In this episode of the Recruitment Hackers, we invite 2021’s winner of the Best Inclusion Initiative at the Global BPO TA Awards to talk about diversity and inclusion. Rudé Alley, founder and Managing Director at Surgo, walks us through the contexts of South Africa, and how it requires the recognition of cultural differences as to eliminate barriers and build a better connection with a diverse workforce.
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Max: Hello everyone, and welcome back to the Recruitment Hackers Podcast. I'm your host, Max Armbruster, and today on the show I'm delighted to meet again somebody I met a few years back in Cape Town, South Africa, Rudé Alley who is the Managing Director and Founder of the Surgo Group, which is a BPO business or contact center business. Feel free to requalify that, Rudé. Based in Cape Town. Welcome to the show.
Rudé: Thank you so much, Max. Thank you for the introduction. You had it spot-on. Surgo is a business process outsourcer based in South Africa.
Max: We recently reconnected because Surgo was in competition for the Global BPO Talent Acquisition Awards on the category of the Most Inclusive BPO and voted by a panel of esteemed judges from the BPO industry. Surgo won the votes of the judges in competition with many global BPO brands. I think in part of recognition that Surgo may not be a globally recognizable brand just yet, but you don't need to wait until you're a giant corporation to start investing in inclusion. I think that's what won their hearts. We were one of the sponsors for this event, I've congratulated you and your team before, but tell us, me and our audience, what diversity means for Surgo in the context of your company's history and the community in which you work.
Rudé: Thank you for the introduction and also winning the award with Talkpush and BPESA was really an incredible thing for us. We were very excited. The whole group just got together, and we were watching this online, and we were very happy to bring the award home with us because I know that we are not necessarily a very big recognized name internationally, but it means a lot to us, especially locally because we have been on the outsourcing industry for about 12 years. Surgo has been in operation for about 8 and winning an award like this is really good for us in terms of scratching more visibility in terms of what diversity really means in the workplace. So for Surgo… [overlap]. Sorry, Max
Max: It's so common for people to talk about diversity and inclusion that it almost feels like it's in everyone’s mission statement by now, especially in the BPO industry which is traditionally very inclusive. And so I suppose it's hard to differentiate that factor as an employer brand because everybody says they're very inclusive. My subjective opinion is that actually most BPOs are very inclusive generally.
Rudé: That's very true. I think that the key was in ensuring that you're creating a work environment that is such inclusive for a diverse workforce. It's one thing to say that you're a diversified company and that the employment equity or affirmation or transformation is one of your key areas of development, that you focus there on that. But does it really boil it down to the race of your business? Do you have the buy-ins in your senior executive teams, your manager to frontline managers? I think that the idea behind diversity in the workplace is all about inclusion, and that's probably the key that we'’re looking for when we're talking about diversity. South Africa is such a diverse country already that if you don't have a diverse workforce, I'm always asking the question is why don't you have? You have to look so hard and to not have a diverse workforce than to just really accept and embrace the diversity that's already in the country.
Max: Yeah, absolutely. If I remember my trips there, it's people from all over the world and all the neighboring countries working there. Yeah, it'll be a melting pot. I'm thinking of my first trips in the Philippines in the BPO sector, I also saw the LGBT community heavily represented. It was an eye-opener for a country which is a traditional, Catholic country to have an industry so prominent and where inclusion is so strong. How is the South Africa brand helping your business on the international scene when you're promoting Surgo and the talents that you have access to?
Rudé: You know when it comes to diversity and having a diverse workforce, I go to employers for our client’s competitors as established in inclusive workclass [unintelligible] employees. So we're looking at some stats, according to the Lloyd's, diverse companies enjoy 2.3 times higher a cash flow per employee. Gartner found that inclusive teams improved their performance by up to 30% in higher diversity environment, and in a BGC study, companies with a diverse management team has had a 19% increase in revenue compared to the list of its counterparts. And I think that any investor would probably be very interested to look at companies that have this because if you're looking at the stats, the numbers speak for itself.
So, you're looking at increased productivity, improved creativity, profits reduced attrition, which we spoke about earlier before we started the podcast, and then improved company reputation, a wider range of skills, and an improved cultural insight. So it really just makes sense to focus on having a diversified workforce. But, the thing is it's not necessarily a strategy for us, it's really just about lives. It's part of what a company and a country is about. It's about the diversity. The key is really to just embrace that and then to ensure that you can have workspaces that is conducive for a diversified group. For example, if you have people from very poor areas that don't usually have access to certain skills and education coming into your workforce, what are you doing as a company to ensure that that person is successful in your workplace. You can't just necessarily exclude those marginalized groups either. People from very poor, very far, essentially from very rural areas, what are we doing for those type of people?
Max: You were talking about Impostor Syndrome as something that you can feel as a business owner. Of course, you can feel as an impostor even if you're not a business owner, if you're an entry-level, new in the workplace, particularly if you come from a family that never had a white-collar job for instance. Perhaps that's the strongest way in which you can be inclusive, as an encouragement to people that nothing is gonna hold them back. Why don't you try to be the boss, take the manager's job, and promote from within people who themselves couldn't articulate the ambition if left to their anxiety of their cultural background.
Rudé: Absolutely. I'm actually getting goosebumps as we're talking about this because it's something that I'm very passionate about and it's something that is such a prevalent thing in our country. We're a third-world country, even though South Africa has been voted as the number one outsourcing destination in the world, but when we have people who were going into the workplace, we have people coming from very poor areas. I think that as part of your talent management strategy, it is also important to establish a sense of belonging for everybody. I've been in call centers working as a group agent management before where people come to work, they don't have food to eat, they're all wearing the same clothes three days in row. They're poor. And that money that they're making they are taking it right back to their homes and they're feeding their grandmothers and grandfathers and their uncles and their aunts and their children. So, that is a very very important point that you have raised because of course, I even suffer from Impostor Syndrome, and I have no need to suffer from Impostor Syndrome, but when you have people from those backgrounds coming in and mixing with also a diverse group of people, there is that inherent fear. And again, fear is something that pulls away from each other. So, it's important to have also empathetic leadership is very important. So, if your managers, again, aren't buying into the idea of diversification or diversity, then it's gonna be a recipe for disaster. You're gonna have high staff churn, you're gonna have employee unhappiness, and the people are not gonna feel like that they belong in the company.
Max: You've talked about fear and concepts like equity, affirmation, and transformation. I think some of this vocabulary is perhaps particular to South Africa, but I think the concept of fear obviously is, unfortunately, universal. Can you teach me a little bit what you mean by fear and about killing fear or addressing fear?
Rudé: Basically to answer this, the one side of it is obviously marginalized groups feeling fearful that they're going to, the LGBTQ+, for example…
Max: Suffer violence.
Rudé: Suffer violence, yes. The Stand Against Violence Against Women in our country is also a very big thing, also a part of the marginalized groups. And then, so the fear of retribution, I guess. The second part of fear is that people are wired to react with fear and distrust when their beliefs are challenged, that is the other part of fear. So, you'll have people in the workplace that don't initially have Impostor Syndrome, they're living in great areas that don't have issues, but when you challenge them based on their beliefs, that's where they react with fear and distress. So, there's two parts of that equation that you have to be cognizant of when you have a diverse workforce. One is a rehabilitative way of looking at it, so you'll have to have a sensitivity training with your employees, or you're going to have to have very courageous conversations about various sensitive topics and then manage how those people react and respond. Because if you're preaching about diversity in the workplace, it also means that you cannot discriminate against religion, political beliefs, age. So, you have to also be cognizant and very careful how you approach that. So it's a very tricky journey, I think it's something that is always a work in progress, but it's two aspects of fear.
Max: I get the feeling that you talk about it with passion and with a sense of purpose where you feel it's ingrained with your mission, it's a serious matter. Whereas I try to take the other approach with my team where I'm like, we don't take ourselves too seriously, we make fun of each other but not in hurtful ways. I try to take a lighter approach. I don't know if it's gonna work. Do you have any thoughts on that whether some things can be laughed about?
Rudé: Of course. I think that's the premise of it, it's that, I know that there was the Black Lives Matter movement recently in America, for example, and that also challenged my outlook on life a little bit because I always said, I don't see color. And i realized that saying I don't see color, I don't really recognize the person as their culture or their color or whatever they may be. So, it's always to see the differences in people, and once that you have gone into that step where you are now rehabilitated, then it is okay to make light and talk and have fun. Because then the other person knows that you're seeing them as a person. It sounds very heavy; I mean we're not sitting in our business talking about diversity and inclusion all day. It's all about creating that culture. It is a safe environment for us to jest and to joke and to celebrate each other's differences or joke about our own cultures. So that sense of belonging, that sense of safety, then culture. It synchronizes that sense of… it's okay, maybe you’re getting it right Max, I mean that's why you guys can jest and joke and it's just an easy environment.
Max: That's a good outcome but of course, a joke can always be misinterpreted in the wrong context. So, these are tricky, dangerous ground. I was thinking about it because you're talking about inclusivity for religious belief and the political element and the social media element have defined the camps of the debates so clearly that it seems impossible to have on one hand, a progressive, and on the other hand, a conservative person, sharing the floor and having a nice chat about it these days. So, I always try to make the two sides feel welcome, but it's a hard one.
Rudé: Yeah, you have an integral role in creating that culture in your business or that safe environment in your business. People take or your employees take, they take from the leader and the leadership teams. So, if you're creating an environment where it is easy and it's okay, then people are going to feel that it's easy and okay. I've always said in our country, specifically, we've got a leadership problem. I'm not talking specifically about our government because it's easy to say that's the top leadership in our country, I’m talking about anybody in the leadership position should be able to create and be ethical about diversity, especially if you're living and working in third world country. For example, if you are a housewife and you have a domestic cleaner working for you, it is your ethical responsibility and duty to treat her the same that a CEO of a large company would treat their employees. That's what I mean when I said we got leadership problem. Any leadership position where you are in a position of interest, it is your responsibility to ensure the safety and the diversity or have those courageous conversations with your people.
Rudé: I wasn't preaching.
Max: I’m an atheist.
Rudé: Me too, but it's okay.
Max: Well, I can go on all day, talking to you about this topic, but I wanna keep to the format. So. I'll move to what is my penultimate question which I ask everybody on the show. Walk me back through a hiring mistake that you've made. Particular individual that you hired and wasn't the right hire and you had to think back about, walk back the steps, and figure out where did I go wrong. And from that then we're trying to say is try to avoid for some of our listeners in making that same mistake. Because they are all hiring right now, and if you can avoid one hiring mistake through your example, that will be saving a lot of pain for some.
Rudé: That's an interesting question because hiring for my business or hiring for my clients?
Max: I know you don't make mistakes because you got 3% attrition rate.
Rudé: It's not that. We make mistakes, but I've made a few hiring mistakes in my career, but I have always turned that hiring mistake into something else. So, it's difficult for me to pinpoint and say I hired this person, they were so horrible, and so they can go. But in terms of when it comes to hiring for a very specific position, I've made mistakes before where I would hire a person that would perhaps not have the necessary skills, or they would initially buy into the position, or they would say they’d perform. But then what I would do with that person, I would take penultimate accountability for that hiring mistake because I believe there's no such thing as a bad employee, only bad managers. So, if that person was hired by me, I would make sure that I replace that person in a position is more suited for them. But obviously, when it comes to hiring for clients, there are always opportunity for mistakes, but the only way that you can curb those mistakes is to make sure that you ask the questions before you start hiring and that you checks-and-balances their employers before you place that person. I remember very early on in my career; I placed a medical aid institution and we had lost reference pending for her. We couldn't do the reference because she had to restart it with the client. And once we did the reference, it turned out that she had been lying and that she stole money from that company and it was a whole thing, we lost a client. And so, they are very early on learned that you need to ask those questions and close those gaps and make sure that you've got all your checks and files before you place someone in a high-stake client.
Max: It's a numbers game. Eventually, somebody is gonna try and con you past a certain number. You might get away with ten, twenty, even a hundred hires, but hundred and one was gonna con you.
Max:I don't know if I wanna leave it on this note because it'll be hard for people to sleep at night. My other question was for those who want to know more about Surgo, what are your areas of strength and how can they get in touch with you. What kind of business would you like to welcome to Surgo.
Rudé: Oh, nice. that's a great question. Thank you for the opportunity. So, we're obviously a business process outsourcer, so we, specialize in the call center industry, specifically customer support and tech support, but we also have a few other areas in our business. So, we do recruitment selection as well, pre-employment services too. We've got an HR department, so we do HR outsourcing, payroll outsourcing. We do learning and development. We’ve got an LMS that we recently bought, and then a management system. We're basically finalizing our language assessment tool, so if you wanna send your foreign language through our assessment tool, please do. So that's basically what we specialize in. And then obviously, we're looking for clients that align with our values. So, if there's anybody out there who wants to contact me, you can reach out through our website, www.surgo.co.za and that's about from our side.
Max: Well, Rudé, thanks. Congrats again to Surgo and for the rapid growth that your team has experienced over the last couple of years and continued success.
Rudé: Thank you so much for the opportunity, Max. It's really great to see you again and good to see that Talkpush is really crossing borders and stretching boundaries. I'm happy to reconnect with you again.
Max: You're too kind.
Rudé: Thank you.
Max: That was Rudé Alley from Sergo reminding us that diversity is not about beautiful websites and aspirational statements. It's really about building a management team that wants to get people to rise to their full potential, regardless of where they came from. And for that, you need to create an environment which is inclusive, where fear is diminished or where trust is built and it's not easy, but as the best that we can all do, hope you enjoyed it. And then we'll be back for more, remember to subscribe.
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