Thriving on Diversity
Nazreen Pandor, Director with Mazars’ South Africa’s Business Development and Human Rights and Social Compliance Division explains how diversity can be an asset when it comes to establishing an effective Social and Ethics Committee.
The introduction of the Companies Act in 2011 witnessed a sea change in how companies in South Africa dealt with issues such as sustainability, corporate citizenship and the environment. The shift to ‘disclosing’ how companies apply the principles of the Act is designed to give stakeholders a much clearer idea of what’s going on underneath the bonnet of corporate South Africa.
But for Nazreen Pandor, Director with Mazars’ South Africa heading the Human Rights and Social Compliance Division, it goes much further. The Act’s requirement for both state and publicly listed companies to have a Social and Ethics Committee that is fully accountable also provides an opportunity for companies to make a real difference in how they conduct business going forward.
“The changes are not just about compliance, but also about establishing a moral compass on how companies deal with their human capital,” she explains.
Pandor is passionate about the effects such changes will have on the South African business environment and believes that there is a common thread in her current role in the Human Rights and Social Compliance division at Mazars and her ongoing involvement in women’s networking and youth employment issues. A lawyer by profession, Pandor began her career at a law firm where she first recognised there were fundamental differences in the way men and women networked.
“At the end of the work day, men tended to socialise whereas women would head home to take care of family responsibilities. So it was a question of finding more creative ways to speak to women across a range of cultures and races.”
Cognisant of the fact that women were missing out on valuable opportunities to further their careers, when she joined Mazars in 2010, Pandor continued her work in this area with the introduction of the Mazars’ Women’s Forum. She is also the chairperson of the Youth Employment Index, which monitors the level of youth working in South African companies. While still early days in getting the index an established part of business culture in South Africa, Pandor firmly believes that as companies get more comfortable with the idea of disclosing the level of youth employed and with government buy-in, it’s a solution that will not only benefit South Africa but can also play a role at an international level in helping understand and monitor growing youth unemployment problems.
It is through having such a holistic view and involvement in the issues affecting the corporate landscape in South Africa that has seen Pandor develop a Mazars training programme to help companies understand and establish a Social and Ethics Committee. The intuitive way Pandor approaches training is to recognise that companies are unique in the way they deal with employment issues and areas of social responsibility. For instance, she recognises that some companies have particular concerns relating to the requirement to have at least one non-executive director that sits on the Social and Ethics Committee.
“It’s important to understand what concerns the company has and to adopt a training programme that overcomes such hurdles,” she explains.
Pandor has found that by focusing on practical examples of what companies have done wrong in the past helps executives recognise the benefits that independent committee members can bring.
“Once you point out the financial cost of mistakes made by companies such as Nike and Apple in terms of their social responsibilities and how corporate culture and social media played its part, it can provide the rationalise for how more objective input can help sustain a company’s reputation.”
Pandor also believes that understanding the socio-economic background of South Africa is an essential factor in determining the type of training companies require.
“As South Africa is only 20 years into democracy, issues such as employment equality can have a different context to more developed countries. So when developing a training programme it’s important to understand the socio-economic aspect of the country that you are operating in so as to make training more specific and, importantly, has ethics at its heart.”
Knowledge sharing is a key factor in developing a corporate landscape that has ethics at its heart. It’s a factor that Pandor believes is already part of South African culture.
“Through sharing knowledge and looking at what is happening outside of a country, it is possible to find solutions that work better. South Africans are good at that because we thrive on diversity. You do not thrive on diversity by being one dimensional, you have to be open to other ideas and thoughts.”
As Pandor puts it, “fundamentally, corporate ideas can be the same, the difference is in how you put those ideas into practice.”