Over 600 engaged people joined us at the M2woman Journey to Excellence forum on 18 October at the Cordis Hotel in Auckland. Tania Domett from Cogo set the scene with her in-depth keynote, before Jason Reynolds from Quantum Movement shared some insights for building a great company culture. Debi Boffa, Managing Director of BP; Akerei Marasala-Thomson, Co-Founder of MYRIVER; Ngapera Riley, CEO of Figure NZ; Nurain Janah, Social Entrepreneur; and Alexandra Allan, CEO of The Foodbowl, then formed our panel of experts tasked with forming important action points for Diversity, Inclusion and Leadership. The following is a transcript from the panel discussion.
Photography by Journey Pictures
What are the hurdles to diversity and inclusion in the workplace within New Zealand organisations?
Ngapera Riley: The biggest thing is mindset. I think that’s both the hardest thing and the easiest thing to change. It’s hard because your mindset comes from your cultural context, your lived experience and sometimes generations of thinking the same way that you’ve been raised to think.
When it comes to diversity and inclusion, mindset is a huge barrier because if you don’t even acknowledge that a problem exists in the first place, you can’t begin to change that. I’ve seen a lot of changes happening in the last five years. But once you can acknowledge that and understand how it impacts, it’s also the easiest thing to change.
You can activate fairly quickly once you know what the barriers to diversity and inclusion are. It’s not to say that it’s an easy journey. The biggest barrier to diversity and inclusion is actually understanding the complexities of why it exists and taking action to fix it.
In terms of that action, how would you go about understanding some of the barriers?
NR: If you’re in a position of leadership in business, you have to just take a really good, honest look at your company and how it’s made up, how it’s structured. You can’t just focus on diversity, or just women, or just having more Māori, or more Pasifika people.
You’ve really got to step back and take a look at the makeup of your company, not just your employees, but your senior management and your board as well. Get someone external to help you, because a privileged lens is a hard lens to un-see.
Not in a way that’s bad for you, but in a way that acknowledges you should be stepping up to the plate to make sure it’s happening. You must have been asleep for 10 years if you haven’t understood or heard the issues around diversity and inclusion. It’s everywhere. Open your eyes and accept that there is change needed still and as business leaders, we have to drive it.
Alexandra Allan: Taking responsibility for yourself is really important. Understand your own unconscious bias and the social norms that we have now around who should be in leadership positions. Understand how that could be affecting you and the decisions that you’re making for your business.
Nurain Janah: I think it’s really interesting to talk about diversity and inclusion, because we are all really different and I think there’s so much to be celebrated. It’s not an achievement, it’s about understanding each other and celebrating the vibrancy of what that brings.
We take it really personally because it is really personal. The cultures and the perspectives that we bring are totally personal. But we forget that it becomes a problem and we need to address it and find solutions to create diverse and inclusive workplaces, because there are structures in place that stop everyone from being on an equal footing and thriving.
I think the hurdles really are that the structures are so embedded and so invisible and we just need to take a really good look at how that plays out. Even when you’ve had unconscious bias training, it’s more about practicing what you’ve learned. It’s about what the systems and habits are that you really go back to.
How does that play out from an individual level, team level, all the way through to how we interact in society. How someone who works with you would have interacted with the whole world and how they might be bringing those experiences to work and then be facing further hurdles. It’s about that systemic view.
When you’re talking about the structures in place that stop people from being on an equal footing. Can you give us some examples of what that might be?
NJ: When I spoke at the UN, I spoke about how New Zealanders really like to see themselves as really progressive, but that’s one of the problems. We are progressive, but we’ve got so much work to do and in order to do that, we need to acknowledge that.
We talk about hiring really diverse candidates and getting them in the door, but then we don’t create spaces. I am a practicing Muslim. There are not very many workplaces that have a place that I can go to pray. I’ve often just gone home for prayer time and it’s just the little things that mean that my mental state has affected that. I now have to rush back and do all the things that everyone has to do, but with extra pressure because there isn’t that facilitation of every single person who is working with you.
What suggestions would you have?
NJ: Have the conversation about what facilitates that. The workplace that I work with right now are very open to the conversation. They are okay with me taking an extra half an hour for lunch because I need to go home and do that. My previous workplace said just use one of the internal meeting rooms. It’s about the proactive conversation.
I’m still really early in my career and it’s harder for me to prompt that conversation, because I’ve often felt like I don’t have the power to do so. So if the leaders are really proactive about what the employees need and starting that conversation, that is really helpful.
Debi Boffa: The biggest hurdles are people and culture. I think it goes really well with mindset and leadership. It comes back to culture and what gets measured gets done. There is a place for quotas. There is a place for aspirations and ambitions in terms of where you want to go for different metrics.
When you really put your mind to inclusion and how do people bring themselves and their life experiences to work, how can they be the best they can be in the office and feel that they’re listened to, that their ideas matter. It doesn’t mean their idea gets chosen, but you’ve had a really good conversation about it.
To me, that feeling of belonging and knowing that you have the conversation with your manager about what you need, knowing that there’s a flexible working policy that applies equally to everybody, not just to females, or to people who are younger or older.
I think belonging is the big thing. I think when you can get your mindset around that in your organisation, then you’re starting to take some steps in the right direction.
Since becoming Managing Director of BP New Zealand in 2017, what cultural changes have you made to create this environment where people can be free to be themselves?
DB: I’m a working mum. In my family, we made the decision that I was going to come back to work full time. I’ve got aspirations and I’m in the role I’m at now. I want to work in a place where I look forward to going to work and I want everyone that works with me to feel like that. I think there have been changes at work. I want them to feel valued at work, but I don’t want them to be working 16 hour days, or even 10 hour days at times.
Akerei Marsela: I want it to be balanced and I want people to feel they belong. One lesson I’ve learned through my career is when I’ve tried to be somebody else. It fails and I don’t have fun.
How do you come and work for me and we get the best out of you because you love coming to work and working in the environment and the culture we’ve created? That’s the philosophy I have and that goes back to belonging.
I worked in New Zealand police for 12 years and they had good policies and strategies around diversity and inclusion. One of those was to create a safe space that allowed everybody at every level, from recruiting all the way up to commissioner level, to become a leader. What that did was it enabled, empowered and encouraged everybody, regardless of your beliefs and culture, to be able to speak up and challenge the status quo.
The Police selected technical advisors from within the 13,000 police staff all across the country to become advisors around domestic violence, community policing, capacity, and capability building programs in the Pacific.
I applied to be an advisor in the Pacific because of my background; I speak five different languages, I was born in the Pacific. But, one of the things that was missing in the selection matrix was language and culture as competencies.
I think one of the beauties of having an environment where you can challenge the status quo was that I was able to have a dialogue with my bosses to say, ‘Look, you collect all of this information from recruits, but you never used them as part of a selection matrix.’
We had a whole bunch of almost-retired white men being sent over back in the Islands where I was born and they were ringing me for advice on how to actually engage these communities. I pointed out that they should start including culture and language as part of the selection matrix, because I see those as competencies that need to be in there alongside people’s tertiary education.
I think the challenge is what the organisation is doing to create that safe space where other people from the bottom of your organisation can not only challenge the status quo, but also give you some golden nuggets to help achieve your goals.
I see culture and language as a huge part of impacting engagement levels, as a huge part of impacting productivity and ultimately the bottom line. I think just creating that safe space where people can actually help your organisation fly.
What suggestions would you have to attract those people from underrepresented communities into your organisation?
AM: A big thing for me is IT. I never studied IT, I was never an academic. A lot of my work in the police has been people-centric. My organisation TRUST MYRIVR was founded upon the Samoan proverb of ‘solutions for issues in the community can be found in that same community’.
When you’re trying to attract people to your organisation, if you’re working in communities that are quite diverse, I would encourage you to see those diversities, skill sets and competencies in a way to help elevate your organisation to another level.
What would be your advice in terms of recruitment?
NR: Actively go out and recruit. If you want to have a diverse workforce, actively get out and do it. Stop talking about it and just recruit in a diverse way. Our company is seven years in now and we now have a very diverse team. We’ve got two Māori, we have a wonderful Indian lady. We have different ages and sexual identities.
We work primarily online, so we’re a remote first organisation. We don’t have an office, but as we go, we’ve had to develop and design ways to work and communicate with one another. We’ve got a really diverse team, but in the beginning it was hard.
Diversity is hard because people come from different contexts and different cultures. When I first took on the role 20 months ago, there were a lot of cultural issues and people rubbing up against each other. In the tech industry, it primarily has been white, male and quite young. It’s the younger generation leading that focus. They have a bit of a different kind of humour and a lot of people can get offended by it. If you’re not used to that and you have people from other cultures coming in to your team, sometimes people take offence to different things.
We had to really work hard. We went through this really ugly faze of working out our staff. Luckily we’re small, we’re only 10 people, but we had to really go back to our policies and procedures. Every time somebody joins our team, we ask them how they communicate. We designed the questions around how they take criticism or how they prefer to be praised. How they do their best dreaming and thinking.
It allows people to self reflect on the ways that they communicate and the ways that they do things and it allows you to share that with others. A lot of our team don’t like to be called on their phone, it freaks them out. But I can send them a message to ask for a phone call. I need to get them in that mental headspace. As a leader, I need to understand what they’re going through.
Have you put rules in place?
NR: We have got rules in place. We’ve got one guy who’s particularly brash in his responses. I took him aside and said, ‘Look, the way that you’re responding to people is actually causing offence and I can’t have it. So I need to figure out a way to communicate with you where I can step in and let you know what your behaviour is’.
We use emojis a lot in the tech industry, so I will emoji him a prickly hedgehog. I don’t need to have that conversation, ‘Bro, you’re being a dick’. I send him an emoji saying ‘prickly’ and he’ll be like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry’. He doesn’t like getting the prickly emojis.
He’s awesome by the way, he just thinks differently. He’s actually a genius. But on the people side, not so great, which you’ll come across a lot in tech. We have to implement ways that we can communicate with each other honestly and openly and without offending. We had to have that conversation. A lot of it is around emotional intelligence and stepping back as a leader and looking at how to fix it.
I do have a diverse team. We actively recruit diversity in our team. But there has to be ways in which you navigate the way your team communicates and the way that your team feels safe.
At the end of the day, if you want productive staff and you want to have the best company, everybody has to feel safe and comfortable in their workplace. We have actively implemented different ways of working in our company.
It’s all very well to say just go out and recruit, but surely not everyone from all communities are going to be going through the same channels. Can you give us some more insight other than just go out and do it?
NR: I can speak from experience in tech and data and one of the challenges we have in the industry is data is a very new and evolving industry and there are very few people that excel in it. When you mix that with technology, the pool is very small that we have to recruit from.
You do need a baseline of skill sets, but when those applications start coming through, I think you need to go outside. Last time we recruited for a role, we had 200 applicants. We went through them all and first looked to see who could actually do the job. Then we as a team went through and said, we’ve we’ve got 50% women in our team. We probably would like to recruit more Pasifika people. We don’t have any Asian people in our team at the moment and we’d really like to.
We put those up the priority list when we were doing the shortlist and we just carried on. And then there’s cultural fit and all of those things. When you are actively recruiting for diversity, you’re not taking the easiest route. It can be hard and it can be difficult, but I guarantee you it’s worth it because your product and your service is a lot stronger at the end of it.
AA: I think it’s really important to be aware of the language that you’re using when you’re putting a job advert out there so that you’re not narrowing the pool of applicants that might think that they’re eligible to apply.
You could put that through a few different people in the organisation to make sure that they’re not seeing it as too restrictive. When you start getting the applicants through, have an open mindset about it and then interview more than you might think initially. It does take extra time, but there’s just nothing like meeting with someone and actually having a conversation with them about the role, about the background, about the values, to really understand how they would mesh with your organisation and what they can bring to it.
In terms of those job ads and the language around them, would you suggest different iterations?
AA: Yeah. Different streams as well. Sometimes we also head to universities for an engineering role or to look at graduates. LinkedIn as well to get more exposure for the role.
NJ: I’ve got two hats on at the moment. I’ve got my employee-earlier-in-my-career hat on, as well as the governance side, where I have been part of appointing committees and nominations committees and things like that. From a job seeker perspective, I saw a statistic yesterday that said a big portion of people in New Zealand get their job from their network or a personal connection.
I think that is one of the biggest reasons why we struggle to attract diverse talent, because we’re looking in our networks. It’s a lot easier when I can have a coffee with them or it’s a lot easier that someone I know, knows this person. None of the jobs that I’ve had in my accounting professional life have been through applications, they’ve been through connection.
That’s really the challenge for us to do the hard work, to go outside your network and find candidates that are from diverse backgrounds. I mentor a lot of young migrant women and young women from ethnically diverse backgrounds. Their parents, and themselves as well if they’re recent migrants, they really struggle with the New Zealand experience.
It’s really about understanding the unconscious bias that goes on throughout the leadership. The leadership needs to really take on and champion that, because if you don’t have the buy-in from the top as well, it’s not going to flow through.
The other one that I really want to touch on is that, having been an employee in not-very-diverse organisations, organisations attract the diverse talent and then they just let them float through and think that they’ll find the way.
A lot of the young women with culturally diverse backgrounds, that are starting out in their careers, tend to hide it because they don’t think that they fit in. There’s a very two-pronged approach and it is really complex.
What suggestions would you have so you don’t have employees floating around, trying to assimilate and be something that they’re not?
NJ: It is about making sure that the spaces are inclusive. What are the unseen factors that play into whether you get promoted or the way that you get feedback or the way that you’re supported?
I see a lot of mentorship programs, but they don’t go further to champion them. Whereas there are people who identify a younger self with someone else on the team as a cultural fit and champion them through. It’s really about looking for people that have potential from a leadership level and actively saying, how can I help? How can I show you the path?
I really talk about not having role models and the reason that I speak, even though I hate it and I’m terrified inside, is because the young woman that I mentor say to me, ‘I didn’t think that someone like us could do it and be authentically ourselves in these spaces.’ We need role models, but we also need champions who have the positions of power.
How do we recruit from underrepresented communities?
DB: You’ve got to make sure you’re accessing people in the right way. Make sure you are using the right language when you are pitching the job.
I remember when I was heading up an engineering department and we had two roles being advertised. One advertised the traditional way; we didn’t review the language. The other one we put a lens to it to make sure that it would attract the type of candidate we want. And sure enough, we got a whole bunch apply for that job and no one applied for the traditional one and they were fundamentally the same role.
We have a very diverse workforce in part of our organisation. However, in another part, we don’t and we’re not accessing the right graduates. We’ve partnered with TupuToa and it’s been a great experience. We know we can’t do it ourselves, so we’re accessing it in a different way.
One of the interns reported to me last summer and what I got out of it to make our organisation a better place for individuals to thrive with different backgrounds, was immense. Ask for help.
Make sure you’re not self-selecting on your biases when you’re looking at the applicants. Often, if you’re the one doing all the screening and all the interviewing, make sure you’ve got somebody there with you who’s very different than you so that you don’t inadvertently put your biases into the process. It does play out. We’re all human.
Have you done unconscious bias training?
DB: I have and I’ve trained people in it too. I’ve got lots of biases and I worked really hard to call them out. A lot of people who work with me know what my biases are because I tell them ‘This is my bias, so call me out on it.’
We’re all human. We have all got life experiences that shape who we are and the values we have. Just own it, know it, and have good people to tell you when you’re being a dork.
A lot of the times in leadership, you’ll hear ‘It’s okay, we’ve got it all sorted. We hire on merit.’ What would your suggestions be for leaders in terms of the importance of what we’re talking about here today?
AM: I think it just comes back to courage. Courage from the panel selecting the person for the role. Courage from your leadership team.
In 2015, I became only the second Pacific Islander sitting in the Counties Manukau District leadership team. My community makes up a quarter of that population and we had a whole bunch of white people telling my community how to live their lives.
Courage for an organisation to have the confidence and be open enough to be challenged internally from their own biases, but also the courage of staff members at all levels being able to challenge the status quo.
Through that dialogue, we were able to overcome some barriers in the past with the police. When we used to hire consultants for the police, we paid them market rate. But when we got a church minister from a Pacific Island church, all we did was give them a coffee and a muffin.
We need to start recognising the value of language and cultural competency and bring it into the organisation. I think when it comes to recruitment, that goes back to the discussion around courage. Courage needs to be throughout the whole organisation at every level.
IT is rapidly taking over the game. If you look at my community, we are at the bottom in terms of careers and salaries. From my Pasifika community, IT is not really seen as a career path.
Part of what we do as a mentoring network of Pasifika IT professionals is we mentor a whole lot of students from South Auckland and try to help them enter STEM careers. Although there’s this misconception that we’re not IT people, I challenge that and say we cannot be the greatest navigators in mankind’s history and not know anything about science, technology, engineering, math. We’re natural innovators!
We try and utilise those experiences to challenge the status quo for our people to say, we are descendants of the greatest navigators and we were really, really good at all of these things.
A lot of the funds are held by some older white males. And that’s why, as a Pacific Island organisation, we like to befriend a whole lot of older white males, because they have a lot of money that they can invest in us [laughs].
What advice would you have for any other organisation who think that they don’t need to have this discussion about diversity, because they hire on merit?
NR: That is a really common thing that you hear. How does that benefit their organisation, in terms of diversity and inclusion? Is that all you’ve got? You have to get people to examine that question because I think that’s the easy way out.
I think that’s just the stock standard answer that people will say, thinking that it’s the fair way to do things. I think that we can take that opportunity to reframe that question. Hiring on merit is the basic of things to do. How can you explore that question further? What are the other things that you hire people on and how is it going to diversify your workplace?
AA: I think it’s important to really get to the bottom of what those merits are. What do you mean by those merits anyway? Because there’s no doubt that your unconscious bias is coming into that as well. When interviewing someone for our position, talk about what they can bring to the role.
One thing we’ve done at work recently is establish values across the organisation. It’s been really good because I’m similar to Ngapera. We’ve got a few prickly personalities in the more technical side of the business.
We’re a small team as well, we’re 16 people. We’re manufacturing facilities, so we’ve got the engineering compliance teams, as well as sales and marketing. There’s often a bit of conflict sometimes with those different ways of thinking and different communication styles.
We did a lot of work to really get to the heart of what are the values that each of us want to bring to work collectively. We agreed on those and that’s been a really excellent way to give us a platform to use to celebrate different successes.
Call people out when they’re not living up to those values that we’ve all agreed on. It’s been really useful for us to have that common language that everyone’s agreed on.
NJ: I agree that we really need to interrogate the merit. We need to think about what diversity adds? Have you been doing the same thing the same way for a really long time? We’re in this place and pace of work now that really needs the innovative creative thinking.
How can you pitch diversity as a strength? As adding something really different that can be celebrated? Not just celebrated, but really add value to that. There are some old dinosaurs that I’ve encountered that I’m not sure are going to change, so it’s about finding the strategic allies who are in leadership positions that can champion that conversation
I am very privileged so I am able to speak on my experiences as well, but because I look different because I am, “a diverse people,” I’m asked to take responsibility for selling it. I’m selling why diversity is important.
I’m telling the story of what the systemic issues that we are dealing with are. What are the microaggressions that we deal with that stop us from getting the merit of a qualification? What are some of the things that people from diverse backgrounds, different abilities, different genders, and different ethnicities go through at university that mean that they don’t get the A’s?
What is it that has played out in their background that means that they haven’t got the connections to understand a particular world? How can we bring that skill set by changing the competencies so that we’re not piling on top of the system that has disadvantaged people up to that point?
From an organisational point of view, what suggestions would you have to change how we measure some of those competencies?
NJ: One of the things that I’ve seen that’s really positive is just changing the academic requirements. I’ve seen quite a lot of companies just dropping either the university requirement or the academic requirements out of their selection process.
I think academia is great, but we’re finding so much that the skill sets that we’re learning in academia don’t necessarily apply. It’s really changing the way that you think about what is needed for the job and what is needed for the innovative creative thinking.
DB: If someone told me they were hiring the best candidate for the job and not worrying about diversity right now, it’s sounds like a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Every organisation and every team needs to look at it and work out if they have the right levels of diversity on all of those metrics and figure out if you’ve got it or not, and then go out and look for it.
If you’re just using it as an excuse to hire someone who actually just looks like you and the rest of your team two years ago, then it’s not going to cut it anymore. I think we’ve got to all be looking around this room.
I’m guessing most of you have felt at some point in your life that someone thought you got an opportunity because you were “diverse”. It’s not a nice feeling. I think we need to be really clear. It’s not just about gender. It’s not just about ethnicity. It’s not just about disability.
It’s about a whole range of things that makes the team be the best it can be. That’s the bit we need to understand and then strive for what it is we’re going after.
What’s your take on quotas?
DB: Unfortunately, I think we probably do need them in some regards. I’m an engineer. I’m a big advocate of what gets measured, gets done, as horrible as that is. I’m also an individual who’s received a new job and had people say to my face that the only reason I got it was because I was female.
I hate the idea of quotas, I absolutely hate them. But if that’s what it takes to have people feel they can put their hand up for a job and be awesome in it and then get it? Fine, give me a quota. If that’s what it takes to get people to change their mindset and change the culture and the organisations that we work in.
AM: Quotas always provide challenges for any organisation. The New Zealand Police had a big program diversifying their management level and have more females. Most, if not all of the females got the jobs on merit, but they were plagued with this image that they all got it because of their gender.
I think it undermines the fact that these women were capable. But because we put targets on these positions, I think it undermines their capacity or capability to actually perform in the role. Not just females, I’m also talking also about Pacific Island staff.
When I talk about including other skill sets and competencies, like language and in culture, is if we have a police officer who has a degree which is part of the requirements for the position, but he also happens to be able to speak that language and was born there, I think to me it makes sense to select the person. Not as a quota thing, but because he brings other dimensions to the role that can actually help us as an organisation to achieve the purpose. It’s also good for the country as well.
If I can use Samoa as an example, their forefathers had this vision to come to New Zealand and get a good education, get a good job, but then take some of those learnings back home to help build the capacity and capability of the country. I think that’s a good outcome for our people that go back home and impart this knowledge, because we come here to try, just like any other community.
At the moment, we’re dying in fast numbers. I believe that recently was the first time Pacific Island women overtook Māori women for deaths from domestic violence. Pacific Island youth just overtook Māori youth for youth suicide rates.
When we’re talking about diversity, it’s not just about the colour of your skin or your culture. I think it’s important to acknowledge all those different competencies that they can bring to a position that can help elevate your organisation, but also achieve the outcomes for the communities that we’re all trying to work with.
Do you think suicide rates are connected to career possibility, to hope that comes from being able to see a future?
AM: Financial freedom is a huge predictor to where people end up in life. Somebody commits suicide every 40 seconds around the world. I think your position, your status, and your financial freedom is a huge predictor to where people end up.
It’s not just about the organisation having the courage to actually challenge the status quo, it’s about you as an individual. Not just Pacific Islanders trying to do it for Pacific Islanders because you’re a Pacific Islander. It’s about you, as Kiwis, doing it because you want to see Kiwis thrive.
In Samoa, we operate as a village. We’re successful if you’re successful. Over here in New Zealand, that’s a totally different dynamic. We see a lot of competition. We see fences, we see closed doors. It’s not a thriving community.
I think that’s the beauty of having an organisation that is courageous enough to actually allow everybody at all levels to be leaders, because we help enable and mobilise each other to throw it together, cohesively, not as individuals competing.
You look at all the funding for not for profit organisations, you’ve got a whole bunch of awesome organisations bitching and moaning and backstabbing each other because there’s only one small pot of funding, but there should be enough money. We spend $54 billion on health and social services, of which 90% is actually spent on counseling people after something’s gone wrong. There’s enough money to go around to help.
Social entrepreneurs like, TupuToa, they’re creating pathways and jobs for our people. Our people don’t want counseling. Our people want to actually thrive, and employment is a big predictor of how we end up in life.
NR: I went through medical school and I was part of the Māori and Pacific Admissions Scheme, MAPAS, which has been around since the 70s. It’s a very successful program and that was because back then, the University of Auckland proactively took the stand to say that we need more Māori and Pacific Islanders in medicine. They could see back then that the demographics were growing and that it was important.
It comes back to that leadership, making the stand to put that program in place. I think it’s one of the longstanding examples of quotas and Aotearoa. Did I face racism and get told that I wasn’t good enough and that I was only in medical school because I came through that program? Yes, I did from students and was also attacked by other people’s parents whose children didn’t get in to medical school.
There’s tough side of it and that program over the years has received massive criticism for that very reason, for people missing out because spots were allocated to Māori and Pacific students, specifically. But the reality is, it’s worked. I think last year, 250 Māori and Pacific doctors graduated through Otago and Auckland University. That’s incredible.
People do face a lot of barriers, even just to get there. What that does mean is over the years, MAPAS has had to keep changing because, even though the quota systems were set aside, the success rates still were not good. On the recruitment side, you actually have to make sure the support is there alongside it.
Over the years, we’ve constantly been reviewing that system, that quota, and the support that runs alongside it. Even 10 years ago, even though the quota existed, it was something like 20%, 25% of students that went through that program actually graduated at the end. With concerted effort and investment, now it’s something like 92% of graduates that go through the program come out with a qualification. The success rates are high and it works.
As much as none of us like the word “quota”, we have them all the time in businesses. We have KPIs, we run by numbers and targets. So I say, why not? Why can’t we have a quota for diversity and inclusion? It’s not a nice name, it’s not a nice term, but if you’re getting the results, then kei te pai, go hard.
Based on your experience at medical school, would you have any advice for someone in the future that might be subject to the same criticism based on their position because of a quota?
NR: We still council our students, we’ve made it part of the induction process. We actually have to train them on how to respond to those things because we had kids dropping out because of it. We had rangitahi coming to us in tears. That’s not a nice experience when you already feel like an impostor in a big system that’s not set up for you.
We’ve actually had to adjust and train them how to not get angry about it, but to respond in an educated way. We now view it as an opportunity to open the conversation, even with someone who’s 18, talking to another 18 year old around why that program exists. It’s not to cause a division, but it’s to help us work together.
A lot of these people end up becoming your best friend because you’re studying together. It’s become much more diverse anyway as our demographics have grown in that industry. It’s a very elite industry. There’s only so many people that can get into those programs, which is why it’s so highly competitive. But, which is also why I think the quota system, in that regard, works.
AA: I am definitely for a quota system as well. I think it has been shown to work around the world and if it works to get a more diverse workplace, then why not? Why not go for it? With our unconscious biases and the social norms that we have at the moment, I think that it does require a step change, which a quota could bring to actually embed that diverse workforce in New Zealand.
What advice would you give for people who perhaps aren’t a minority?
AA: I think we all just have to be aware that it’s changing. I think that over the next, maybe five to 10 years, leadership positions and board positions will definitely change.
At the moment, we’ve got one woman on our board of six and I think that’s all going to change, not only gender, but all the other diversity attributes as well. We just have to get used to that. I think you just need to get ready for that to happen.
NJ: That really goes back to what I’ve talked about with role models and representation. I recently did some volunteer work around the elections. Just talking to people about voting and why there is such a low turnout amongst young people and migrants and people from ethnically diverse backgrounds, and class backgrounds.
You think about the people who are running for local government as well. You look at the statistics at leadership levels across New Zealand, private sector and government sector, and you realise that there isn’t diversity and we need a kick in the butt, essentially. I think a quota system would do that.
For the people who believe you got in because of a quota, it does actually challenge their assumptions about what someone who they think looks different, can do. I think quotas can pave the way and actually open up a pipeline of leaders who, when they get in, are ahead of the game. They can really let the ladder down for others that are coming up as well.
From a personal level, would you have any advice for an individual to negotiate a better position or negotiate pay equity?
NJ: We talk about having advisors for organisations. I really believe in having a personal board of advisors. Everyone’s got their unconscious biases or fears, so having someone who’s there to challenge your thinking and make you more resilient and talk through your experiences.
I found, through mentoring young women, that they find their resilience really challenged. That means that they either step back or they make decisions based on some of their fears, rather than what they want to do or their strengths. Find someone who can give you an outside perspective.
The biggest lesson that I’ve learnt, is to just do it. It’s scary. You never know what will happen and you never know how kind people can be.
DB: Do your research, know your facts, and understand the value you’re bringing and be able to articulate it at the same time. Know where your gaps are, because that’s what will get thrown back at you. Show how you are closing those gaps.
A lot of times, people will come but they’ve not got the context right. What they’re asking for is actually not even logical or feasible. Be courageous. It is scary, but you need to find a space where you can stand up for what you are and what you believe you need. And if it doesn’t work for you, you either have to be comfortable with that or find somewhere else where it will work for you and be comfortable with that.
AM: Have a bit of confidence in your ability. Don’t short change yourself. Don’t undervalue yourself. One of the things that we used to do to help get other Pasifika police officers into every level of the organisation, was running mentoring programs with each other. They learned a lot about our failures, in terms of where we wanted to get in the police.
It was through our failures that they were able to connect and there was some parallel to the journey through the police. They saw us in management roles and that’s what encouraged them to sit their exams, do their studies, and have the courage to actually go and apply for the jobs.
What value do you bring into this organisation? What makes you different to the other applicants that have applied for this job? It really helped me navigate my way into a management position in the police. That’s only because I had other mentors that had gone through the same thing, mentoring me.
Before I joined the police, I never saw a Pacific Island police officer in a management role. It wasn’t until I joined the police and I attended an event designed for Māori and Pasifika police officers, that I saw all these executive Pacific Island and Māori police officers. And when they got up and shared their stories, that was my story.
I couldn’t speak English. I was called a fob. I was able to relate to those stories and because of that, it gave me the courage and confidence to see if this guy can do it and he’s now the Assistant Commissioner in the police, there’s no reason why I can’t. I think it’s just learning from each other’s experiences. You also don’t pigeonhole yourself.
One of the things that I did see in the police was that we tend to just operate within our own silos, within our own groups. I learnt a lot from other police officers that came from other foreign countries. Their experiences weren’t too dissimilar to what we went through. Don’t be afraid to actually reach out there, to go outside of your own little bubble. You’ll find a whole new world outside your bubble that you never even knew existed, but can help again elevate you and whatever your vision is.
NR: I was really lucky. I got coached quite early on about negotiation and stepping up to the table. My first job out of university, I didn’t even really know what I wanted to do. If you’re young, they may offer you the lowest possible salary band, because you’ve got no experience. But you have to think about what are the other things that you can bring to the table? What are the other values? You are valuable. You’re young, you’re Māori, you’ve got this education. You might not have experience yet, but you’ve got other things to bring to the table.
When you’re first negotiating your contract, that’s the best shot you’ve got. You’ve got to go hard on that first one, because you learn to negotiate pay rises as you go. You’ve really got to be prepared. My sister sat down with me and did a mock interview so I knew what I might be asked.
You need to be ready to talk about your weaknesses. You need to be ready to talk about your strengths. Research. A lot of particularly Māori and Pacific people, are raised to be humble and not talk about money and be afraid to ask that question.
You get all the way through the interview and some people won’t even know what the salary band is. Don’t be afraid to ask them. Don’t be afraid to talk about money up front. If you’re too afraid to raise it with the person you’re interviewing, call HR and get it. Get some ideas. You don’t even have to say what your name is, just figure it out.
Ask about the role, do your research, find out what those salary bands are and go in strong and firm, but also fair. You can’t go in demanding $120,000 when you’re straight out of uni. Back yourself, because what’s the worst thing they’re gonna do? Say no? Yeah, and then you carry on. Aim high. If you have to negotiate back down, that’s cool. But it’s better than starting at the bottom and then trying to scrape your way up.
The same thing for when you’re negotiating your pay increase or your promotion, you’ve just got to go for it. You have to be in to win. I see, particularly among return-to-work mothers who are amazing and experienced and qualified, they have a couple of years off work and for some reason, they think they’re not valuable anymore because they’ve been out of the workforce. It’s absolute rubbish. Go in and negotiate. You’ve got to back yourself, because nobody else in the interview is there to back you.
AA: I think doing a bit of research initially around where the different bands are and where you might fit in. Then just backing yourself and having that confidence. Be sure about what you can offer to the role and what you bring to it and being able to communicate that is really important.
How do we empower our children to start taking those values on?
AA: As things start to change in the workforce, whether it’s through quotas that do enable that, then it will just become normalised. Having that discussion early with kids, hopefully at school, but definitely in the home, just to let them know there’s no “normal” around who should be in positions. Anyone can reach for whichever position they want to.
NJ: I think young people are a lot more progressive than previous generations have been. As we come up, it’s so much more embedded in the language that we talk about. I know 18 year olds who can tell me all about the different diversities and talking about intersectionality and how you embed that within non-profits. I’m just amazed at the conversations that the younger generation are having.
How can we empower them? Value yourself. Really understand that value and be able to stand strong in who you are and your cultural background. I think people who have different cultures in New Zealand, particularly from migrant backgrounds, feel that they are really removed from that. Embed the values so that you can own that and belong to Aotearoa New Zealand.
Then the other side of that is the stuff that you do at home or outside school, is the stuff that matters. The conversations that you have. For parents or mentors or guardians, it’s really about understanding your own biases and how they play out. Being able to kind of be courageous and showing kids and young people that you are being courageous and being outside your comfort zone as well.
DB: I’m totally with you on that one. I thought that we were all doing a great job role modelling the art of the possible, especially when it comes to gender diversity. I’ve got quite a high proportion of females in the senior leadership team at the place I work.
Through International Women’s Day, we were doing an activity where people went home and spoke to the children about workplace equality. A colleague of mine is female, she’s chosen to work. She went home and had a conversation with her young daughter. She thought she knew what the answer was going to be.
When she asked her daughter what sort of job can girls do versus boys, she got very stereotypical replies. Not what she was expecting when this young girl has been brought up in a family with both parents working and things are equal; they share home life, as well as earning the money.
It really struck me that we can do all the best role modelling we want, but there’s so much that goes on in society, whether it’s at school or things on TV or whatever, that there’s a long way to go for people to realise that while we are all equal, we are not identical. That’s the only thing that matters. We are all equal.
It doesn’t matter what gender, what background we’ve come from, what your life experiences are. As humans, we’re all equal, but we’re not identical. The things that make us different are the things we should celebrate. I think there’s still a lot of conversations to be had with our children and young people around that.
AM: I don’t really teach my kids about diversity. My house is like a research centre. When I go home, I try and look for answers from my kids. I don’t like to put a whole lot on metrics and KPIs on my expectations of them. I like to learn from them how they see the world themselves through the eyes of a fifteen, seven, four and two year old.
If there’s anything that my wife and I like to teach to our children, it’s just to be happy. We don’t really care what jobs they end up having in life. We’ve briefly touched on how New Zealand is a very competitive Western world, compared to the humble little village where I came from in Samoa.
We were very happy in Samoa. In my household, we try and talk more about what happiness looks like because we don’t want our kids to go into a job that they don’t want and then end up doing stupid things to themselves or other people. We want to help develop and create that safe space for them to actually see what happiness looks like.
We hope that whatever job they end up in, they can kick ass and to help achieve whatever the KPIs are in their organisation and ultimately, the bottom line. But I think rather than confusing your kids at such a young age, teach them about what happiness looks like, so they can go out and teach other kids to be happy.
NR: I grew up in Rotorua. I grew up in a primarily Māori school. There were only two Pakeha kids at our school. It was really different to have the power dynamic differently growing up in the 80s. I’d never really even realised racism was a thing because we had such a small school, but it was not very diverse.
Our kids are completely different. My nieces and nephews, they’ve probably got 10 languages in their class. For them, it’s just normal. For me, going to university was a culture shock. But for them, it wouldn’t be because they’re used to hearing different languages and they’re used to having a diverse group of friends and I think that’s really beautiful. My hope is that we don’t have to have this discussion because our demography is changing and in 20 years time, it’s just going to be diverse.
I love it. My early adulthood was in the US. What I loved about that was all the different languages and the different cultures that you have to get along with. Being diverse is really exciting. Things are changing. Kids don’t even have to go to university anymore because it’s something that we are putting on them.
As long as they are happy and they are kind to one another, and if they have those values around ethics, they will be okay. Kids are very adaptable and they’re very resilient. Just keep giving them options and hopefully they flourish. If they have a few knock-backs, kei te pai. We hope we can build resilience and as long as they are wrapped in love, the rest is up to them.
I’m a woman of ethnic background and hate to be treated as one. Do you think that maybe diversity and inclusion isn’t the problem, but actually people not being accustomed to having a diverse population?
NJ: I think that this might be controversial, but I think that we, as people from ethnic backgrounds, are equally responsible for the fact that we don’t have diverse spaces.
There is a limited space for us, so we try to fight and assimilate. Then when we get there, we feel very much like it’s not a problem anymore because we’re here. If everyone did what we did, we could be here. I would love to be in a space where it’s not a conversation, where we’re not putting the spotlight on people with different abilities and different backgrounds.
I would love to be in a space where that is true. I really think that we’re responsible for a lot of our own unconscious biases and the struggle. When we have conversations with my siblings and my family, the culture shock that we’ve come through, all the microaggressions that we face every single day, we really internalise that.
People talk about still seeking to please other people, still putting that mask on and I think I do that. I think I’m doing that right now. I’ve introduced myself to the other panelists here and not said my name correctly, because I’m putting on that mask. I think it is uncomfortable. Lean into the discomfort because there is a pipeline of young people from other backgrounds that need us to do that.
How do you recruit a diverse workforce, particularly across religion, gender and disability, while not overstepping personal privacy issues during the process?
DB: The processes that we have in place at BP are designed to remove bias all the way through. We have very different people who do the screening. We have one group of people who will do the first round of interviews, and we have a different group of people who do the second round of interviews and often the decider will be someone else. We try to remove a lot of the biases that exist through that.
You get through the recruitment process and you offer the job to somebody and then it’s almost like the proof is in the pudding when they turn up at work and they start to reveal and share with themselves and people see this extra lens of diversity they bring, whatever it is. People around you start to see this is how we do things here. I think that’s what’s really important.
Talk about it, if that’s what’s appropriate with the individuals. You’ve got to have good processes and policies. You’ve got to walk the talk. It shows up in who you recruit. When someone’s done it wrong, you’ve got to point it out, you’ve got to knock it down, and learn from it. Because if you don’t, then people know that you say one thing and you do another.
What is the most difficult part of implementing a diversity and inclusion program?
AA: Ensuring that you’ve got the support systems there. It’s all well and good bringing diversity into the business, but you can’t just leave it at that. It’s just the beginning really. It’s about making sure that the supports are there and that’s throughout the business, throughout the team.
I think before that can become successful, it needs to be something that is talked about within the team. It’s part of the culture that you’re open and supportive and that everyone feels listened to, so they will share their thoughts and opinions and really open up and support anyone new coming into the team.
How do we overcome unconscious bias when recruiting so we avoid employing carbon copies of our own selves?
NR: Some of it starts with self awareness. For example, when I recruited for our last data officer role, I elected not to go on the panel. I looked at others to come through because I knew for that particular role, the people who apply are often introverts and I’m an extrovert.
When I interview, I’m looking for warmth and connection and a little bit of spark. I’m looking for different things, but that wasn’t the right thing to be looking for in this particular role. I ended up having the final say, but I let the team manage the process for that. It starts with being self-aware because diversity is not just hiring another woman, or a person of another race.
Your unconscious bias means you want to hire someone a little bit like you. I think that starts with being aware of that. Be aware of that so that you can manage that process and make sure that you’re not just hiring somebody that you like. We’ve ended up hiring somebody who’s very different from me. But she’s absolutely awesome and she brings something really special to the team and I’m very glad that I made that call, to step back off.
I think that’s what needs to happen. Particularly if you’ve got a person in there that is charged with recruiting or you’re getting a recruitment agency to recruit on your behalf. I think you need to really be aware of that and then actively try not to hire people who are like you.
What are your thoughts about unconscious bias training for staff having the opposite effect of justifying biased behaviour?
DB: In doing unconscious bias training, a lot of it is about holding the mirror up to people and being self-aware. Getting people to acknowledge something that they do. There will be deep reasons why they have that view and why they do it.
For a lot of people, that is really scary, so they use that extra piece of knowledge now to almost turn it around and justify what they’re doing, saying, ‘We want that type of person because this is the challenge we’re facing.’ They’re even more justified in employing this person that’s actually a lot like them and everyone else who works here.
You do have to watch out. Strengths overdone can be the worst ones sometimes. However, for the majority of people who do, it is confronting when that mirror gets put up and you have to face what it is that makes you, you.
Fundamentally, we all know what is good about us and we all know what things we need to work on. I think we need to be more aware of that, especially when it comes to recruitment choices, but also in the way we lead others and the way we set people up for success.
If you’re going to be a leader in your organisation, you’ve really got to understand what your biases are and be able to challenge it and be authentic and lead with it. Those are the sorts of people that are going to be the next slot that will be sitting up here on this panel.
What is one key action point to take home from today?
DB: We’re all equal, but we’re not identical and it’s those differences that are special and we need to develop and nurture. Those are the ones that are going to make us successful in whatever careers or life we have.
The key there is, it’s about all of us. It’s not about the person sitting at the top or the board or the HR department. We’ve all got to take responsibility for this. My takeaway for you all is, it doesn’t matter what job you do, you’re all responsible for diversity and inclusion and the interactions you have.
What did you do this week that worked positively towards diversity and inclusion, and what can you do next week? I think it’s a shared challenge for all of us. It’s not just for leaders, it’s not just for boards, it’s not just HR.
AM: It’s no doubt a challenge, but I think it’s equally an opportunity for everybody in this room to actually have the courage to speak up about it then. If you’re an employer leading organisations, you also need to have the courage yourself to be open to new ways of doing things.
Diversify your own mindset around how to move forward as a cohesive organisation. Just have the courage to have those discussions and create a safe space for everybody to move forward as a collective.
NR: Get excited about it! Having diverse teams and different thoughts and different experiences and religions – that’s awesome. It’s so much more enjoyable and you learn so much as you go.
I would say don’t be afraid of it. We have to be actively aware of it, but don’t think of it as a chore. Really flip the script on it. Get excited about that. We’ve got a diverse nation and we’re growing and we’re younger and we’ve got more migrants. I think that’s exciting.
It is everybody’s responsibility to be more inclusive in the way that you approach and communicate with people. Hold your leaders to account and if you are a leader in your organisation, hold yourself to account and grow and build your culture. If you start with your values of being diverse and inclusive and you’re excited about it from the outset, it’s going to flow down into your organisation.
It can be difficult at times, but if you move past it and if you’ve got the right intent, that’s really awesome. I’d like everybody to look forward to a more diverse nation and more diverse industries and businesses.
AA: Self-awareness is really important. Knowing your own baseline of where you’re coming from and then taking responsibility for that. How can you change? How can you enable more honest conversations in your workforce?
NJ: I think the biggest thing is responsibility. After the March 15 attacks, the thing that really struck me was that it wasn’t a day or a couple of weeks. We had the world changed and everyone talked about it for a couple of weeks and then went back to their normal lives, but it’s not been normal.
All the things that you’ve learned here, don’t keep it in this room. Go out and talk about it. We need every single one of you to go and talk about it. Be a champion in your communities, workplaces, wherever you are. Keep talking about it, because this room has a lot of power to change it. Step into that, take responsibility for it and don’t forget about it.
Going back to the March 15 terrorist attacks, has there been any sort of fundamental shift or has it as it just gone quiet again?
NJ: There are people working in pockets and there’s lots of activity and there’s a lot more focus on the community. But in an everyday sense, I don’t think people realise what an impact it has had, what a shift it has had.
I’ve always been really open about my background. I hesitate to talk about it, because the fact that there’s been such a spotlight on it has allowed people to be really defensive about that and say, ‘do we actually want people from Muslim backgrounds here?’ It has been a really scary place to be.
When you’re not living it every day, when you hear stories or people do things, it strikes you really deeply. Personally, I think that’s very difficult to continue. So the thing that I would say is, be mindful that as a community, it hasn’t been a year.
It’s still very close and there’s so much for us to do, but so much that we want to do as a community to work together. There is so much heart and there is so much hope.