The Herald this week marks the launch of Super Diverse Women — a new organisation dedicated to championing the rights and achievements of women from indigenous and migrant backgrounds. Today, we talk to Prue Kapua, partner at Tamatekapua Law and national president of the Maori Women’s Welfare League.

Describe your ethnic or cultural background and how this has shaped the way you view yourself and the world.

I am a Maori woman from Ngati Whakaue and Ngati Kahungunu, born and brought up in Rotorua. I am who I am and my approach to all things is coloured by that and the experiences I have had. My view of the world is always seen through a lens that reflects who I am and where I come from.

What benefits does society garner from more gender and ethnic diversity?

Diversity provides society with different and increased perspectives and approaches. Diversity in all aspects of society provides the opportunity for better understanding and acceptance of each other.


Many New Zealanders like to think they are part of an increasingly tolerant society. Is this fact or fiction?

I'm not sure that we are part of an increasingly tolerant society. Awareness of greater diversity does not necessarily make society more tolerant. Acceptance of diversity will result in a more tolerant society but we still have a way to go.

Outside of New Zealand, do you think the world is becoming a more tolerant place? If so, why and if not why not?

Recognition of the importance of gender diversity is more widespread than diversity that includes indigenous, ethnic or LGBTIQ groups and to that end the world is more tolerant. The focus on immigration as a political tool however exposes intolerance throughout the world.

Have you faced discrimination, as a woman and/or as a member of a migrant community or ethnic minority? Where did this take place and how did or does it affect you?

I have practised as a lawyer for over 25 years and the legal profession has been very slow to recognise the benefits of diversity. In all aspects it is Pakeha male-dominated. Difference is not generally seen as a positive and therefore the status quo remains. Within firms there is no great motivation to include other perspectives and so partnerships more often comprise like-minded men. There are regular reports done about women in the legal profession and the barriers to progress despite the fact that there have been more women law graduates than men since the mid-1970s. The inability to accept difference and diversity within many firm structures essentially results in a search for a working option that is more positive which can be sole practice, government, community or corporate or smaller firms. Such changes can often result in limited options in the future.

What advice do you have to others who face it?

Discrimination is always difficult to handle because there is no rational base for it. Recognising it for what it is - the prejudice of someone else - makes it easier to realise it's their problem and hopefully you can retain belief in yourself. Sometimes it is good to address it directly but that is not always possible and sometimes within a workplace it might be worth working on things like policies that can work towards change. Most of all you need really good support around you.

Debates around creating more equal workplaces have been dominated by the gender pay gap and gender diversity on boards or in executive teams. In your experience do members of migrant communities or ethnic minorities also face discrimination in the workplace?

Absolutely - indigenous, migrant or ethnic groups face discrimination in the workplace. There is a general recognition of the need to address gender diversity and I perceive there is a greater acceptance of gender diversity. All groups that are not the majority face discrimination, be they Maori, ethnic, women, LGBTIQ. And in some cases there is a cumulative effect where the difference from the majority covers a number of fronts.

Do efforts to tackle discrimination adequately reflect this?

Double discrimination exists but we still approach discrimination in single bursts and don't recognise that it is a generic issue that needs to be addressed. Diversity cannot be limited to one factor, albeit that to date much of the emphasis has been on gender.
Tackling discrimination requires a reprogramming that promotes a positive reaction to difference and diversity rather than attempting to change people to reflect the majority.

What are your views of quotas as a way of ensuring more diversity?

Quotas are an effective tool to move towards diversity. In reality you can't sit around waiting for people to realise the benefits themselves and then take appropriate action. Throughout history legislation has had to be in place to bring about changes necessary for people to move towards some form of equality or to remove practices and prohibitions that have been discriminatory and racist. That is how we normalise behaviour and sometimes that has to be by coercion such as quotas. A shift in thinking is required and enforceable regulation is often the only way that will occur.

What are other strategies you think could be effective in creating more diverse workplaces or social institutions?

Awareness and analysis is an important means to identify the existing state of a workplace or social institution, including clients and users. With public bodies there should be a reporting mechanism and perhaps where bodies are contracted or funded by Government there should be a requirement to show diversity as a criteria for funding.

How can the media do a better job of reflecting New Zealand's growing diversity?

The media have a great influence in terms of people's education and knowledge. Including perspectives that reflect the diversity would contribute to awareness and the ongoing education of the general population.