Mowbray by Design’s Founder, Louise Mowbray, champions South African businesses to build diverse organisations

Mowbray by Design’s Founder, Louise Mowbray, champions South African businesses to build diverse organisations

Written by Staff Writer



“Hiring diverse talent isn’t enough—it’s the workplace experience of equality, openness and belonging that shapes diverse organisations.”


The latest global studies report that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams are 25 percent more likely (and 36 percent in the case of ethnic and cultural diversity) to have above-average profitability than companies in the lowest quartile. Moreover, the greater the percentage of representation, the higher the likelihood of outperformance. 


Diverse organisations are also proving to be more innovative and adaptive to change, which are critical in today’s business environment. Louise Mowbray, Founder of Mowbray by Design says “we are beginning to fully appreciate the urgent need for the rich tapestry of lived experiences, mental models, perspectives and skills to challenge the status quo and thrive.”


Global events have accelerated much needed systemic change, ignited in recent years by the #metoo and #blacklivesmatter movements. We’re also experiencing a heightened awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace, we’re striving for equal pay and making inroads into achieving diversity on our boards, at c-suite and executive levels.


However, progress is slow and over the course of the pandemic, the number of women in the workplace around the world has plummeted to pre-2017 levels. This is particularly alarming for South Africa where our ‘official unemployment rate’ skyrocketed to a thirteen year high of 32.6% in Q1 this year. Unofficial rates suggest this may be closer to around 45 percent. 


So what can we do to change? How should we approach this? What does and doesn’t work?


Louise notes that when we attempt to approach change by decree, we set ourselves up for resistance. Decades of social science research points to a simple truth: blaming, shaming or ‘re-educating and rehabilitating’ biased people does not produce a positive result.


We also know that the positive effects of diversity and inclusion training rarely last beyond a few days and almost 1,000 studies since WW2 suggest that it can activate bias or even spark a backlash.


We’re increasingly aware that our greatest barriers to change and growth lie in our mental models, our unexamined cultural norms, unconscious biases and our willingness to embrace one another as equal parts of the whole. 


“Change is tough. We need to take risks and bold action to get the ball rolling .”


So what does work? Louise says the best approach has proven to be a systematic business-led one, coupled with bold action.


Engaging leaders in addressing the issues, finding solutions and measuring progress works well. Increasing leaders’ on-the-job contact with diverse co-workers – and ‘social accountability’ (leaders being seen as a champion of diversity and inclusion) also work.


She also highlights interventions such as targeted recruitment, mentoring and sponsorship programmes, self-managed teams, forums, task forces and think tanks, which have all been shown to significantly boost diversity in our businesses. 


With this being Women’s Month, the business case for gender, ethnic and cultural diversity has never been more compelling. South Africa has extraordinary challenges to overcome and Louise believes South African women in business need to take bold action to drive the change we so urgently need.



*Check out the latest edition of the Public Sector Leaders publication here.

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