Western Cape Business News

Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  23 Jan 2009

MANAGEMENT: Lack of Black Professionals in Cape


Recent Western Cape Business News

If the Western Cape does not address the underlying reasons that so few black professionals choose to settle in the province, it will find itself on the political and economic back foot. So says Accelerate Cape Town CEO Guy Lundy, who discussed the controversial issue at a meeting of the Cape Town Press Club yesterday.

Lundy pointed out that companies based in the Western Cape are eager to transform for two key reasons: “Firstly, they know it is the right thing to do and, secondly, they have to abide by BEE codes to keep selling their goods and services to the government and other large organisations. However, they find it difficult to transform in a place that has never had a significant black professional class and when it proves so difficult to attract and retain the talents of black South Africans from elsewhere.”

If this problem is not solved, warned Lundy, the Western Cape cannot hope to keep large corporate headquarters. In the past three years alone, Shell, Old Mutual and bp have all moved to Johannesburg from Cape Town, taking with them prestigious jobs that attract high fliers. “If we keep losing big companies,” explains Lundy, “we will lose the places where most young entrepreneurs cut their teeth and the customers that smaller businesses transact with. In other words, if we lose the corporates, many of the smaller firms will follow. This will have a negative effect on our provincial GDP and employment figures, with a concomitant socio-economic impact.”

Accelerate Cape Town has worked closely with advertising agency BBDO to investigate the attitudes of professionals and recruiters in Cape Town and Johannesburg and how their perceptions of these cities vary across racial lines. Among black professionals and even parliamentarians, Cape Town was variously described as “unfriendly”, “lonely”, “cold”, “backward”, “slow”, “expensive”, “offering no black role models” and “career suicide”. Research found that it was considered easier to build a successful career and wealth, that there were more opportunities to move between jobs, that salaries were higher and that social networking was better in Gauteng than in the Western Cape. Researchers also learnt that the wide-spread use of Afrikaans in business and social environments was often considered alienating for new arrivals in the province.

“If we lose parliament because MPs find Cape Town unpleasant to work in and because local white business is perceived as not interested in working with government, we will lose another reason for large firms to be headquartered here,” Lundy warned.

The perception remained that the Cape was “white” when, according to a study done by the Institute for Futures Research at Stellenbosch University, statistics show that the Western Cape population is – and will remain – an overwhelmingly coloured province. And yet, he acknowledged, white male professionals continue to dominate the province’s senior business world, using the make up of Accelerate Cape Town’s own board to make his point.

“Unless Cape Town acknowledges these issues and the fact that it is still segregated geographically by race and class, we are going to battle to attract and retain the best talent that South Africa has to offer. We don’t have to apologise for being ‘different’ or become defensive about our supposedly superior lifestyle but we do need to make a concerted effort to be more welcoming to people who choose to live and work in the Western Cape as we will benefit from their efforts and experience.”

“There is a compelling need for Cape-based companies to help construct a long-term vision for our province that is much more than simply ‘South Africa’s party and holiday capital’ or as a great place to which to retire. Durban has battled to shrug off its image as a place ‘where the fun never sets’ and to get taken seriously as a business destination. Do we want the same fate to befall us?”, he asked.

Accelerate Cape Town is currently considering spearheading several concepts to attract and retain top talent in the province. These include:

-          research to establish whether the perception that the cost of living in Cape Town is higher than in Johannesburg, while salaries are lower, is true or not

-          a concerted marketing campaign that posits Cape Town as a viable location for career advancement

-          a travelling Cape Town careers expo, similar to that run annually by Homecoming Revolution in London

-          encouraging the local business community to host a welcome party for MPs at the annual opening of parliament

-          linking universities and businesses so that graduates can go on to work in Stellenbosch or Cape Town after studying there

-          a comprehensive website for newcomers to the city

“Transformation is a reality for all South African businesses that wish to stay relevant to the society in which we operate and to thrive in it. The history of the Western Cape has ensured that we have never had a significant black professional class, which is why it is imperative that we do all we can to begin enlarging the small one we do have. The Western Cape cannot afford to become a sinking island cut off from the rest of the country politically, socially or economically.”

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