Diversity and inclusion should be strategic cornerstones for any company in the infrastructure and construction industry in Aotearoa New Zealand.
They contribute to evolving and shaping the culture of the sector and how work and external relationships can be connected.
The industry has been facing significant challenges in the last few years: how to increase diversity in the workforce and leadership teams; attract employees in a competitive market; and how to drive the understanding of the value that comes from including different cultures, gender and lifestyles, in the workplace. To address these challenges, leaders in the sectors have been coming up with various initiatives.
Last year, one of Downer's initiatives was working towards achieving the Rainbow Tick Accreditation which they received this month.
The "Own Different" campaign was introduced to build awareness, inclusion and celebration of the diversity within the organisation. Being able to be your truly authentic self is a reason why I am still here after almost nine years.
We have so many talented people who are happy to share their knowledge and expertise, but who also embrace you for being you.
It isn't perfect everywhere, but the sector is starting to see the ripple effect of these initiatives. It requires strong leadership to say — "we think things need to change, how can we do that?"
The successful introduction of a campaign like "Own Different" has only been possible because the focus has been put on diversity and inclusion in the sector in the past few years. This is driven by the strategic intent to concentrate first on ensuring inclusion and equitable opportunities for Māori as Tangata Whenua and creating a culture where difference is communicated, celebrated, and included.
This also means working in diverse communities across the country and acknowledging the special place that Māori hold in Aotearoa.
The infrastructure workforce should reflect local communities and values associated with socially responsible organisations.
There needs to be strong advocacy of diversity and inclusion and that this should come from the top and embedded within the organisational culture.
We are making sure that this is evidenced through the consistent executive sponsorship, which is also reflected in recruitment messaging, education and awareness strategies, role modelling, our leadership and development programmes and the standards of business conduct.
A diverse team of workers on the tools is great but it's not the whole picture. True diversity means inclusivity at all levels.
Leaders across organisations should be held accountable for their commitment to diversity and inclusion through behavioural indicators in their individual performance reviews and through analysis and sharing of the outcomes from employee surveys for their area of responsibility and the company overall.
Recognising that Māori comprise 24 per cent of our workforce and as an enabler of our strategic intent, our journey has included developing 11 Māori development and leadership initiatives that together provide a proven growth and opportunity pathway.
The pathway ranges from rangatahi still in school to gain a class 1 drivers licence; Whakatipu Tētēkura that provides training and transition support into employment at Downer for rangatahi; Te Whanake Timatanga for qualifications; Te Whanake ki te Ora for employment and maintaining abstinence from drugs; Te Ara Whanake, which has a focus on accelerating Māori leadership development to attain senior positions; Te Ara Whanake Wāhine Toa to strengthen wāhine leadership; and our latest initiative, Te Ara Hou, for Māori facing employment and community reintegration challenges on release from custodial sentences.
We also have Te Ara Māramatanga, a 24-hour immersion marae-based experience for non-Māori — a programme that we developed to provide our senior managers with a brief insight and understanding of Te Ao Māori.
We have had 139 people through this programme right across the business — the feedback is profound, and for some, it has changed their life views and perspective. Isn't that what we all want — for people to understand the difference we bring to our work and communities?
To be successful in delivering a sustainable positive impact on communities, partnerships and relationships are paramount. By working collaboratively with the Ministry of Social Development, Te Puni Kōkiri and the Department of Corrections, we are helping provide training, employment, and pastoral care to people in local communities that need it the most. It is even more powerful if partnerships extend throughout the supply chain and the customers.
To make a difference, it takes passionate and authentic people who are keen to together solve the industry's skills and labour shortage.
Being authentic is a key value, and one of the most important factors for success is that initiatives must be genuine and connected to business strategy and values. Diversity and inclusivity aren't boxes to tick, but at the heart of who we should strive to be.
It also endeavours to break cycles and uplift people to their potential. An example is a single mother of five, who has worked tirelessly across three jobs to support her family.
She saw one of our Ready-Road programmes advertised and thought, why not? She started in our traffic management department and in the past 18 months since graduating from the programme, she has become the region's site traffic management supervisor. She will be completing our Te Ara Whanake Wahine Toa course in early 2022 to develop her leadership skills further.
Two of her five children have also started working at Downer. This is a definite " why I come to work every day".
As various initiatives become embedded within the industry, the overall culture has started to change to one where people are proud that their workplace values better align with those of Māori communities. For some companies like Downer, Māori protocols and practices have become part of everyday business as usual.
We have a great reputation within the employment market for promoting diversity and inclusion within a workplace environment that facilitates and celebrates this. We recognise we have some challenges ahead as an industry, but by putting a diversity lens over everything we do, we are starting to see substantial change. Looking to the future, what else can we do to deliver to the broader outcomes of Aotearoa? Could we take what we are doing in Māori programmes, adapt, develop and redesign these for Pasifika people? Through our programmes, I hope we can address the inequities that face Pasifika people and see the same success as our Māori programmes have had within their whanau, work lives, and communities.
• Megan McNay is National Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at Downer.
DownerNZ is a sponsor of the Herald's Infrastructure report.