The Biggest Hurdle For The 2020 Workplace & How To Solve It

Lively discussion filled the foyer as the guests of our first Journey To Excellence forum chatted with colleagues and other guests in anticipation of the start of the event. Behind a few hefty doors was the Great Room at the Cordis Hotel, which was about to play host to the buzzing panel conversation, engaging keynotes, and occasional bursts of laughter from the 500 attendees.

Photography by Journey Pictures

The event got underway with after a warm welcome from our effervescent mediator, Mel Homer. During her introduction, she opened up about the gender discrimination that she had faced during her career in the radio industry, where just a few years ago they would not allow two women to host back to back. She then shifted the focus onto the attendees, asking the room if anyone had ever experienced roadblocks in their career due to discrimination. 70 percent of the room raised their hands, and fortunately, they were in the right place, as the aim of the forum was to cultivate discussion resulting in takeaways that they could take back to their workplaces.

The first keynote speaker of the day, Dr. Kaisa Wilson, who is a Diversity and Inclusion practitioner and the Director of The Gender Tick, outlined three implementable steps to get rid of gender equality in the workplace. In a broad sense, society influences our companies and us, but it also works conversely with us and the companies we make up influencing society. If we zoom into the context of a company, there are steps that we can take to find and resolve inequality. Dr. Kaisa used the medical analogy: diagnose, treat and immunise.

The first step, diagnose, is used to build a picture with data, as inequalities in society can often be reflected in companies. She suggested that unequal relations aren’t always immediately visible and to start looking for them in the areas of recruitment, pay, harassment, turnover, culture, development, leadership and work flexibility. Using an example of a fuel company, Dr. Kaisa demonstrated that the issue was not always in recruitment, as a lot of companies assume. In the fuel company, there was a large turnover problem, meaning women that entered the company did not elect to stay for very long. In this case, increasing the recruitment of female engineers would not impact the core of the issue. After conducting company interviews and focus groups, they found that work uniforms and gender harassment were causes of this turnover and were able to address it via having alternative uniform options that catered better to women and addressing the harassment that was being experienced. This resulted in women being retained in the company for longer periods of time as they felt visible and catered to.

The second step, treat, is to use a method called gender mainstreaming. It was first proposed at a conference in 1995, but has since been applied in many areas around the globe. Gender mainstreaming means to take a look at policies with a gendered view and understand that different policies are going to impact staff differently. So far in New Zealand, organisations that help implement this are mostly focused on government agencies, but online resources on can help you get started.

The third step, immunise, is to strategise against expected backlash from steps one and two and the implementation of changes. According to Dr. Kaisa, organisations struggle with this, but it is important to have a plan in place to ensure that changes that are made are successful and last. Backlash can present itself in a variety of ways including refusal to participate, trivialising complaints, coming up with reasons to justify inequality and hostility. Although it may be hard to change everyone’s minds, Dr Kaisa says that it’s important to enforce actions and behaviours in the workplace, while having all the executives understand that the goal in mind is one of fairness.

“You are making the changes because it is the right and the fair thing to do.”

The final bonus tip that Dr. Kaisa gave us was to provide free sanitary products in workspace restrooms. She recommends it as a small yet vital step to make sure that the different needs of your employees are met. When she asked the attendees which of their workplaces provided this already, only three hands went up, meaning that most of us can make a quick and meaningful change to our workspaces.

The second keynote speaker of the day, Kristin Harper, Director of Harper Consultancy, talked to us about how to negotiate for what you want. Kristin first provided us with some information about his background in sales, starting off with an entertaining anecdote about his first experiences in sales and cold calling. While he is past his days of awkwardly asking if companies need new printers, he now has 15 years of sales experience and asked attendees to get a pen and paper.

“ And write these three words down, energy, transparency and authenticity.”

He acknowledged that while they were not words frequently associated with negotiation or sales, he has found them important in building his own business.

The first word, energy, is to do with the spirit and liveliness that you carry into a negotiation. Kristin stated that mindset matters immensely as it contributes to how you present yourself.
“…body language accounts for 55 percent of nonverbal communication. What you say and how you say it accounts for 35 percent and the words that you actually say account for 8 percent. So be very mindful of your body language and the energy that you bring to in a negotiation.”

The second word, transparency, is about being upfront and honest. We are now in a world where buyers are increasingly educated and can research both you and your competition. Kristin advocates for being transparent whilst working towards a win-win scenario in order to bring value to both parties in a negotiation or sale.

“ It’s about stating your intentions and why you’re there. Because generally when you’re in a negotiation, it’s a two way thing, right? So if you’re having a discussion, this is what I’d like you to get out of it and this is what I want to get out of it. It releases that pressure.”

The third word, authenticity, was something he learned through marketing himself to build up Harper Consultancy. He found that people were attracted to authentic presentations of their lives and that it is incredibly important to anyone looking for opportunities.

“It’s about knowing your strengths, owning your weaknesses… being passionate about what you do … not only about what you do, but why you doing it. “

Kristin also advocated for everyone to embrace different facets of their identities, including their heritage. He concluded his keynote with an applicable piece of advice: to ask a family member or colleague tomorrow to rate your energy, transparency and authenticity to find areas for improvement.

Keynote Speaker
Dr. Kaisa Wilson

Diversity and Inclusion Practitioner, Director of The Gender Tick

Having worked with some of the world’s leading institutions for the resolution of gender issues globally, such as the WHO, The World Bank and Save the Children International, Kaisa is recognised as a leader in the field of gender equality. She is both a brilliant academic, earning her PhD in Psychology from Edinburgh University, studying belonging and identity, as well as a successful practitioner, applying her knowledge to creating programs and certifications that further the cause of gender equality.

Keynote Speaker
Kristin Harper

Director of Harper Consultancy

With a 15 year career in sales, Kristin has generated millions of dollars in revenue and gained a 55 percent market share in his industry. Kristin’s story exemplifies the difference that self-motivation can make, starting his sales career going door to door selling printers and fax machines, ultimately making him a consistently top sales rep in New Zealand. Kristin’s business, Harper Consultancy, came about because of his passion for sales and interest in helping people and sales teams grow with customer-centric approaches.

Nicola O’Rourke

General Manager of Lewis Road Creamery

Nicola has over 15 years of experience in the New Zealand Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industry. Over the course of her career, she has launched over 80 products and garnered experience in the areas of marketing, sales, product development and operations. She has most recently been appointed as the Chairman of the Food Basket Board, an innovative coalition that is bringing together a number of NZ Food & Beverage businesses (including Fonterra, Sealord Group and Zealong Tea) to work together to take on the China market by marketing and selling under a collective brand.

Danu Abeysuriya

CTO and Founder of RUSH Digital

Danu founded RUSH Digital back in 2010 and has since led its technology teams in developing world-first solutions for global companies such as Microsoft, Disney, Google, Samsung and Nokia, as well as local brands such as Spark, The University of Auckland and The Starship Foundation – just to name a few. Danu’s commitment to innovation and pushing boundaries of human-centric experience design is at the heart of what they do at RUSH. In his own team, Danu has strived to create a progressive culture that attracts and keeps top engineering talent.

Sarah Archer

Diversity and Inclusion Manager at Air New Zealand

In her eight years with Air New Zealand, Sarah has held the a wide variety of roles including Regional Operations of Auckland and Christchurch, Manager of Tandem Travel, Long-haul Cabin Crew Manager, Pilot Enablement Manager, as well as her current role as acting Diversity and Inclusion Manager. During her career, Sarah has worked outside of the travel and tourism industry in education.

Panel Mediator
Mel Homer

New Zealand radio and television presenter

Mel currently co-hosts Three’s ‘The Cafe’ and is the co-host of Coast FM’s ‘Drive with Mel Homer and JT’. Mel’s experience in the radio industry spans decades and has previously worked for Newstalk ZB and The Hits. She also spent a few years in the early 2000s working at Radio Television Hong Kong.


Sarah: In terms of my experience and why I’m here today in Diversity and Inclusion (D&I), the focus for me is in terms of the workplace culture. If we think about the hurdles around diversity and inclusion in the workplace, I think we tend to overcomplicate it. We don’t start effecting change or doing things about it because we make it a bigger problem than it actually needs to be.
When I think about New Zealand in terms of our society, I think we have quite a few small to medium size enterprises in New Zealand. For an organisation, such as Air New Zealand, having that financial investment and the resource in terms of making improvements in our workplace culture in D&I is potentially easier.

I think that that’s also a problem that we need to address. I think the other thing around this is sharing the problem. Since my time in the role, I’ve been advocating for sharing with external organisations and putting aside competitiveness and focusing on the overall good. It’s a little bit like wellbeing and health and safety, it advantages everybody. We just need a forum to be able to do that.

Danu: That’s really well said. I think culture is absolutely crucial to your organisation’s total success. The whole culture matters and it’s an important pillar. I think we’re just behind the eight ball in general as a society on gender equality and general diversity, not only in race, but also life experience and age.

One thing that I think a lot of organisations could really benefit from is eliminating unconscious bias. I operate on a belief system that people are mostly good and your environment and your life experience dictates what you know to be true and if you’ve experienced something, it’s a lot easier for you to accept that it’s correct when it’s put in front of you.

Mel: But how do you eliminate unconscious bias?

Danu: There’s a whole bunch of strategies that you’re going to apply, such as eliminating names from CVs when you’re going through the filtering process.

I had the opposite situation where we were getting too many female candidates. We were getting 70-80 percent female candidates for a role that should really be 50/50. Instead of that cop-out answer where people go, “we just hire the best person for the job”, which I think is just a weak answer, I approached it with the hiring manager as, “Hey, statistically you’re lowering your odds of hiring the right person because your funnel doesn’t equally represent the population group that you’re selecting from. The world is 50/50, and you’re hiring at 80/20, which means that you’re leaving a huge population group out of the ability to be checked in your hiring process.”

The thing that I asked the hiring manager to do in that case was just make sure your funnel is getting 50/50, that way the rest is up to her in terms of hiring. Measures like taking the name off a CV while you’re going through that filter process can actually help.

One interesting scenario that happened to me was I was negotiating an advanced engineering role. All of the candidates had been male, then I had a female candidate who was really well suited. The salary bracket that I was negotiating was probably the $160-170k range and all of the male candidates were already sitting in that range. I opened the batting with the female candidate and she was completely outside of the bracket. She was expecting me to go down and I went up by 40 grand.

We met all of our objectives and we hired a top senior position that was a female. It was a big, big win for us. But after that meeting, I realised everyone was hiring off anecdotal data. What I did was I made sure that I talked to my Head of People and said from now on, every final offer has to go to go through and we only hire on the male curve because it is higher for all jobs in tech.

Nicola: I’m going to pick up on the unconscious bias. I think one of the really important things is looking at your recruitment process. What I certainly see a lot in industries is that we’re not challenging our recruiting companies and we’re not looking at it in a different way to say, “Show me more, show me different.” There’s a German case study where they said if you had a German name, you had a 17 percent chance, but if you had a Turkish name, you had two percent chance of getting the job.

Another good example is a symphonic orchestra in the US in the 70s decided that they were sick of having all males and they did blind auditions and suddenly found that they had a 45 percent increase in female candidates winning these roles.

There’s a great company called GapJumpers, which we use a little bit and they’re doing some really progressive stuff to help you remove unconscious bias through the recruiting process. It’s very easy sometimes to go, “Oh, I know so-and-so who knows so-and-so, who knows so-and-so, who’s really good”. And then you end up surrounding yourself with a whole lot more similar people in similar positions.

We have to work really hard, especially in a smaller population. Sometimes when we talk about this one or two degrees of separation, we need to just broaden our circle. It might feel harder to do it because it takes more time, but I think you end up with a much higher quality result.


Sarah: Diverse. We have talked a lot about diversity here today, but for me it’s actually around inclusion. Diversity is obsolete without inclusion. I’d like to see it in our workplaces and the future.
In terms of my aspirations, there shouldn’t necessarily be roles such as myself. As a D&I manager, we should all have that responsibility. We should all work in an environment where we have equitable opportunity which looks different to equal opportunity.

Everybody should be valued for the differences that they bring to the table and everybody’s voices should be heard. We hear that and it’s about putting that into practice. I think statistically, we know that the next generation is coming through.

The future of work is as a real big focus for a lot of organisations and how we change the way that we do things in terms of that generation and that age. One of the things for me would be about bringing more cultural practices and protocols and customs within our workplace and bringing those values to the table.

The other one for me would be around accessibility. I think we’ve got a really long way to go in that space. A lot of organisations might think that they’re set up to have people with disabilities within their workplace. In actual fact, it’s only 47 percent, which is our disability employment gap. A lot of organisations just don’t have the resources or the facilities and in the setup for it at all.

Nicola: For me, it’s about building it in to our organisations and how we recruit. It’s about spending more time on the softer skills in what we’re looking for in people.

I was doing a board skills session the other day and all of the work was around technical skills. I was like “Hold on a minute. Yes, we want people who are capable, but if they’re applying for a board, most of them probably are technically capable. Where’s the soft stuff? Where’s the behavioral skills? Where’s their ability to show how good they are at pulling diversity out in the workplace? At building capable teams, how they influence others? What relationships are you bringing, what networks are bringing, where’s their proven history? Some of the stuff that’s going to govern these businesses forward for the next 20 or 30 years?”

That’s one thing that I think is really important and it’s what we should be moving to going forward


Sarah: I have two genetic children and I’ve got two step children. We’re having this conversation and my 13-year-old son was talking about all of his mates who were going to get an earring and my partner’s son pipes up and was like, “ Yeah, I wouldn’t talk to any of my mates if they’ve got an earring.” And I was like, “Why not? It’s not your ear, what’s the big deal?”

It’s that association that there’s something feminine about it. Even if there is something feminine about it, why is that derogatory, why is that a bad thing?

For those of you in the room who’ve got children, you know how the majority of schools do education around puberty changes. My inquiry was around when you were having this education and what are you doing, what content do you have to address those youth in the rainbow community?

It got some really defensive responses to it and wording around it being inappropriate. I was actually just gobsmacked. I can’t believe that our education system lets us down like that.
I believe there are some guidelines that sit with the ministry around involving their kind of content, but our schools aren’t regulated in terms of providing those talks and education. It’s up to them to create the content themselves and so they don’t. The majority of schools don’t pick it up.

The foundation of D&I is about respect, kindness, curiosity, being different and challenging the way we think and being curious about others.

Danu: I think it’s actually still really important to try and imprint on people that have already made their minds up.

I can’t even believe that I did this, but I had a family member who just didn’t believe in homosexuality. Their position was just completely not based on any fact. Hhe’s a family member, I love him as much as you can love family, but he’s an idiot.

I could do one of two things, I could react badly and make the guy shut down completely, or I could start a 10 year long campaign to educate the guy in the fact that it’s completely natural and two people getting married has nothing to do with you and it doesn’t affect you.

I started with Jurassic Park, because there’s that scene where the velociraptors changed sex because they only breed them as males. The dinosaurs find a way, nature finds a way. The point was I needed to start simple with this one family member.

I was watching Jurassic Park and when it came to that bit I was like, “Oh, would you look at that? Dinosaurs are reptiles and the change in sex is really normal.”

Then like over 10 years, nearly every time we would me, I would discuss the topic and bring out a little bit more information from another source.

One Christmas, I knew my job was done when I overheard him talking to one of the other uncles who had the same idea. And he said, “Actually, friend, it is natural. You should watch Jurassic Park”.

Nicola: I have a six year old and I’m very much about trying to continue face to face communication. We’re really passionate about keeping them off screens for as long as possible. But what we then found is we read a lot with them and you just turn to the school material and the school books he brings home – they’re all the same.

Despite the fact he’s got an incredibly diverse class and incredibly diverse year with fabulous group of people, all of which he’s great friends with, he’s still being fed around the periphery with white bread: the same stuff, the same pictures.

I was having a conversation with his teacher about it. She’s asking, “ what do I do?” I think that’s why it’s going to be so challenging for these kids who genuinely start out with no lens. They grow their influences in their environment and it’s really sad to see them change over time.

With kids, we’re just trying to protect them as much as possible and keep them in the vein that everyone’s the same and everyone’s got great ideas and we’re all here for a reason. We all have value and then try to keep out all the other influences.

Audience Q&A

What do you do If you have an employee who was a high performer that drives massive growth to the company who is also utterly misogynistic and doesn’t see gender equality as a good enough agenda?

Danu: Fire them.

Sarah: You shouldn’t have one without the other. Particularly if this person is in a leadership role. For me, it’s around workplace culture and your values and beliefs that you have within the organisation. You need to get on board with it and believe in it. And that’s it.

Nicola: There’s numerous studies that show that getting rid of that one person is going to raise up another 15-20 who could have been operating at 100 percent of their effectiveness instead of 50, because they’re being squashed by this individual. One person’s not a business.

Danu: I also think that in my experience, every time I’ve met someone who’s like that kind of individual, I don’t think you’re going to lose much from getting rid of that person.

There is something to be said about trying to change their mentality, but I’m assuming that that person has held that mentality and they haven’t responded to strategic references. You will lose nothing from firing them.

There have been studies which show that communities with higher diversity levels have lower levels of trust in each other. I believe diversity is still good overall, but how can we combat lower trust in one another as our communities and workplace get more diverse?

Sarah: My question around that would be, how authentic is that diversity? And how inclusive? There’s no point in diversity without inclusion. We can have a bunch of people around the table with different ethnicities and genders, but it’s about whether or not you’re including those people and people feel comfortable.

If you are comfortable and authentic, that drives trust. If you don’t have that element, then you potentially end up with that situation.

Danu: I think a seed of doubt can come from a lack of true empathy. Basically if someone goes and does something for you and comes back and reports that it’s been done and it hasn’t worked, you have to have a lot of trust in that person because you didn’t experience the doing yourself.

That’s where the trust comes in and cultural differences can play into a little bit of that misconception. So think a little bit more awareness [can help].

Nicola: I think trust is just an issue in general. In business, it’s probably less about diversity. Empathy and time are really the only two things that are going to resolve that. It just takes strong leadership to work through it and understand the team you’ve got.

Work with them to start to build trust. We work with our colleagues most of our lives, trust is integral to succeeding. It’s really hard, especially when most of us are making our livelihood off some of these relationships. I think it needs a lot of work, but it’s empathy and time.

Anonymous CVS actually take away from addressing the issue whether our pool is representative of the society. Society is not 50/50 male/female, so neither should the pool of candidates be.

Danu: I think what you’re trying to do is systemise to eliminate all the easy wins so that you can get to normalcy. The problem is we are starting on the back foot. We are behind the eight ball. If we were not behind the eight ball, we could do the normal things.

We actually have to put counter measures in place to be able to make up the ground in a scalable way. For example, if I just had a company full of me’s, I wouldn’t be so worried about the name on the CV and things like that.

For the record, RUSH doesn’t actually eliminate names from CVs. It’s just a strategy that has shown to work at scale. The solution has to work at scale. It’s not going to be perfect.
The really important thing is that it is not a permanent solution. It is the first step in gaining back the ground. Until we’re at the point where we’re fairly representing society and we’re really comfortable that everyone’s unconscious bias has been beaten out of them or just doesn’t exist, then we can live in a peacetime scenario.

But right now, I think we have to take measures that are not perfect.

Sarah: I’m actually not a fan of blind CV’s. I think if you have a target in place, you need to have a really structured plan of activity to support that target and to be aspirational in what you want to achieve.

If I have a team and I’m looking to increase female representation into a senior leadership team, I’m not going to do that by having blind CVs. I’m deliberately stacking the candidate pool in terms of whatever my objectives are to achieve the target.

I think we just need to be unapologetic about that. Kaisa talked about backlash earlier and you just need to accept that and and in some ways mitigate it, but actually just accept it and figure out how you’re going to deal with that and manage that. It’s a different conversation.

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