainability mandate, we engage in community outreach programmes and educational initiatives that aim to uplift disadvantaged groups and nurture the next generation of financial leaders.

However, the journey to achieve a fully inclusive and diverse banking sector in South Africa is far from complete. We need to continually question our progress, assess our policies, and ensure that our efforts are resulting in meaningful change. It is an ongoing process that demands vigilance, transparency, and accountability from all stakeholders.

Transformation in the banking industry should not be seen as an obligation but rather an opportunity. It is an opportunity to shape an industry that truly reflects the diversity of the nation it serves; an industry that is resilient, innovative, and capable of driving South Africa's economic progress. It is a chance to redefine banking – not just as a transactional relationship with customers, but as a space where everyone, regardless of their background, can feel understood, respected, and valued.

While we acknowledge the strides made thus far, we remain cognisant of the distance we have yet to travel. Let us continue to embrace transformation, diversity and inclusion as the guiding principles for our journey, ensuring that the banking sector in South Africa is a true representation of the vibrant and diverse nation we serve.

*Edna Montse is African Bank Group Chief Transformation & Sustainability Officer .

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