All eligible Māori and Pacific job candidates are being automatically fast-tracked to the interview stage for openings at Auckland DHB.
The change has been made to try to increase workforce diversity, and has already resulted in more Māori and Pacific candidates being interviewed and hired.
The policy, which began in June, is likely to be adopted by the private sector, a human resources lecturer says.
Jarrod Haar, Professor of human resources management at Auckland University of Technology (AUT), said the change was positive.
"The fact this initiative has led to more Māori and Pacific peoples being hired shows this approach is needed. Fundamentally, the playing field is not even. This seeks to address that."
Haar said he wasn't aware of such policies being used in the private sector, but because diversity strengthened companies it was "only a matter of time".
The country's biggest union also backed the policy. The Public Service Association (PSA) represents more than 65,000 workers including many employed by DHBs.
PSA organiser Andrew Skelly said the move was positive. There were no issues about merit as hires would still need to meet specific competencies and standards, and many roles need an annual practising certificate.
"Auckland is getting more and more diverse, and they need to ensure the number of Māori and Pasifika staff are growing and not shrinking. And they had for a time been going backwards, so it's really good they took proactive steps to ensure they pulled the handbrake on."
Māori and Pacific candidates must still meet core criteria for a role to progress to interview. If not hired, managers must give specific feedback to HR, so the unsuccessful candidate can be coached to improve their chances next time.
A new assessment tool prompts interviewers to think about "reflecting our communities and prioritised health outcomes", along with traditional skills and experience.
Similar changes could soon be made to boost diversity in the public sector.
State Services Minister Chris Hipkins released proposed changes for what he has called "the most significant reform of the public service in 30 years".
Proposals include "linking diversity and inclusion to merit-based appointments" and "adding diversity and inclusion as an element of equal employment opportunities".
The Auckland DHB policy has similarities to the NFL's "Rooney Rule", which since 2003 has required teams in the US competition to interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching openings.
It's been mirrored in the US private sector including by online retail giant Amazon, despite derision as ineffective box-ticking by some.
Fiona Michel, chief HR officer at Auckland DHB, said more Māori and Pacific candidates were being interviewed and hired.
"No one is employed just because of their cultural background ... we are always looking to recruit the best person overall for the job, which involves a number of considerations including skills, experience, capability, as well as cultural knowledge and understanding."
The population Auckland DHB serves is more than 10 per cent Māori and about 14 per cent Pacific. Its workforce is 4 per cent Māori and 7 per cent Pacific.
Jo Baxter, Associate Dean (Māori) at University of Otago, said hiring strategies made sense, given other DHBs were eyeing the same limited pool of candidates.
Baxter, director of a unit aiming to grow the number of Māori health science graduates, said not having Māori and others "in the room" during decision-making hurt those groups.
For example, aged care services can ignore the fact Māori die much younger, meaning the needy miss out despite being near the end of life.
The change comes as an official health committee calls for compulsory cultural competency training for everyone working in maternity and neonatal care.
The Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee made the recommendation in the same report that outlined how very premature babies were less likely to receive a resuscitation attempt if Māori, Pacific or Indian.