What can you do to address inequality? - Preparing you for the future of work.

What can you do to address inequality?

While inequality is a worldwide problem, South Africa has been named as the most unequal country in the world.

And it’s said that inequality poses the single biggest threat to our constitutional democracy. 

You would think that, if someone on board a ship at sea reported that there was a serious leak below the water line that threatened the safety of the ship, it would be taken seriously and attended to immediately.

Exactly who should be doing something about the leak would not pose a problem. It’s in the interests of everybody on board the ship to do what they can to ensure the vessel doesn’t go down. It’s therefore in the interests of all of us to ensure that the good ship South Africa doesn’t go down because of inequality.

Simply put, equality and inequality are really about money. On the one hand, they’re about wealth in terms of people’s assets, savings, investments and other equity they own. On the other hand, they’re also about people’s disposable income after tax, regardless of whether they have any wealth or significant assets.  

Put simply, who are the main players responsible for creating wealth and income for the nation’s people? Not politicians, contrary to popular opinion. They are generally not in the business of creating wealth. The people who create wealth in our country are the country’s business leaders, whether they like to accept that or not. Yet, few business leaders seem concerned about doing anything about inequality. They just don’t seem to see that as their problem. Most of them still seem stuck in the adolescent mindset of making as much money for themselves as possible, with little thought for the implications of an ever increasing income and wealth gap.

There are a select few who are doing what they can and they are to be saluted for their efforts, but they are in the minority and will sadly never be able to do enough on their own to make an impact on the inequality that millions have to deal with on a daily basis for their whole lives. Business leaders need to undertake a collective effort if we really want to tame this inequality beast.  

I therefore want to encourage HR Directors, HR Managers and HR Professionals to start expanding their own vision, and the vision of their leadership teams to go way past the company’s gates – into the homes of their employees (the community) and into the homes of their fellow countrymen and women.

The first thing HR Professionals could look at are the obscene “performance” bonuses paid to their executives. I am not suggesting that performance bonuses are morally wrong. They are a key component of attracting, rewarding and retaining good quality executives but, while other employees are living in appalling conditions, how much is enough for executives already earning excellent salaries?

Many years ago, I interviewed Charles Handy, author of The Empty Raincoat. He made some powerful points which I’ve never forgotten to this day. One of them was that he had some highly successful friends who had Rolls Royces (not the plural), Bentleys and other luxury cars standing in their driveways but who were still desperately trying to make even more money simply because, as he put it, they have failed to understand the Law of Enough.

Maybe it’s time to start teaching greedy executives (that’s what they unfortunately look like whether they want to or not, when they keep awarding themselves ever inflated bonuses on the back of work done by employees further down in the organisation) the Law of Enough.   

One could simply give everyone shares in the company, making everyone a shareholder. That, of course, is also not necessarily the answer as that could turn the business into a democracy where everyone has the right to vote. Businesses are not and should not be democracies because democracies are governed by the decisions of the majority. And the one flaw of democracy is that the majority are not necessarily right – because the majority are not necessarily qualified and competent to make decisions about a company’s future and you can’t put that kind of power in the hands of people who are understandably not competent to make sound business decisions.   

It therefore requires a lot more wisdom, insight and innovation to come up with ways to make your employees more equal.

I urge you, together with your colleagues, to exercise your minds as to how to start making things more equal in your company, your community and your country. In so doing, you will be doing your part in addressing the inequality that has turned us into a nation of haves and have nots – a nation where both groups fear one another for different reasons.

Alan Hosking is the Publisher of HR Future magazine, @HRFuturemag. He is a recognised authority on leadership skills for the future and teaches business leaders and managers of all generations how to lead with integrity, purpose and agility. In 2018, he was named by US-based web site Disruptordaily.com as one of the "Top 25 Future of Work Influencers to Follow on Twitter".

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