With 213 different ethnic groups living in New Zealand, and 186 of those residing in Auckland alone, embracing diversity in the workplace isn't a 'nice to have' these days - it's a necessity.
Along with our large and diverse migrant population, another factor fuelling the diversity of our workplaces is the high participation rates of our over-65s in the workforce, according to Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie, chief executive of the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust.
Cassidy-Mackenzie says there are definite commercial advantages to businesses that are embracing these demographic shifts.
"In terms of the benefits to a business, they're the same whether an organisation is small or large," she explains. "It's around the innovation that people from a diverse range of backgrounds can bring to an organisation, because with them comes diversity of thought and enhanced creativity and problem-solving abilities. That can really increase competitiveness not to mention being more reflective of an increasingly diverse marketplace."
Cultivating a culture that's inclusive of people of different ethnicities, age, physical abilities or sexual orientation has also been shown to have a positive spinoff on the culture of a wider organisation, she says.
"So organisations that have policies and initiatives around this have seen improvements in productivity and engagement amongst the greater organisation. And I think that positive flow-on effect is something that people can see very apparently in smaller teams."
This week I've interviewed a range of small business owners and managers about why they've fostered greater diversity in their workplaces, and some of the practical things they do to make it happen.
KIWA Digital is an Auckland-based production house for experiential digital books; five of its team are Maori, including founder Rhonda Kite, another five are Pakeha New Zealanders, with Korean, Ukrainian, Chinese and South African-born members also on staff. As a tech company, the majority of its employees are also aged under 30.
Jill Tattersall, KIWA Digital's chair and CEO, says the company has clients ranging from Sesame Workshop in Asia and the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages, to the Alaska Association of School Boards, Maori Women's Development Inc and the Ministry of Education.
"So for us it's really vital that our workforce reflects this diversity, and that we can bring to the client capabilities not just in language, but in understanding and respecting cultural customs and values," she says. "Our cultural and language expertise have helped us get a foot in the door with a global player like Sesame Workshop, and secure contracts for early literacy titles in Korean, Japanese, Mandarin and Bahasa Malay."
Environmental and planning consultancy Andrew.Stewart last year won the Work Life Balance award at the EEO Trust's Diversity Awards NZ and has staff of New Zealand Pakeha, Maori, South African, English, Irish, Malaysian, and American descent amongst its 37 employees. It also has 50/50 gender representation at all levels of the company.
Managing director Aaron Andrew says embracing diversity and work life balance is helping it win the war for talent.
"Diversity and work life balance are key elements of our culture," he says. "They're something we see as critical to delivering on our company vision; we want to be recognised as a great place to work that fosters team spirit, and professional and personal growth, and we believe this will help us attract top talent."
Flexibility is a big focus at the firm, where staff can choose their own start and finish times. The company also acknowledges that people's needs change throughout their careers, so over the years it's done things like provide a three-month leave of absence to an employee who wanted to have a mini OE, extended maternity leave periods, and reduced working weeks for more senior members of the team.
I learnt that you have to adapt to different employees. Understanding that your employees have different needs is so important. I think you really need to get to know each employee and find out what makes them tick.
Blastacars Drift Karts, which runs drift karting race tracks in Auckland and Hamilton, is another business that says it's reaping the benefits of a diverse team - in their case made up of a variety of ethnicities including European, Maori, Filipino, Samoan, South African and Indian.
The business was founded by Peter Zyp, who's operated it for the past 27 years, and his daughter Tiffany is now the company's operations manager.
"The team has always been made up of a mix of different cultures," says Tiffany Zyp. "My father never sought out to employ a team that was 'diverse'; his hiring policy was to hire people who were good for their position and it didn't matter how old you were, whether you were male or female, Maori or Pakeha. Your skills spoke for you, and as a result we've always had a mixed group of employees."
The firm also has an intellectually disabled member of staff, Nathan Child, who approached the company to see if it was hiring, was taken on the following week for a trial and has since been with the company for nearly two years.
"Nathan definitely gave me a lot of perspective," says Zyp. "I learnt that you have to adapt to different employees. Understanding that your employees have different needs is so important. I think you really need to get to know each employee and find out what makes them tick. Being in a small business does make this easier, and I truly feel we are like a family here."
Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie - EEO Trust
Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie is chief executive of the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust, which provides equal employment opportunity information and tools to employers, and raises awareness of diversity issues in New Zealand workplaces.
Why should small businesses be embracing a more diverse workforce, and creating more inclusive work environments?
With small businesses it's need that's driving the changes they're making to become more diverse and inclusive. Firstly, we've got a large migrant base, with 213 different ethnic groups represented in New Zealand and 186 of those residing in Auckland. Second is our ageing population. We've got the one of the highest participation rates of over 65s in the OECD - so we're really relying on leaders to fully embrace these shifting demographics to drive our businesses forwards.
In terms of the benefits to a business, they're the same whether an organisation is small or large. It's around the innovation that people from a diverse range of backgrounds can bring to an organisation, because with them comes diversity of thought and enhanced creativity and problem-solving abilities. That can really increase competitiveness not to mention being more reflective of an increasingly diverse marketplace.
Also, cultivating a culture that's inclusive for all people - whether that's around ethnicity, age, physical abilities or sexual orientation - has proven really beneficial to the culture of an organisation as a whole. So organisations that have policies and initiatives around this have seen improvements in productivity and engagement amongst the greater organisation. And I think that positive flow-on effect is something that people can see very apparently in smaller teams.
And then if you look at specific strategies to create a happier and more inclusive workplace, like instituting a wellness programme, you can see direct positive benefits around things like increased productivity, fewer sick days and reduced ACC levies. They don't have to be expensive initiatives like subsidised gym memberships; they can be as simple as encouraging walking meetings, or giving everyone a pedometer to help them be more aware of and increase the number of steps they take in a day.
Despite those kinds of benefits, what are some of the persistent challenges you think small business owners still face in fostering diversity in their workplaces?
Resourcing would have to be the biggest thing. In a small business the owner is often the HR manager among a dozen other hats they wear, so it's about their resource in terms of the time they have to think about these issues.
But often when we talk to organisations about things they could be doing their default answer can be 'no I can't afford that'. So for example if we talk about offering flexible work hours, a small business owner could say to us they'd love to do that but it requires a level of investment in technology they can't afford.
Well, I would argue that you'd get back more than you give, and actually these issues are often more about perception than reality. What is the actual cost of perhaps buying a laptop and providing access to the work server versus the increased productivity and staff retention savings? Or what are some alternatives, like job sharing, where what's required is actually more around a change of workplace culture? And again, that change of culture can often be the hardest thing.
Another challenge can be the creation of a strategy or policy around diversity and inclusion issues, because some small businesses have no policy at all. But there are resources out there. We actually have a template companies can use and we'll then go out into a business and show them what the policies mean and how to execute them, so there's no reason for any organisation not to have them.
Are there any other practical things you suggest small businesses do to get started on a path to being more diverse and inclusive?
One of the most important things a small business can do is do a stocktake, and we ask all businesses, regardless of their size, to do that. That involves writing a list of all the things they are doing in terms of diversity and inclusion, and one of the things we find all the time is that businesses are actually doing something already. This is a never-ending journey, and no one one can do everything, but that's an exercise that makes people realise they're already on the journey, and maybe it's not so hard to put a few goals in place to improve in the next year.
Coming up in Your Business: Getting the right staff on board - and keeping them - is the lifeblood of a business. So what are some of the things small business owners do to try and keep their good staff on board for the long haul? If you've got a story to tell, drop me a note: firstname.lastname@example.org