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wits organisational culture

"This is where I want to belong" Institutional Culture at Wits – Staff Perceptions and Experiences in 2002 by Mikki van Zyl, Melissa Steyn and Wendy Orr, Institute for Intercultural and Diversity Studies of Southern Africa, University of Cape Town. Cape Town, May 2003.

The Transformation and Employment Equity Office at Wits, with the support of the Vice-Chancellors, initiated this project.

Staff at Wits participated in group workshops, where they spoke about their experiences in their working environment. They described aspects of institutional culture that made them feel alienated on campus, and those that made them feel at home. They also made recommendations to the university on how to facilitate the ongoing process of transformation. They prioritized the suggestions according to whether they could be implemented in the long term or short term. These make up the main body of this project, but we also refer to numerous documents that support Wits’s intentions to bring about change at the university.

We held twenty workshops with focus groups of staff, and five individual interviews. They were purposive in asking staff to allocate themselves into categories according to university functions and grades, race, gender, nationality and disability. The workshops were facilitated by facilitators skilled in diversity work, ably assisted by students on a capacity building programme run by the T&EE Office.

The findings indicated that in the participants’ experiences, whiteness – typified by Eurocentrism and liberalism – and patriarchy were still the predominant characteristics of institutional culture at the university. The majority of staff in decision-making positions are white and male, and are a symbolic reflection of the institution’s values. Many black, and some white, staff described instances of racism, while many women spoke about sexism. Many participants commented on the lack of managers’ capacity to manage diversity among staff, and the valuing of academic over support staff was clearly described. On the whole, the participants saw their positions on the staff as ‘careers’ in which they invested in their future. Criticisms regarding recruitment, appointments, salaries, benefits and retirement were suffused with explanations based on discourses of prejudice and discrimination – racism, sexism, lack of transparency etc.

They recommended that processes be instituted to examine Wits’s values and vision with the participation of all staff. Many noted that more African people needed to be appointed to senior positions. Besides a general appeal for transparency in Human Resource policies, they also made suggestions about procedures that could be adapted to become more inclusive by incorporating more criteria for valuing diversity, and for affirming and recognizing the contributions of more marginalized staff members.

The majority had a deep commitment to Wits, and were enthusiastic about participating in the institution’s transformation.

Read more about this project on the Wits web site.

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