This is what occurred in the past in South Africa’s history – only a small percentage of the population was catered to and this held back growth of the entire economy.

South Africa’s economy, its markets and broad society have shifted dramatically over recent decades. For any plumber, this should be prompting some introspection on who is their client, says Brendan Reynolds, executive director of IOPSA. “The stereotypical client is not the white male anymore – but the full spectrum of society – whereas many plumbing clients have not fully adapted to this new society.”

He urges plumbing firms to recognise that many of these potential customers will feel more comfortable dealing with a plumber that is socially similar to themselves. Furthermore, with crime being such an enormous risk in South African women in particular but even men may feel more comfortable with a female plumber in their homes.

Reynolds adds: “Consequently, from a purely customer point of view any business has to be more diverse or see their business steadily shrink within a shrinking customer base. But there is much more to diversity than that – it also brings in more creative ideas and processes to a business which would not occur within a group of overly like-minded people. That is extremely healthy for a business.”

Becoming a diverse business inevitably means a change in the way a business is run. “As an example, there needs to be more women plumbers – yet there are some tasks which the average woman might physically struggle with but which nonetheless still have to be done. Therefore, different ways have to be found to do certain jobs. That fact alone can lead to innovation which physically stronger men might not have ever considered, given it was never a problem. The result of such innovation can be that everybody benefits from greater efficiency,” explains Reynolds.

Language is a further challenge: “We have 11 official languages in this country, and huge sections of the population will be excluded from one’s business if the plumber’s employees only speak a single or two languages.”

Diversity is a relatively simple proposition: you recruit talented people from each group and gender and when this is done on a national basis the entire economy grows more evenly. “We’ve seen this work at IOPSA where the workforce is such a melting pot – and everyone benefits through creativity and sharing of ideas. We have all different races, cultures, genders and sexual orientation and they all add value in a big way.

“Note this has nothing to do with politics but is pure business logic – and this applies in the plumbing industry more than most. Customers frequently interact with plumbers at a physical level and are quick to detect any undertones of discrimination. When this occurs, they will not use such a plumber ever again. At IOPSA we regularly receive consumer complaints about how a qualified plumber speaks to the staff.

If a plumber’s client is so upset to the degree of either lodging a formal complaint or just venting, one can be certain that is a client lost for that plumber. People have to be quite angry before getting to a point of actually laying a complaint,” says Reynolds.

These arguments are entirely business related, but it must also be remembered that there is legislation in South Africa aiming to bring about diversity, and that big and medium sized corporates alike are obliged to use service providers who are BBBEE compliant.

Consequently, diversity and inclusion are the ways to grow a business anywhere in the world.