Businesses can no longer afford to ignore diversity and inclusion in the workplace if they want to stay ahead of their peers.

Ziena Jalil, consulting partner at SenateSHJ and keynote speaker for PwC Herald Talks' upcoming event Leading Diversity and Inclusion, said businesses are waking up to the fact that diversity and inclusion isn't just about doing what's right, but that it also makes a lot of business sense.

"Diversity provides many benefits – including its ability to drive innovation, creativity and empathy, improve productivity and ultimately profitability.

"Organisations which embrace diversity and inclusion have more engaged staff who draw on the talents, skills and experiences of everyone on the team.

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"These organisations have great employer brands - which impacts their ability to attract and retain talent."

Jalil said several international studies have shown that diverse organisations outperform their peers both financially and reputational.

But businesses and leaders only benefit if they actually engage with the diversity in their organisations, she said.

"Having diversity isn't enough if the people in an organisation don't feel welcome, respected and valued.

"Businesses spend a lot of time and money on understanding their customers. If only, the same level of attention was paid to understanding staff – the returns would be much greater."

Ziena Jalil, keynote speaker for PwC Herald Talks' upcoming event Leading Diversity and Inclusion. Photo / Supplied
Ziena Jalil, keynote speaker for PwC Herald Talks' upcoming event Leading Diversity and Inclusion. Photo / Supplied

Equally important is that diversity is represented throughout a company from the top down.

"What's really important in this conversation is to look at whether organisational leadership and governance represents diversity.

"It's often said you can't be what you can't see – and for many people in our workplaces – the role models who look like them, or who have similar backgrounds – socially, culturally, economically – just aren't there."

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Jalil said diversity and inclusion is becoming more important as our societies change.

But while New Zealand's diverse and multicultural landscape continues to change and influence the workplace, Jalil questions how much of this is actually from targeted initiatives of businesses and their leaders.

"Our workplaces are becoming incredibly diverse – but I would suggest that's a result largely of population changes rather than targeted initiatives to increase diversity."

In the area of gender, Jalil notes that fewer than one in four directors of New Zealand's top 100 companies are women. And at senior management level only four of the CEOs running the NZX's top 100 are women.

"I'd say we have made some progress in this area but we still have a way to go."

PwC Herald Talks - Leading Diversity and Inclusion
Wednesday 24 July, 7-9am
Victory Convention Centre, 98 Beaumont St, Freemans Bay, Auckland