18th LIASA Annual Conference: Abstracts: Navigating diversity and inclusivity maze at the UFS academic library: a manager’s perspective

Navigating diversity and inclusivity maze at the UFS academic library: a Manager’s perspective

Keitumetse Betsy Eister

Transformation is one of the key words in South Africa post 1994, with calls calling for the country to transform in all areas with a view to creating a new South Africa for all. It applies to all institutions, government and private institutions, and is legally supported by the White Paper on the Transformation of the Public Service developed in 1995. This conference paper seeks to share positive growth experienced in transforming the University of the Free State Library and Information Services (UFS LIS) over the past seven years. It portrays the road towards developing a transformed working environment from a manager’s perspective. The presenter has been a manager for the past twenty one years, with twelve years spent at the public library sector and nine years at the academic library sector. The first experience of managing a diverse staff started in 1996 as an Assistant Director, when the presenter was confronted with leading and managing a diverse staff complement in terms of race, gender, age, and colleagues from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds. This experience and lessons learnt in subsequent management roles, has over the years led to the wealth of knowledge and insight gained in diversity management. These learning experiences that came in handy when the presenter was appointed at the UFS LIS in 2010. The level of formal education also played a major role in grounding the presenter in the profession, a process that built the level of confidence and emotional intelligence required to claim a space of a manager. This background and acquired expertise was enhanced by the fact that the presenter has formally studied dynamics of cultural diversity. The views thus expressed have been guided by an earlier study undertaken at Master’s level which focused on “Managing cultural diversity in information services”. The study investigated the status of transformation in all the nine provincial library and information services. The learning experiences from both the theoretical and empirical studies were over the years used to manage an environment that was not conducive to equitable sense of belonging. Issues of inclusivity were far-fetched, with the previously advantaged colleagues still enjoying ownership of spaces, minority culture, preferred language usage, accessibility to benefits, to name but a few. The intention of the paper is to share with aspiring leaders real learning experiences that are not taught during our formal schooling. These are soft issues that will determine if one becomes a successful leader or not, depending on how one deals with them, issues that can make or break one as a manager. A high level of emotional intelligence, which underpins the management of cultural diversity is what is purported to be the most important competency that leaders must possess. It is a vehicle for creating an inclusive working environment that is conducive to a learning organisation that oozes with positivity, uplifting morality, that builds team spirit, and in the long run that develops an organisation that delivers excellent, equitable and innovative services.