Downer's continued commitment to the Te Ara Whanake programme has seen it awarded the Deloitte Top 200 Diversity and Inclusion Leadership award this year.
The programme's aim is to enable Māori to rise through the ranks within the company and place them in key leadership roles.
The infrastructure and integrated facilities services group has shown strength in the undertaking of the initiative, with it growing year-on-year with proven results.
Downer's 12,000 strong workforce is comprised of over 24 per cent Māori, with some business units and locations as high as 38 per cent.
Downer has expressed its intent over the past five years to increase diversity throughout the company, setting out to "create an environment where Māori culture is recognised and celebrated" and reporting a "significant change in our Downer culture, from the executive team through to our front-line employees".
The programme, created in 2014 and partnered with Te Puni Kōkiri, has been the catalyst for firm-wide cultural awareness and competence which has "subsequently evolved through the development of several initiatives that have firmly established the company as a leader in this area".
A total of 197 Downer employees have completed the Te Ara Whanake programme and a further 97 nominations were received for this year's programme — with 66 employees scheduled to take part.
Downer's EGM people & culture Jan O'Neill says the programme is ultimately about "inclusive knowledge and understanding, so we can be better partners for iwi and be a better member of New Zealand society that reflects the whole diversity of New Zealand".
The Deloitte Top 200 judges were impressed with the approaches taken to get to this point using pilot schemes before implementing the tried and tested programmes into the greater workspace.
"It is clear Downer has good D&I capability, having started the initial pilot in 2014. Although the work uses 'tried and true' models, they have articulated how they've tested different approaches through pilots, before then moving to the next iteration or activity. This is how innovation works — you try something and either build on success or try something different. A progression is evident in this entry."
O'Neill says: "For us, to be recognised that we are that people-centric business, that wants to recognise and develop the whole person, that's very important to us, it's very core to who we are as an organisation".
As the schemes have grown and to ensure alignment across the company, the Māori development advisory board Ngā Kaitiaki o Te Ara Whanake was created in 2016 for governance across all diversity and inclusion initiatives.
The board meets on a regular basis and comprises three executives alongside two participants from the pilot Te Ara Whanake programme.
One member of Ngā Kaitiaki o Te Ara Whanake is the company's kaumātua, Gabe Moana, who has been an employee at Downer for 40 years.
Learnings have been absorbed into everyday culture throughout Downer — te reo is now used more widely, meetings are opened with mihi, Māori blessings and other cultural practices are "becoming part of Downer's DNA".
"What we do at Downer has support from the very top of the organisation all the way through, it operates at all levels and I think that's our strength," says O'Neill.
During last year's senior leadership conference Te Ara Whanake alumni led a three-hour session to teach senior leaders the significance of tikanga, discuss the future of Māori in New Zealand along with mau rākau and waiata.
Downer says: "These cultural experiences have led participants to become active proponents of celebrating cultural diversity. It also created demand from non-Māori leaders to learn more which resulted in the creation of a new programme Te Ara Māramatanga".
This latest initiative from the company is a two-day marae-based immersion programme designed and facilitated by Downer's employees and "allows participants to experience Māori culture through living in this environment."
Due to the increase in initiatives a full-time role was created to support them — the position was taken up by Jarrod Telford, one of the first graduates of Te Ara Whanake in 2014.
Out of the first programme, nine of the 15 graduates were promoted within six months of the programme's completion, and there have been similar figures for subsequent programmes.
Downer says it strives "to build an engaged and productive workforce, providing an environment where people can bring their whole selves to work and differences are embraced".
The result of the initiative is "our Māori employees feel acknowledged and valued for who they are and are more confident to step up into leadership roles".
The Mental Health at Spark (MHAS) advocacy group is staff-led and began in November 2017 when a handful of the team got together wanting to create a more mentally healthy workplace.
This small group of like-minded individuals soon grew into a community of hundreds throughout the Spark workforce, with more than 650 people now involved and over half of Spark's 5000-strong team using the community's mental health content.
The group has six mental health champions who meet regularly to plan and undertake specific initiatives. One of the founding members, Grant Pritchard, says one of the big changes the organisation has seen is an openness among different teams and departments where they now feel more able to speak plainly.
But it's not just inside the organisation that MHAS is making a change — the positive impact of the group has spread externally. "We've had people reconnect with parents who are long estranged that had been AWOL since they were 5," says Pritchard.
Another example was an individual who was able to help a friend in a difficult situation: "that staff member was able to use some of the simple skills that we shared during our session to keep that person safe for now, so that they're here to recover," he says.
"They're not just leaving the door and going home and thinking about it, they're actually helping them with their families, helping them with their friends and their communities outside of Spark which we never could have foreseen."
The MHAS team are sharing learnings with the wider business community, working with other companies to help enable them to be a more open workplace when it comes to mental health and wellbeing.
This was commended by the judges: "They have also shared widely how they build that kind of community within the organisation."
The judges also praised the company for their "impressive" efforts towards creating a mentally healthy working environment, and the engagement level throughout the organisation where mental health is often "not easy to talk about in a workplace environment".
Asked what other organisations can do to open up the conversation around mental health, Pritchard says: "If you're not sure where to start, start by asking two questions: what are we saying about mental health and what are we doing about it?
"And if you don't like the answer to that, what are you going to do about it? It just takes a handful of people in an organisation and you don't need to be the head of HR, you don't need to be the health and safety leader, you don't need to be the CEO — although you can be. Just start a workplace leaning forward to a more mentally healthy future."
Pritchard says being recognised by the awards as finalist meant a great deal to the company, himself, and the team and the 60 volunteers who freely give up their time and energy to create events around mental health awareness:
"It's really heartening to see just the level of feedback I'm getting from people saying 'well done, you're doing the right thing'."
On being a finalist, he adds: "awards like this, they're not the cake. They're maybe not even the icing on the cake. Maybe only the dusting on the icing on the cake – because the number one thing is doing good things for our people in the space and helping them to thrive."
New Zealand media company Stuff has this year been recognised as a finalist in the Diversity and Inclusion Leadership award for their initiative, The Immersion Project.
The project sets out to "flip our prejudices and unconscious biases when it comes to employing — and deploying — people with disabilities or those perceived as different".
The programme was born seven years ago with the pilot initiative Creative Spirit, with an aim to focus on people's abilities, rather than their disabilities.
The Creative Spirit initially welcomed two team members to fill roles, born from the frustration of basic administrative and office-keeping duties being ignored. The programme "tapped into a ready, willing and able network of individuals who wanted to do those jobs".
Research within the organisation found a quarter of the New Zealand population lives with a disability but the employment rate for people with a disability is less than one-third of the rate of the "able-bodied".
The company says it is "duty-bound" to improve the level of diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace with the mission statement "helping Kiwis to connect and thrive in their communities.
Annamarie Jamieson, the group's people and culture director and founder of the project said the initiative's ultimate goal "is to have all our businesses reflect the diverse communities we serve."
The Immersion Project covers a range of internal initiatives, such as the Coffee Co-op, which opened in 2017 and is staffed by deaf baristas based in the company's Auckland office where customers use New Zealand sign language to place their orders. Other initiatives include the use of te reo throughout Stuff, and using a data-tracking system to ensure women are given the same promotional pathways as men.
There are now 100 people employed under the company's dedication to the Creative Spirit programme, including a deaf team member in the communications office, and one who uses a wheelchair in the Auckland-based newsroom.
Stuff says it "saw that by embracing our differences we gained a superpower to do things we'd never considered and to achieve outcomes we'd never anticipated."
The judges were impressed with the company's initiatives in this area — one that they noted "is often forgotten". They say Stuff regularly shares its learnings with other businesses, having shared the Creative Spirit template with more than 40 other organisations who in turn have employed around 50 workers through the scheme.
The judges also praised the group for "walking the talk in terms of mainstreaming the facility" and "the amount of work, time and energy they have been investing into building this into a programme to support nearly 40 other organisations".
Jamieson says Stuff hopes other business will follow their lead and "look honestly at their own workforce and ask the question 'how diverse are we, really?' And then get their creative juices flowing, think outside the square just a little, say yes instead of no."