Buppies – Black yuppies. Black young upwardly mobile professionals. Research shows that this is one of the fastest growing demographic groups in South Africa, but many companies and leaders have no idea how to manage them. Aloysias Maimane, a new member of the TomorrowToday team and a top South African presenter and facilitator, provides some insights into this important group.

Buppies (noun): black yuppies. The term was made famous by the Institute for Strategic Marketing at the University of Cape Town, in their Black Diamonds research. These young and upwardly mobile black South Africans are an increasingly important demographic – their cohort has grown by 30% in the last 4 years, and account for an additional R 50 billion in South Africa’s economy. So, what is this cohort bringing to the workplace and how does one manage them with effectiveness?
In the words of Nelson Mandela we’re not yet free but have merely achieved the freedom to be free. Buppies are not free to merely be black, but free to choose any identity they want. If they want to, they may choose to be defined as “blackâ€?, with all that means. But this is now a choice, it is not a necessity! It is the new obtained freedom to be anything you want to be and be adaptable in any environment. This is generation Y, Why and Wires!

Generation Y

Young black South Africans are coming to the workplace with something of an identity crisis. It does seem that for a black South African to be successful he/she needs to be Western. As in many parts of Africa: “West is Best�. This means acting and talking (and even dressing) in a western way. This has incredible impact on the way one conducts day-to-day business.

To get the best out of them, its important to allow a few loud voices to be heard:

Appreciate my Africanness

By Africanness I mean that these young people are black, Xhosa, Zulu, Shangaan or whatever, and will think and act in accordance with their underlying culture. Their dreams go beyond who they can become in a globalised world, and are connected to their cultures, their families, their history. One cannot simply continue to do business and ignore this drive within the Buppies. The paradox is real and evident – between a mindset required to succeed in the work world, and the “soulset� required to remain connected to their community and ancestry. One must not underestimate the power of the pull of these two worlds on today’s young black people. Not all of them have been able to fully integrate or reconcile these competing forces. Leaders must expect, and even anticipate, unexpected behaviour, especially at times of cultural importance (e.g. festivals, weddings, funerals and holidays).

Take me to my leader

In essence, this is a new style of leadership that learns from African ways of leading. In simple terms, there is a greater emphasis on the community than the individual, and there is a greater focus on holistic thinking – taking the whole person and the person’s entire environment into account. It is essential for those leading Africans to model this behaviour and creates business community.

This is not only happening in Africa. Procter and Gamble, for example, have created a process of Mentorship for younger employees. Younger employees are matched with older more “experienced� employees. The drive creates a community where leadership is fostered and values are transmitted to younger employees. Buppies are coming into the workplace with a strong need for mentorship and impartation of values, not just data.

I have an identity; I have dreams and I have serious ambition

This generation brings to the workplace bigger and wilder dreams. This generation has a high need to be instantly successful and make money quicker than generations before it. New BEE schemes are becoming more lucrative for this generation. Of course, some of these expectations may be unrealistic, and managers and leaders need to manage this. It also remains to be seen what messages the children of this generation will reflect on with the success or failure of this current generation.

Generation WHY

There is an increasing suspicion of industry among Buppies. There are numerous reasons why anyone, anywhere can be suspicious of business these days. But the key issue for Buppies is political intrigue inside companies. In managing this diverse team it is key that business creates and manages ethics around its political environment and other ethical issues. This generation will not easily accommodate old values from previous generations regardless of the nobility of these values. It is apparent in how this generation approaches voting, family and other societal issues.

Give me answers when I need them

Companies need to provide forums for discussion: sessions where younger employees can engage older generations regarding processes and systems that are in place. Online process can be effective in achieving this. There is an increasing need for counselling in the office. Employees bring their whole selves to a workplace. Companies such as GE are already providing career guidance and counselling for young employees within their companies. This will become an attractive retentive strategy in the business.

How can we change this to reach new markets?

The questions this generation asks, and its diverse outlook can be harnessed by companies, too. If properly activated, the diversity that this generation brings will be effective in generating innovation in their companies. C K Prahalad, author of “The fortune at the bottom of the pyramid� shows that companies need to be creative in reaching broad based markets in poor areas. By and large young Buppies come from communities that are poor and can be effective in understanding markets in these areas.

Generation Wirers

Technology is the new divide. It is the new divider that splits young and old generations. It is one of the very real divides between the haves and have nots. It is becoming more of a competitive advantage for Buppies coming into industry as they become more technologically advanced. Providing access to technology and related training within the business becomes a key retention strategy for Buppies in terms of being able to upskill and develop young black employees. Where industry takes it’s technology will determine retention of Buppies.

Africa is awakening to new ways of doing business. It is critical as we begin to define the term “African�, that we create an environment that acknowledges our diversity and drives a process of mining our own internal resources. We cannot simply continue with “business as usual� as a new generation of young people come into our workplaces.


Aloysias Maimane is a consultant and presenter with TomorrowToday.biz.  He is available to speak at conferences, strategy sessions and events.  He can be contacted at aloysias@tomorrowtoday.biz.

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