Greater diversity is good business, writes Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie

Diversity is a journey, not a destination. New Zealand businesses have already come a long way, from simply acknowledging we have become a diverse society to truly embracing diversity in the workplace.

Now our goal is to move to the next stage, where diversity and inclusion are embedded in our company culture.

Having a diverse workforce is an important first step, but inclusion is the element of the equation that allows businesses to actually benefit from that diversity. Putting this at the heart of everything we do ensures business gains such as better recruitment and retention, more engaged staff who are more engaged and improved productivity.

The 2016 Diversity Awards NZ, announced on Wednesday night, provided a great opportunity to learn from the organisations championing diversity and inclusion as one of the tools of economic success. Here are some of the lessons from those businesses.


Gender diversity brings bottom-line benefits

Gender diversity is still a significant issue for some sectors and addressing it has been proven to increase economic success. A great start is innovative and targeted recruitment campaigns, as evidenced by the transformation the New Zealand Police have led in this area.

But organisations must back that up with initiatives to help women develop and progress their careers, and provide forward-thinking approaches to work-life balance, so they retain and grow the staff they worked so hard to recruit.

Unconscious bias is the enemy

Unconscious bias will subtly undermine the hours organisations invest in developing an inclusive culture. Companies leading the way in mitigating this factor are investing in customised staff training and initiatives such as blind recruitment campaigns.

But unconscious bias is complex and only robust programmes based on accepted neuroscience will give good results, so get expert advice.

Make technology work for your workforce

Technology is changing the way we work, and organisations need to use the latest technical developments to adopt creative approaches to workplace flexibility, to ensure they increase productivity, retain their top people and have an edge in today's war for the best talent.

Diversity committees add value

Increasingly, organisations are realising the value of diversity and inclusion committees or councils to lead change, advocate and help implement a range of initiatives. For these to be effective, committees must recruit members with a variety of skills, backgrounds and knowledge, rather than just those with a passion for culture change.

A clear diversity strategy and support from senior leadership is also essential.

Education is not just for schools

One of the impacts of a more diverse workforce is a greater need for literacy training programmes.

Research shows us that about 40 per cent of the New Zealand workforce lacks the numeracy and literacy skills needed to be effective in their jobs.

Implementing a literacy programme can have a range of positive benefits: staff feel more confident to contribute actively in meetings; there is better understanding of written documents and health and safety procedures; more accurate reporting; less absenteeism and a decrease in workplace accidents.

Another benefit is that participants are often better able to cope in their wider family and community lives. Investing in these programmes has returned big dividends for companies such as Silver Fern Farms and API Consumer Brands.

Make a start

For the first time this year, the Diversity Awards NZ celebrated milestone achievements by organisations that have recently embarked on their diversity and inclusion journeys.

Entrants into the new Emerging Diversity and Inclusion category recognised that the only way to be better through diversity was to take those important first steps.

But some businesses, overwhelmed by the demands of day-to-day operations, have ignored the long-term potential of changing workplace culture. Don't wait until you think you have all the solutions. Addressing sensitive issues relating to diversity and inclusion requires courageous conversations, however the risk of not doing so can be greater, so get started now.

Lead the way

Real change can only occur when it comes from the top. Inclusive leadership is reflected in the decisions leaders make, the values they model and the behaviours they reward.

Leaders of the future will be making diversity and inclusion a priority.

Rewarding diversity - Diversity Awards 2016

Supreme Award: NZ Police
Tomorrow's Workforce Award: The Mind Lab by Unitec
Empowerment Award: NZ Police
Skills Highway Award: Silver Fern Farms
Positive Inclusion Award: ASB Bank
Cultural Celebration Award: Unitec Institute of Technology
Diversability Award: Hell Pizza
Work Life Balance Award: Te Wananga o Aotearoa
Walk the Talk Award: Frances Valintine, The Mind Lab by Unitec
Emerging Diversity and Inclusion Award: Downer NZ