Businesses are being urged to celebrate and promote diversity within their teams and to ensure their workforces reflect the ethnic makeup of society.

Ziena Jalil, former New Zealand Trade Commissioner to Singapore and consulting partner at SenateSHJ, says organisations that embrace diversity and inclusion outperform their peers in profitability and productivity.

"Diversity drives creativity, innovation and empathy. It drives productivity and profitability," Jalil said at the latest PwC Herald Talks event held in Auckland today.

"Diversity leads to better decision making ... at the board level, gender diverse boards perform better, diversity delivers better customer orientation and potentially opens up new markets for businesses."

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The New Zealand population is made up of more than 230 ethnicities and 160 languages, but boardrooms, executive teams and local workforces are failing to represent this, Jalil said.

One in every four New Zealand residents were born overseas, and in Auckland, 44 per cent of the population was born overseas, official figures show.

A quarter of the population identifies as having accessibility needs, and almost half of Auckland's population is Maori, Pacifika and Asian.

Jalil said diversity was not just about ethnicity, it is also about gender, race, sexual orientation, physical ability, age, socio-economic background and beliefs, which organisations need to represent.

She said as diversity was growing within society so was discrimination. "Workplaces don't exist in isolation, they exist within our society, and when society is changing so rapidly organisations that ignore these trends do so at their own peril."

Jilal said businesses need to consider employing staff who come from countries where business practices are different to those in New Zealand.

Organisations who embrace diversity and inclusion also have greater employee appeal - critical during a skills shortage, she said.

"Shareholders and customers are starting to vote with their wallets, requiring organisations to embrace diversity and inclusion before they support them."

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PwC Herald Talks panelists discuss diversity and inclusion in the workplace at the Victory Convention Centre in Auckland. Photo / NZME
PwC Herald Talks panelists discuss diversity and inclusion in the workplace at the Victory Convention Centre in Auckland. Photo / NZME

While society has come a long way to encourage diversity within organisations and leadership teams compared to 20 years earlier, Rachel Hopkins, chief executive of Diversity Works, said there is still a long way to go.

She said many organisations still had bias ingrained into their recruitment and remuneration processes which can hinder efforts to build inclusive workplaces.

"The more inclusive your organisation is, the more attractive it is going to be to the talent pool you want to access," Hopkins said.

"Changing a policy or looking at a process or employee life cycle and seeing at the traction, recruitment, induction and promotion stages there is bias hiding ... [businesses] who want to stand up and being counted need to have the courage to pick apart these processes and policies.

"Leaders in organisations need to create a system change that allows that to happen."

A recent Diversity Works report found over 50 per cent of organisations surveyed recognised there were bias within their recruitment, promotions and remuneration practices.