By Dr Alistair Mokoena, Country Lead, Google South Africa


Diversity and inclusion have become buzzwords in the business world over the past few years, and while the conversation is important, we need to move beyond words and into actions that bring about real change.

Workplaces have a responsibility to represent and support the diversity and talent in the world, and create a space where everyone can thrive. This work is not a one-off effort. Positive and systemic change, both in the workplace and in the world, requires consistent, concerted and proactive effort. 

Over the past year at Google South Africa we have focused on five key areas to ensure that we are not only an employer of choice for top talent, but that we have a lasting impact in the communities we operate in, and respond to the needs of our users.


1. Hiring

The path to working in the tech industry starts long before someone is hired so efforts to develop talent from under-represented groups need to start early.

Globally, we have implemented a number of programmes and practices to ensure that we are growing the number of employees from underrepresented communities and that our hiring efforts prioritise equity. One of the concrete ways we have done this is to expand training to hiring managers and recruiters to help them eliminate personal biases in hiring and adopt an inclusive mindset.

We have also amplified our efforts to support gender equity in a number of countries in Africa, for example across sub-Saharan Africa, we partnered with the Graça Machel Trust to provide digital skills training for more than 5 000 women entrepreneurs.

In practice these efforts are working – for instance, the data from the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region shows that between 2020 and 2021, we recorded an overall increase of 14% in the hiring of women. Specifically, women made up 28% of our tech hires, 49.2% of our non-tech hires and 47.1% of our leadership hires.

It’s good to see progress, but there is definitely more that our industry can and should do. 


2. Retention and progression

The flip side of the hiring coin is ensuring that the people that businesses hire, stay, and are able to grow and progress in their careers. 

Understanding why people leave an organisation is an integral element of the retention process. We take a data based approach by studying attrition rates and designing programs based on that data. In 2021, our Stay & Thrive team launched a new way to help leaders better understand their team’s attrition data. This new process is more comprehensive and relatable, offering leaders a story with meaningful—and actionable—insights. In addition to providing each team lead with quantitative attrition data, the team humanises the numbers by offering insight on the day-to-day employee experience.

Armed with the why around attrition, leaders are better placed to implement the recommended solutions, such as manager upskilling, more defined progression plans, and greater support for internal mobility.


3. Representation

We’ve all heard the phrase ”representation matters”, which is regularly used when talking about the media. But representation in the workplace is also key. Which is why it is important that businesses help to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes that help foster a personal—and shared—sense of belonging.

Achieving representation requires regular diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) progress tracking but in addition to this, we have also developed concrete leadership actions to make sure we deliver on our racial equity commitments in all our regions. 

In South Africa, we have recently moved from a Level 8 in the B-BBEE ratings to a Level 3, this shows that we are moving in the right direction.

Having set actions and commitments means that a business can track its progress in areas like building more knowledge around diversity, equity, and inclusion, and creating more digital learning opportunities.

Another way Google has committed to representation is through our products and programmes. For instance, our Black Founders Fund has just awarded a combined $4-million in funding to 60 black-led startups in Africa.

4. Flexibility

The COVID-19 pandemic really made us all think about the real meaning of the word flexibility and showed businesses across the world that being in the workplace does not necessarily equate to productivity.  But beyond simply being a choice of where a workforce gets their work done, policies and practices can make hybrid work more inclusive and accessible.

For example, when contemplating a return to work, and what that would look like, we heard from  our employees who come from underrepresented communities, who said they appreciate having the flexibility to work from parts of the country that are more diverse and in communities where they feel most at home. Importantly, people have varying reasons for embracing remote work – such as allowing them to balance extra caretaking responsibilities for children or family members. 

5. Belonging and innovation

Belonging is a universal human need—and it’s the responsibility of business leaders to help foster it. This means building a culture in which everyone feels that they belong— and that they can meaningfully contribute to building helpful, universally accessible products and services.

In the workplace, this means creating a culture where people feel respected and supported. Mentorship initiatives can also provide an opportunity to create a sense of belonging – by matching experienced people with less experienced ones who are looking to grow and advance their careers.

When it comes to product innovation, it is important for businesses to reach out to build with communities, and not just build for them. 

An example of this in practice is the announcement of Google’s African product centre based in  Kenya, hiring people from Africa to help solve African challenges and build products that are helpful for people on the continent. And in 2022, Google Translate also introduced 24 new languages-including Sepedi and Tsonga, allowing millions more people to access technology in their own language. 

The tech industry still has a lot more to achieve when it comes to diversity and inclusion but a more diverse and inclusive business is also a better performing one- with research showing that they’re more innovative, creative and productive. Building towards inclusion requires consistent and concerted effort but we are committed to building a Google that’s for everyone, everywhere.

Read more in the 22nd edition of Top Empowerment: