Companies who are hoping to position themselves as market leaders would do well to look at the diversity of their companies, and ensure their spokespeople are representative of South Africa’s people. Twenty-four years after apartheid fell, as a journalist I still struggle to find sources – particularly in big corporations – who are people of colour. It’s a shocking state of affairs.
The kind of journalism I produce – for consumer magazines and supplements – is very carefully briefed. The instructions are clear: we must ensure that the country’s diversity is well-represented. That is right and proper, and after all of this time, it should not be so difficult. Yet I routinely find myself scrambling for a person of colour to provide a short, sharp quote, so that I can fulfil that mandate. It’s a bizarre sort of tokenism, and I don’t like it at all.
The 18-year-olds of 1994 are 42 now. The 25-year-olds are almost 50. And yet, when I approach companies and ask for an opinion or expertise, and specify that I would prefer a person of colour, many are unable to help me – surely by now there has been enough time to grow and develop those people?
Apart from the concerns about the lack of real transformation this raises, companies should be aware that this will have a negative impact on the publicity their companies receive. Because while on the one hand I’m short of sources, on the other I find myself having to turn down comment from particular companies and disappoint their PRs, because their spokespeople are all white.
It might seem artificial, but the fact is that we live in an African country, where the vast majority of South Africans are people of colour. They deserve to be properly represented in the media, and there really is no good reason anymore why they should not be.