Mai Chen
Public and employment law specialist Mai Chen on current events

Mai Chen: Diversity changing what it means to be a New Zealander

New Colmar Brunton research reports that a "new modern New Zealander is starting to emerge", driven by both our changing cultural mix and our need to adapt to the changing world.
Image / iStock
Image / iStock

I was interested to see the Forecast Insights research published last night by TVNZ on what is NZ-ness and whether it is changing.

As our culture becomes more diverse, some of our traditional characteristics are likely to become less dominant, while others will come more to the fore. For example, on average new NZers value religion more than those born in NZ, and the definition of work/life balance means different things. For a Kiwi it might be five days a week, in contrast to some born overseas, where it may be getting one day off a week. Kiwis born in NZ rank access to water and natural landscapes top of what they love about NZ along with our clean and green environment and our outdoor lifestyle and sports.

New Zealand-ness is evolving and we are becoming global citizens, more outward focused, confident, and professional, innovative and entrepreneurial while retaining our openness and tolerance.

More people identify as a New Zealander than as a "Kiwi", with the latter term associated with being born in NZ.

The research concludes that "using the term 'Kiwi' potentially limits connection with a significant group of New Zealanders."

Ultimately 65 per cent of those surveyed agree that the new mix of cultures is just part of our lives now - they don't really think about it. Overall NZers feel that different cultures contribute slightly more than they take away from NZ.

Colmar Brunton's research illustrates the ways in which those shifts have changed the context for marketers, but the context has really changed for everyone in New Zealand - for businesses, for central and local government, for charities and other NGOs, for schools and other educational institutions, and our neighbours and communities. In short, anyone who needs to understand values and how they drive behaviour.

We are all being changed by superdiversity and we need to understand what that means for us, and how we are evolving, or we may get left behind.

The research confirms the findings of the cultural and ethnic shift described in the Superdiversity Stocktake: Implications for Business, Government and NZ that I published through the Superdiversity Centre last November. New Zealand is now ethnically and culturally superdiverse, especially in Auckland, and that superdiversity is already changing attitudes, perceptions and behaviours as to what it means to be a New Zealander and what are 'New Zealand values'.

So my take outs are that we need to be clear about what NZ's core and flex are when it comes to values and culture. That is, what values go the heart of being a New Zealander (many of which will be things that attract migrants here) and what values are we ultimately flexible on to accommodate other cultures.

We don't want to lose what we have - we want other cultures to add to the richness. Understanding our own culture is the first step in understanding the culture of others and developing what is known as 'cultural intelligence' or CQ.

A World Economic Forum report found that this is one of the sixteen key 21st century skills and we all need to grow our cultural capability if New Zealand is going to succeed.

What the Superdiversity Centre is finding in its work with business, schools and government organisations is that most organisations have low to medium levels of cultural capability, and a real hunger to grow that capability once they know how to do it.

Dealing with Maori and Pasifika has helped pakeha New Zealand to develop cultural capability, but even so, there are significant gaps in Maori language and cultural skills in most organisations. Moreover, knowledge of Asian languages, cultures, customs and societies is relatively low across most organisations, and not enough is being done to draw on the cultural experience of Asian staff to build Asia capability across our business, schools, public sector and NGOs.

The discussions at the Response to the Superdiversity Stocktake Forum, recorded in the Superdiversity Centre's recently released CQ Stocktake: Developing Cultural Capability to Succeed in New Zealand, found that cultural capability is simultaneously a skills set, a set of experiences, an attitude and ultimately a journey requiring constant evaluation and re-evaluation.

New Zealand is fortunate in that Auckland is a relatively compact city but also the fourth most superdiverse in the world in terms of incoming migrants. It is something of a "consumer laboratory" in which the consumption habits of the changing world can be tested, and the approaches pioneered. But Auckland became superdiverse by accident, so it is important that our response is deliberate, and we keep asking questions like "How am I currently responding to the changing needs of my customers, constituents, or stakeholders?"

Answers to those questions will vary across organisations, and they should. But in 2016, failing to think about how to grow your own cultural capability is simply planning to fail.

Mai Chen is chair of Superdiversity Centre for Law, Policy and Business, and a Top 50 Diversity Figure in Public Life in the Global Diversity List 2016.

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