Deconstructing The Divide: Why Diversity Matters

 

With a population comprising of more than 200 ethnic groups, New Zealand now has more ethnicities than the world has countries. These figures, which were released by Statistics NZ in 2013, are proof of what most Kiwis already know to be true — that diversity in New Zealand is on the rise. In fact, New Zealand is now overtaking some of the world’s largest cities when it comes to diversity. Considered to be more culturally diverse than cities such as London and Sydney, forty percent of Auckland’s population is made up of different ethnicities.

 

Yet despite our country’s multicultural reputation, research shows this still isn’t being reflected in the workplace. And although factors such as race, gender, age, sexuality and disability continue to place many Kiwis at a disadvantage, leading industry experts believe diversity at work is crucial to the success of both employees and employers. The struggle it seems, is learning how to harness it.

While there may be no clear consensus on how best to approach diversity in the workplace, looking at the statistics is a good place to start. In collaboration with M2woman, market research agency Kantar TNS recently asked 1,000 New Zealanders across the country about their experiences with diversity in the workplace. Consistent with international studies, this survey and other recent research studies indicate women and other minority groups are far less likely to hold leadership positions in New Zealand. The survey comes in the wake of a 2017 report published by Deloitte for Westpac New Zealand, which also highlights just how large of a disparity there is for working women. Despite only 29 percent of management positions found to be held by women, women were discovered to account for 46 percent of non-management roles. The report, which collected responses from employees across 500 businesses and 19 industries, also found 42 percent of businesses reported no change in women in management roles within the last two years. For women of colour, the chances of securing a well-paying senior role are even slimmer. In 2016, it was reported by the Tertiary Education Union that while Caucasian women on average earn 84 percent of that of Caucasian men, the pay gap was much greater for Asian, Māori and Pasifika women. On average, Asian women were found to be earning 77 percent of that of Caucasian men, Māori women earning 72 percent and Pasifika women earning just 67 percent. Similarly, research also indicates disabled workers, mature-aged employees and those from the LGBT community are more likely to report experiencing discrimination in the workplace. In 2015 Westpac’s Rainbow Acceptance Monitor online survey, which recorded responses from over a thousand Kiwis (252 of those from the LGBT community), found that those within the rainbow community were twice as likely to have felt bias at work because of their identity. Likewise, many workers in their 50s and 60s often report feeling discriminated against. Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell, was last year quoted saying she frequently receives emails from people in their 50s and 60s struggling to land a job. Meanwhile, a 2017 report by the University of Melbourne published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health suggests that the most common reason people with a disability experience discrimination is in regards to employment.

To better understand what these statistics mean and how diversity influences the careers of women, M2woman and Kantar TNS asked study participants just how well New Zealand fairs as a country when it comes to workplace diversity. Interestingly, while 83 percent of participants surveyed believe New Zealand has a diverse population, only 68 percent agree the country has a diverse workforce. A further 49 percent of respondents thought that there is a lack of diversity in business leadership, with women perceived to be the most underrepresented. Just 29 percent of those surveyed thought that everybody with the right skill set had equal opportunity to be promoted or hired into senior positions while 28 percent believed men and women have the same opportunities in the workplace (women at 17 percent were half as likely as men at 40 percent to believe this is the case). It is well established that diversity is beneficial for companies and their employees, however despite this, Kantar TNS’ research shows that businesses are not doing enough to be inclusive. With one in four respondents believing bias has limited their career progression and a further one in three reporting they have made career decisions based on their gender, race, age, sexuality or disability, it’s evident identity plays a significant role in shaping career progression — whether it be at a subconscious level or due to external factors. Of the reasons for women reporting a lack of equal opportunities in the workplace, entrenched societal views of gender are frequently suggested as being the biggest obstructions to progression, as one research participant explains, “There’s always the old classic of a female putting out
an idea in a meeting, no reaction, then five minutes later a male putting out the exact same idea, and everyone agreeing. Amazing how often this happens.” Moreover, for women working in traditionally male dominated professions like engineering, science and technology, instances of discrimination were frequently reported by those surveyed. “Yes, my industry always hires men and when anyone thinks of an engineer they automatically think of a man,” another participant reported. “This very easily goes unnoticed. If you do see a woman working in the same type of role you double look.” Referred to by women in male dominated industries as ‘the old boys club’, some research respondents reported their employers purposefully continue to hire men. “I’ve even spoken to fellow engineering professionals who openly admit they only hire males because there is an existing ’culture’ within their company which they wish to preserve,” explains another study participant. “Actually at the specific male-dominated firm I was referring to, they all happen to play rugby and “that’s their thing”. I wonder if they’d hire a female if she played rugby too…”

Some of Kantar TNS’ research participants believe this is because men in leadership positions find females in power to be a threat to their masculinity. “I get to say this as I have direct experience of men struggling to explain to their friends that they have a female boss. My gut is that it may make some types of people and some types of men feel less manly and it implies [they are] less capable. But I know there are people that struggle with younger, opposite genders managing them.” Consequently, for women raising a family, this can also mean sacrificing or stalling their careers due to discrimination from employers, as other women highlighted in their responses. “People need to realise that your full time employment years are say from age 20 to age 70. That’s 50 years. Child rearing takes say 20 years (couple of children). So women are still employable for some 30 years — and that’s if they take those 20 years off, which most actually don’t. So the reality is we’re all in it for the long haul — not just the next 2-3 years which is what the employer may be thinking when they are hiring a man over a woman.”

But for women of colour and other minority groups, it’s not just gender discrimination preventing them from climbing the corporate ladder. Indeed, many women with ethnic backgrounds report experiencing a combination of racism and misogyny in the workplace. Furthermore, when it comes to discussions of diversity, some feel excluded from conversations focused solely on gender — as lawyer, refugee and the winner of Young New Zealander of the Year for 2017 Rez Gardi explains. “There already exists inequality against females in all aspects of social, economic and political aspects of society, and there’s that added barrier to accessing full rights as a citizen when you’re from an ethnic minority,” says the Kurdish-born Kiwi in an interview with NZ Herald last year. “Personally for me, we know the statistics, we get paid less, are less likely to get promoted than males, we’re underrepresented in the economic and political spheres  and academia.” Evidently, the young humanitarian worker is not alone in believing the conversation surrounding diversity needs to be more inclusive. At the 2016 Gender Equality Conference in Wellington, topic was brought to light when an Afghani woman in the audience asked key speaker and Head of the Gender Section of the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, Amelia Kinahoi Siamomua, her views on diversity among women. “We always talk about equality between men and women…but are we going to have equality between women [and women]? Like, we are all equal, in terms of leadership?”

Mai Chen, author of the Diversity Matrix: Updating what diversity means for discrimination law in the 21st Century and director on the BNZ board, is hoping to broaden the discussion surrounding diversity with the launch of her newest project. As chairwoman of Super Diverse Women, an organisation dedicated to promoting the rights and achievements of women from indigenous and migrant backgrounds, Chen says discrimination today is more subconscious than conscious. Evidently, research undertaken by the organisation last year seems to corroborate this. In a survey of nearly 300 New Zealanders (half living in Auckland and half outside of the city), many said they believed that while there were advantages and opportunities in being diverse, they still experienced gender and ethnic equality issues at work. The survey also revealed that Māori, Pasifika and Asian women want less subconscious and conscious bias and others to understand that being different visually in culture and accent can make them a target of discrimination. However, it also found women of colour are not so different to their Caucasian counterparts when it comes to leadership. Many respondents agreed that they would like to see more women like themselves in leadership positions (especially in governance and management roles).

Not only do women want to see more female role models but research supports that gender diversity in senior management is great for business. Studies within the field of diversity at work repeatedly find diversity to be an important component of effective leadership. Moreover, companies with women on their boards tend to perform better than those with no women. Not only are they more innovative, but they also have greater employee loyalty and their customers are more satisfied. A 2017 study by global management consulting company McKinsey & Co, which examined over 1,000 companies across 12 countries, found that businesses with the greatest gender diversity are 21
percent more likely to have higher profits. Likewise, the study showed those with the largest pool of ethnicities are 33 percent more likely to see higher-than-average profits than companies in the lowest quartile. Moreover, research also shows potential employees are more attracted to companies with a diverse workforce. A 2015 study by multinational professional services network PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found that 85 percent of female millennials surveyed will make a decision about working for an employer based on the company’s policies on diversity, equality and inclusion. Experts believe this is because when employees feel involved, respected and connected, they are more likely to come up with more innovative ideas and problemsolving solutions. Naturally, better ideas also means bigger profits.

Researchers from the Westpac Diversity Dividend Report suggest that if New Zealand firms were to improve the number of women within leadership positions, the results would be astronomical for the economy. With the economy estimated to increase by $881 million dollars, it’s easy to see the benefits of diversity in the workplace for both minority groups and society at large. And although companies are slowly recognising the benefits of being diverse, putting diversity policies into practice is not as simple as it sounds. For many companies, it’s not always clear where to start. The Westpac Diversity Dividend Report also found that although 40 percent of businesses have policies in place to prevent inequality, only 26 percent report on the outcomes. Kantar TNS’ own research conducted on behalf of M2woman also shows there is a grey area when it comes to what is considered a policy. The findings of the study reveal it is still unclear as to whether diversity policies should and do include training and targeted recruitment. Likewise, results suggest policies are not always noticed or felt by those with whom they are trying to connect. Furthermore, not all businesses follow through with their policies and for some the task simply becomes a matter of ‘ticking the box’. For minority groups, this can also lead to the opposite results of the desired effects, as they can be made to feel as though they are there simply to fill a quota. For many women and other minority groups, it’s important employers carefully consider their approach to introducing diversity initiatives.

“Addressing diversity for the sake of eradicating the ‘pale, stale, male’ stigma without properly thinking about how, why, what and when you are going to do it isn’t setting up a business for success. Just appointing a female for example, into a leadership role to address some imbalance without thinking about wider issues won’t solve anything and won’t set the female up for success,” explains one Kantar TNS respondent, who suggests diversity needs to be addressed by confronting the underlying issues. “The challenge here is having leaders who have the dexterity in their thinking and approach to make the most of this opportunity. Again, a business should be trying to grow leaders and have processes in place to accommodate diverse thought.” Also suggested was the need for businesses to have a strong diversity framework in place. “By frameworks and support, I mean tailored development programs that cater to an individual’s needs and address innate or cultural issues such as the reluctance to put yourself forward. That might take the form of resilience training, flexible working arrangements, developing confidence, strengths related development etc.”

Additionally, Kantar TNS’ study also reveals there seems to be a lack of understanding on how to report on the effectiveness of such policies. This potentially stems from a lack of understanding of what diversity means, particularly among senior leaders. As another participant highlights, it’s important to understand there are different types of diversity, the first being diverse types of people and the second being diverse types of thinking. “Both types of diversity are vital to businesses — especially when you understand the draw backs to homogeneity in thinking. I have seen a much greater investment in diversity when people have understood there are risks associated with being surrounded by people who are similar and not diverse. I see diversity as important where it challenges the idea of ‘group think’ which tends to be easy to create and perpetuate (often unknowingly), especially at an executive, GM level when there is a risk that people hire people who are like themselves or familiar, even if they look different…” According to Kantar TNS’ findings, those in senior leadership roles are also less likely to notice discrimination. Moreover, just 15 percent believe they should do more to promote diversity. But business leaders need to be aware there is more to lose than profits from a lack of diversity, as one participant in Kantar TNS’ research says: “When the leadership team (in particular) realise they are missing out on more rounded thinking, or are missing something, then there is a greater urgency or importance placed on diversity. The risks can be viewed as becoming more aware they may not be making decisions with many other elements considered.”

For CEOs and others in senior leadership positions, the study’s findings suggest companies need to stress the importance of diversity amongst the top tier of employees in particular, as well as those in charge of recruitment. The research suggests it is important for those in senior management roles to proactively focus on diversity when considering recruitment or promotions. Although major businesses such as Starbucks have recently introduced practices like unconscious bias training (a form of diversity education focused on the hidden causes of discrimination), which is important for interacting with customers, the general consensus is that bias is not regularly discussed or acknowledged as an area for change internally for businesses, especially amongst CEOs and senior leaders.

One way to combat this issue is ongoing unconscious bias training as well as long term improvement measures. This is particularly crucial for the hiring process, where there are a number of initiatives that can be adopted to tackle unconscious bias. A proactive ‘final sign off ’ could take place to identify any potential bias by recruiters. Further to that, it is recommended hiring managers do not self-moderate and a ‘two manager sign-off ’ is in place to ensure that each hiring manager has some level of scrutiny to justify their reasoning (if an issue is identified). There is also adopting a policy of having a target number of applications from different groups or having ‘blind’ CVs, where identifying attributes such as name, age, gender and even address are removed.

But perhaps most importantly, the study highlights just how crucial it is to approach the subject of diversity from multiple angles. While Kantar TNS’ research shows it is fundamental to address the issue at a senior level, respondents to the survey also suggested diversity should be addressed at a government level, whether this be through introducing pay equity measures, national campaigns and flexible working arrangements (for example, more accommodating working arrangements for parents). “I think government needs to think about what kind of society they want for NZ. Do they want everyone of working age in paid work? Do they want children being raised by childcare institutions? Do they want to encourage more men to consider taking time out of their careers to raise children or take on volunteer work?” Other suggestions included mentoring programmes, employers investing in training and up-skilling female team leaders and exploring ways of attracting women in male-dominated industries to apply for senior roles.

Essentially, Kantar TNS’ research shows the onus doesn’t lie on one person or one group — creating a diverse work culture is the responsibility of not one but many groups of people. It’s clear policies alone are not enough to raise diversity figures. With ‘no one size fits all’, companies need to be committed in their approach to implementing diversity initiatives and consistently review their outcomes. But perhaps what’s most needed, is conversation. As one respondent highlights, businesses, individuals and governments need to be as committed in their approach to diversity as they are with other workplace programmes. “As a whole, I really think continuous open dialogue and discussion is what is required. Like what happens with Health and Safety in modern workplaces — it gets talked about all the time. If things get discussed then they are brought to the forefront of people’s minds.” Because ultimately, it’s not just up to leaders to make changes. After all, policies alone are unlikely to change the culture but people will.