A diverse workplace can lead to a stronger business performance, but many workplaces are lagging behind.

Only 20 per cent of senior management and 17 per cent of board members of listed companies in New Zealand are women, according to Miranda Burdon, CEO of Global Women.

"We have a real chance to be a world leader in diversity in gender equality, but we need to make a conscious commitment to lead the change", says Miranda Burdon.

"It's time to change our workplace practices if we want to reap the benefits of diversity."

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Improving diversity is not just for the politically-minded. Closing the gender pay gap would boost our GDP by 10 per cent, predicts Goldman Sachs.

Similarly, companies in the top quartile of ethnic diversity are 35 per cent more likely to financially outperform their industry, according to a study by McKinsey & Company.

Companies that embrace diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their business statistically outperform their peers, according to a Deloitte two-year study.

Many New Zealand organisations have embraced staff diversity in terms of gender, age, religion, sexuality, ethnicity, disability, and education for organisational success.

Leading healthcare provider Bupa holds a regular cultural day for employees to share culture and customs. This has improved the care of its residents through greater understanding of their varied cultural needs.

New Zealand Police initiatives to recruit, retain and promote female officers have improved representation of the community they serve. A recruitment campaign aimed at women, including targeted advertising and the Women in Blue reality TV series, contributed to a 36 per cent increase in female recruits.

How can we improve diversity?

If we are to champion change, we must create opportunities for diversity within our organisations, particularly around promotions.

Organisations like Diversity Works NZ can create a customised strategy on how to maximise the benefits of inclusion. According to the CEO Bev Cassidy-McKenzie, the first step is to understand what diversity and inclusion means in the context of New Zealand and your workplace.

"Understand the diversity of your community and the workforce talent pool you draw from. This will differ within each region and city."

If you want to improve diversity in the workplace, follow these tips:

• Mitigate unconscious bias

Unconscious bias is where we are unaware of our inbuilt preferences and how these preferences influence our decision-making. Learning how to overcome unconscious bias can lead to better decisions around recruitment and promotions. It can improve working relationships, and promote diversity.

• Encourage flexibility

Flexible work practices provide staff with the opportunity to balance work with personal commitments. Flexible work includes job shares, working part time or remote work. Creating effective flexible working practices improves productivity, and allows staff with personal commitments to progress their careers towards promotion.
• Track diversity

Determine any gaps in your workforce by tracking diversity. Tracking diversity works best if it is championed by the CEO at board level, with accountability of diversity metrics. Clear reporting to the board is crucial because what gets measured gets done.