On Friday we welcomed 49 new citizens at the first Citizenship Ceremony of 2020. These ceremonies are full to overflowing with families, friends, loved ones and supporters. It's a touching day for all of us, and even after conducting more than 30 such ceremonies I still find myself emotionally connecting with each and every new citizen.
During the two-hour long ceremony, we welcomed families and individuals from around the globe. Many spoke of their joy at being able to call themselves a true "Kiwi" now, and some shared the challenges they faced to get here. Some of these people were just starting life in New Zealand, others had been living here for many years, but all were very excited to officially have the status of New Zealander with all the associated rights and responsibilities.
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Just a few days before the Citizenship Ceremony, our elected members and senior leadership team undertook "diversity and acceptance training".
This training is designed to challenge our ingrained views of what's considered "normal" in society, our social groups, and the workplace. The value of these training sessions (which are also held for all council employees) is immense, and covers everything from gender labelling and sexual orientation, through to removing discrimination of cultures, religious beliefs and values.
During these training sessions we are reminded there is no "normal", that our social landscape is always changing, and that we must learn to accept and support diversity in all its forms.
As one of the largest employers in Whangārei District, the council has a duty to set the standard with our organisational culture. Through developing a mindset of acceptance, we are enriching ourselves and our communities, creating an environment that attracts more tolerant, open-minded, future-focused residents to our district.
The diversity and acceptance training sessions are relevant for all who work in local government, not only because this is a large and multicultural work environment, but also because society demands (and deserves) open-minded, equitable leadership.
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I believe our council is taking great strides in the right direction, although I am certain there is much more work to be done in this area. It will be a proud day for our council and district when diversity and acceptance is simply part of who we are, instead of being triggered by a training session.
For now, I am thankful we are taking these vital steps towards becoming an accepting and equitable organisation, and I thank you all for making our new citizens feel so warmly welcomed. Whangārei district contains some of the most culturally diverse communities in New Zealand, and I am very proud to call this place home.