•Gabriel Makhlouf is Secretary to the Treasury.

This morning in Auckland, chief executives representing some of New Zealand's largest companies will attend a "champions for change" summit. Co-chaired by Dame Jenny Shipley and Anthony Healy, "champions for change" are committed to raising the value of diversity and inclusion.

Why would business leaders responsible for running busy companies give up their valuable time to do this?

One of the reasons - and it's one that's particularly close to my heart, concerns diversity of thought. For the Treasury, diversity of thought makes us stronger as an organisation, gives us the capacity for deeper insights and makes us more resilient. I believe the same applies to businesses and organisations of all shapes and sizes.

The Treasury cares about diversity because its job is to help ministers manage the country's economic and financial affairs. That means understanding the present but also being as clear as we can be about the future and anticipating the opportunities, risks and challenges that may arise.


If we want to be a world-leading economics and finance ministry, we can't afford to think the way we've always thought. Simply deciding "we'll think differently" or "we'll be open to new ideas" isn't enough.

Achieving diversity of thought is easier said than done. The way we think reflects who we are, what our parents did, how we've been educated and what we've experienced. We are shaped by our whakapapa.

My roots are broadly in the Eastern Mediterranean. Both sets of my grandparents migrated twice (including as refugees). My father joined the United Nations Development Programme and I spent my early childhood in Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

I've been British all my life but spoke Greek and French before I spoke English and went to school in Samoa before I set foot in the UK. I guess I've got a more diverse background than many people. But I know that my education and my UK civil service career means I am a particular "type", that I think in a particular way, that I have my own set of "priors". Of course I do.

The more homogeneous a group of people, the greater the risk that they will think the same way, reinforce each other's views, develop "groupthink" and they won't spot opportunities or risks.

So diversity matters. Gender diversity and inclusion clearly helps organisations make the most of the talent they have. Adding ethnicity to the mix clearly broadens experience and perspectives.

In today's world that matters more than ever. Change is happening faster than ever, in the world and in New Zealand. Technology, digitisation, the growth of Asia, the speed (and volume) of communications, migration patterns, the ageing of the population, the changing structure of families, the growth of the Maori economy, financial constraints on governments and more.

Wouldn't we be more effective if we understood the biggest picture, the broadest context? Wouldn't we be stronger if we were open to greater diversity of thought? Would it not enhance our problem-solving skills? Wouldn't it make us more effective as individuals and as teams?

Organisations should be full of people who are proud of their whakapapa, who appreciate what they've learned but also recognise that there is more to learn from each other and from the wider world. As individuals we need to learn from our history and our experiences, not be trapped by them.

Having people with different skills and experiences in the Treasury rather than out of it helps us feel confident as an organisation that we're putting the widest possible views into our analysis and advice. I see value in all organisations adopting such a mind-set.


For the Treasury, we don't have a choice of whether we want greater diversity of thought, or whether our approach to new ideas should be inclusive. If we are not, the world will change around us and we'll become less influential. That's not a world-leading economics and finance ministry. Mediocrity isn't what I aspire to.

Diversity of thought helps us understand new challenges, work at pace, spot (and seize) new opportunities and cope with change. It helps us understand and respond faster. It stops us from ossifying, keeps us fresh, make us more relevant, more influential and more successful.

So whether you're in business, a community group, local or central government, our collective challenge must be to create a culture where diversity of thought is encouraged, where it can flourish and is harnessed to make a real difference for New Zealanders.