Diversity In The Workplace

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American author, political activist and lecturer, Helen Keller once said: “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision”. To have vision for any country in this ever-changing world is a wonderful thing. New Zealand is one of many that has a vision. A vision of kindness, inclusivity and diversity. A perfect example of this is Prime Minister’s speech Jacinda Ardern’s at the United Nations General Assembly earlier last month. She put ‘kindness’ ahead of ‘idealism, rejection and racism’ and combatted other voices at the Assembly.

As a person living with a physical disability, I know the personal turmoil of gaining acceptance and being treated like a ‘normal’ member of a bigger world. Grantedly, not to the extent of the UN, but I hope you understand what I’m trying to allude to. In the workplace, it feels safer and more accepted with the skills I can offer – especially in the M2 offices, where diversity and ‘kindness’ are key. High school was a little different, as you’d expect. Such a beautiful word – diversity. A word that is filled with so much potential. It’s truly being accepting of all ethnicities, faiths, abilities and disabilities.

Living with any difference – whether physically or mentally – is quite a challenging thing. According to a World Health Organization statistic, 253 million people are visually impaired and a further 433 million are deaf. On their website, they manifest that: “Disability is now understood to be a human rights issue. People are disabled by society, not just by their bodies. These barriers can be overcome, if governments, non-governmental organizations, professionals and people with disabilities and their families work together.”

For years, on a national level, we have all strived for a kind and diverse society that includes all differences – especially in businesses. Big companies like the Adecco Group and ACC hold this vision as being crucial to their aesthetic. They really help people with differences lead as normal life as possible. There are no barriers with these groups – they flourish in the ability of the person, not the restriction of their adversity. Adecco and ACC’s ethical badge says that work support and acceptance is vital in any success in a business. The global economy of human rights in the workplace is slowly – but surely – getting better and better, and this is manifested on the backbone of ‘kindness’ and the hard-work of these big groups.

Michelle Buckley knows all about the struggle of finding diversity in the workplace. Growing up in Wellington with half siblings and going through school was also challenging. After leaving school, she worked for Assembly Deltec and – after closing – she was out of the job for 17 years. Michelle was unemployed and constantly in and out of job interviews with unfortunately no success. She had had her third child, was getting desperate, and – in a last-ditch effort to find a place of employment, turned to Adecco in June for help. It was from there she was put in contact with Freshmax, the largest fresh produce distributor in the Southern Hemisphere.

Michelle is a woman living with a hearing impairment. To communicate for her is quite a tricky task, so she uses Sign Language to assist her. But she still finds barriers in her every day life. Since starting her job as a product packer at Freshmax, she has experienced a wealth of difference – a kindness shown towards her diversity. For a start, Manager, Kiri Carew learnt Sign Language to communicate with Buckley in her interview. “At the beginning I was slightly worried,” Michelle told M2Woman, “how people would communicate with me. I am no longer worried, as my co workers talk slow or write down what they need to say to me…so I can understand them.”

Sign Language is the glue that defines and communicates the Deaf community. Stated as being an official language of New Zealand in 2005, the language has grown to reflect a culture. NZSL includes Maori words and phrases which are completely unique to us. More than 24,000 New Zealanders use it as their official language and, according to a 2006 Census study, was the 12th most used language from our 190 languages we use. “Sign Language is just another language,” Carew said. “We have many people of all cultures and all languages that work for us, and we embrace and celebrate these cultures.”

It’s at this point I want to reflect back on the Prime Minister’s UN speech and emphasize the need for ‘kindness’ amongst diversity in New Zealanders, especially in the business sect and especially in our communication with each other. It’s a very positive thing for Carew to learn Sign Language to communicate with Buckley. Many businesses, such as YouthTown, make sure to include Sign Language in their day-to-day functioning. New Zealanders have always been renowned for our friendly attitudes, so it’s no surprises the kindness that is shared and willingness to accept diversity amongst people really highlights our potential on a national (and international) stage.

“Diversity for [Freshmax] means ensuring that we provide an environment of inclusivity to all our employees across all levels and roles within the organisation.” Freshmax has a vision, and with that vision they employ the likes of Michelle Buckley and other workers with differences that don’t define them, but just add to the unique diversity that we have on offer in this country.

Freshmax, established in 1995, works closely with Adecco to help hire temporary staff. Freshmax has a firm belief that everyone has an entitlement to work. “Our people,” Carew told M2Woman, “ we are built on the belief that our people make our business and sets us apart from our competitors. Integrity, honesty, humility (and not limited too) are just some to the values we live and breathe every day.”

It isn’t just acceptance of kindness and disability, either, that Freshmax prides itself on. Freshmax also promotes every kind of acceptance. “Across the Group, Freshmax is compliant under the Workplace Gender Equality Association for Australia.” Gender, ability and ethical acceptance speaks volumes in this global group.

The global recruitment agency, Adecco, prides itself too on promoting acceptance in all forms. The New Zealand Adecco branch helps a large number of people get into jobs, no matter their differences. They work closely with employers and employees too. In 2017, they joined up with ACC and held an ‘Employing People with Disabilities’ seminar to really show off the successes and drive of disabled speakers in joining the workforce.

Looking at this from the outside, I can appreciate so much the kindness that this brings. An inclusivity in every sense of the word. To be accepted despite difference and communicated to using unique languages speaks volumes. Adecco, ACC, Freshmax and a number of other big, global businesses use this aesthetic that will grow and grow. Diversity and kindness are both coming to the forefront of this country, with its vision of all ethnicities, faiths, abilities and disabilities working together with no barriers. To communicate, to speak and work towards that vision. Our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, promotes fairness and acceptance on all these levels. Most of all, though, we just have to be kind. Kindness is key to our vision as a country.