Diversity In Business Starts With Diversity In University

Businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the repercussions that under-representation of ethnic minorities have in the workplace. To achieve an ideal business environment, businesses need to work towards providing opportunities for representation of these minority parties – this starts with higher education.

In the last five years, we have seen a cultural and attitudinal change to representation as a challenge facing businesses, especially in senior leadership positions and executive suites. Companies like LinkedIn, who have announced that it has significantly invested in artificial intelligence to make recruiting diverse candidates easier, more efficient and to mitigate unconscious bias, are beginning to understand the benefits like innovation, inclusion and creativity that diverse teams bring.

However, we still have a long way to go to achieve true diversity – with only 3 per cent of Fortune 500 companies releasing their diversity data in the last year. To achieve greater representation for our minorities who are significantly under-represented in the workforce, like our Maori community for instance, we need to take a step back and examine the amount of representation these communities have in higher education.

Without taking part in higher education, it’s difficult for the minorities to have a voice at the highest levels of leadership. Strong tertiary education provides students from ethnic minorities the opportunity to specialise in a field that earns them a voice, enabling them to effect positive change now and in the future. By boosting diversity at universities, we can improve diversity in business, in government and in thinking at all levels of society.

When Crimson Education was founded, I was a young, female with a South African background and quickly noticed that the successful businesspeople around me were typically European males who were twice my age. In the early days of the company, it was easy to be made to feel as though I “didn’t know my place” in a man’s world of business.

After experiencing the effects of marginalisation first hand, it was important to provide an opportunity for Maori students to help improve their access to education and career opportunities. It was also important to address inequalities in higher education by offering scholarships to encourage more Maori into pursuing law, medicine and other fields where they are largely under-represented.

This in turn would create greater diversity in a range of business fields.

With the current ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to education, many promising students don’t believe that they can reach these heights or don’t know how to. Today’s students are often encouraged to fall within a bell curve and can quickly be made to believe that they’re learning too fast or too slow. A lack of resources or relatable role models who’ve trodden non-traditional pathways at their schools can discourage students from learning subjects outside those on offer. This is why representation is so important to sparking real change within marginalised communities, so that under-represented youth can see people like them on both local and global stages and be encouraged to do the same.

Offering support to Maori students, whether through scholarships or innovative programmes, creates a generation of mentors who can show the way for others. As a result of doing just this, we are seeing more ethnic scholarship recipients looking to pursue studies in medicine, becoming researchers or doctors to improve health outcomes in their community.

It is the duty of all people to support those who are under-represented in achieving the recognition that they deserve and fulfilling their potential so that we can reap the benefits that inclusion provides when they enter into the business world.