The Glazia Women’s History Month Spotlight today is on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) expert and consultant, Dr. Palesa Munzara.

In the realm of advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), Dr. Palesa Munzara stands as a beacon of expertise and advocacy. With over 17 years of professional experience spanning Marketing and DEI, Dr. Munzara holds a distinguished position in both academia and corporate realms. 

Armed with a Ph.D. in Critical Diversity Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand and a Master’s Degree in Global Marketing from the University of Wales, her academic prowess complements her practical insights seamlessly. Dr. Munzara’s illustrious career has seen her navigate various industries, from Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) to Financial Services and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). 

However, her true passion lies in championing Social Justice, particularly in fostering inclusive environments regarding race and gender in the workplace. As a consultant, Dr. Munzara lends her expertise to organizations seeking to cultivate diverse, equitable, and inclusive cultures, making her an invaluable asset in today’s ever-evolving corporate landscape.

Glazia in conversation with Dr. Palesa Munzara

What does Women’s History Month mean to you, and what are your thoughts about activities during this month?

Women’s History Month is a significant occasion as it sheds light on the accomplishments of women from the past and present who have played a vital role in shaping our society. Furthermore, throughout history, women have created opportunities not only for themselves but also for countless others, including myself. This month provides us with a valuable opportunity to educate ourselves about the remarkable leaders, activists, and pioneers who have tirelessly worked to ensure that women’s contributions are acknowledged and accurately understood worldwide.

By celebrating Women’s History Month, we empower young girls across the nation, instilling in them the courage, self-esteem, and determination to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors. Our history serves as a source of inspiration for current and future generations, encouraging them to emulate the women who have paved the way for our success, fair treatment, and recognition in society.

What inspired you to pursue a career in Diversity & Inclusion Consulting, particularly focusing on race and gender equality? 

Throughout my professional journey, I have encountered instances of marginalisation as a black woman in the workplace. Witnessing the struggles faced by individuals from marginalised groups further motivated me to engage in meaningful dialogue and research on diversity issues across different intersections. 

However, it was my personal experiences of being marginalised as a black woman specifically that drove me to focus on promoting race and gender inclusion and equity. I am now dedicated to collaborating with organisations to address these crucial matters effectively. Gender equity is meaningless if we are not analysing the influences of intersecting identities and how they impact women’s experiences in this world. 

Kimberlé Crenshaw is responsible for coining the term ‘intersectionality’ and her pivotal research assessed the compound effect of race and gender, particularly the unique experiences of Black women. She conceptualised a model to describe what women had been experiencing, at a time when there was a lack of empirical research to support it. 

In her own words, she defines the term she introduced as “the influence of certain aspects of one’s identity on the likelihood of encountering positive or negative outcomes in life.” The significance of race and gender in shaping women’s encounters is frequently disregarded. 

When women of colour bravely express their narratives and encounters of marginalisation, they are frequently met with dismissal, neglect, and ignorance. Any individual identifying as a feminist should possess a comprehensive understanding of intersectionality, recognizing how various forms of discrimination can intersect and give rise to distinct encounters for women.

In your experience, what are some common challenges organizations face when implementing Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, and how do you address them? 

I’ll address what I’ve found to be the most common challenge organisations face in these instances: biases resulting in stereotyping.  Stereotypes that focus on particular groups of people are bound to happen. Instead of trying to communicate and comprehend each other, employees may use these stereotypes to avoid working together. 

Of significant concern is when individuals harbour resentment towards certain cultures, religions, and races. This results in isolation and teams becoming divided, which can rapidly lead to disruptions when knowledge is being shared among employees. The power of dialogue can not be underestimated in breaking down these barriers. I have found candid and open dialogue to be a powerful tool in overcoming these challenges.

As the landscape of Diversity and Inclusion continues to evolve, how do you stay updated on the latest trends and best practices to remain top of your field? 

Continuous research, attending conferences, and collaborating with other professionals in my field are instrumental in keeping me updated. Additionally, by working with various organisations with varying DEI challenges they face, I am constantly being confronted with different issues in the field that are constantly evolving.

Based on what you know now, what role can men play in advocating for and supporting gender inclusivity initiatives within organizations? Who or what do you see as the most significant party in promoting equality and diversity in the workplace? 

Allyship from men is critical in supporting gender inclusivity within organisations. Men can and should equip themselves with the knowledge they need to be allies without stepping into the ‘saviour mentality’. Every individual is responsible for advocating for and promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the workplace.

What specific challenges do women still face in today’s workplace, and how can organizations effectively address these challenges?

Unfortunately, this list continues to be incredibly long. However, I will highlight three here.

– Women still get offered fewer of the high visibility and business-critical roles. The roles that are important to reaching the highest levels of leadership.

– Access to flexible work arrangements is a continuous challenge women face. Flexible work arrangements allow women to best manage their career and personal priorities. Once seen as an employee benefit or an accommodation for caregivers (primarily women), flexible work arrangements are now an effective tool for organizations to attract top talent as well as cost-saving measures to reduce turnover, productivity, and absenteeism.

– Equal pay gap. This is another challenge that has continued to be a challenge for decades despite awareness raised over the years. Leaders who are interested in addressing challenges faced by women with the above three being just a few, need to be intentional about including women’s inclusivity and equity in their business strategy as a business priority. Leaders should focus transparency on these challenges through open dialogue and sharing specific plans and metrics to address and measure progress in these areas.

How can businesses measure the effectiveness of DEI initiatives? Can you share a specific example of a successful Diversity and Inclusion strategy or program you designed and conducted for an organization that impacted their key performance metrics?

For each DEI initiative implemented, there should be a linked and related key-performance metric set up in the beginning. These metrics vary based on the specific targeted DEI area. 

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, what is your #1 most essential advice for today’s women, regardless of who they are or what they do or look like? 

Let us not get tired of being our allies and championing gender equity every day.

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