A business that offered work paying minimum wage to a blind woman in a $2.30-an-hour job has been nominated as a finalist for the 2019 Diversity Awards.

The awards recognising organisations that are embedding workplace diversity and inclusion are run by Diversity Works, a Government-backed organisation that teaches workplaces how to promote diversity and prevent discrimination.

A panel of 10 judges chose 36 finalists, and The Cookie Project was one of two finalists in the Diversability Category.

The business, started in June last year by two Auckland men, Graeme Haddon and Eric Chuah, offers employment opportunities for people with special needs.

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Eric Chuah, co-founder of The Cookie Project. Photo / File
Eric Chuah, co-founder of The Cookie Project. Photo / File

Following a Herald report that a blind worker was being paid $2.30-an-hour at another company to untangle Air New Zealand headphones, Cookie Project offered her a job as a baker on the $17.70 adult minimum wage.

Judging convenor Neil Porteous said the judges chose initiatives that were sustainable and offered long-term benefits rather than entries based on one-off events.

Initiatives impacting a significant proportion of the organisation's workforce were also favoured.

The diversability category acknowledges innovative responses to employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and organisations that created a culture of inclusion.

Chuah said he felt very honoured that The Cookie Project has been named as a finalist.

"It will help us to highlight the issue of 250,000 capable Kiwis with disabilities who are unemployed," he said.

"We as a country need to wake up, partner up and step up urgently to solve because long-term unemployment is a slippery slope towards poverty, social and health issues."

According to the 2013 Census data, one in four New Zealanders lived with some form of disability.

They are vastly overrepresented in poverty figures and 74 per cent of those with a disability who are not in employment want to be working.

Craig Hudson, Xero New Zealand, finalist in the Walk the Talk category. Photo / Supplied.
Craig Hudson, Xero New Zealand, finalist in the Walk the Talk category. Photo / Supplied.

Other finalists include Air New Zealand, HSBC, IAG and Downer in the Cultural Celebration category and Engineering NZ, Spark, Vodafone and Yellow in the Emerging Diversity and Inclusion category.

Porteous said the panel found the Walk the Talk category, which celebrated leaders who exemplified excellence in promoting and managing a diverse workforce, the most difficult to judge.

The category, he said, highlighted the importance of leadership in the diversity and inclusion space.

It had seven finalists, including Craig Hudson from Xero, Catherine Smith from Auckland Museum and Prestige Law's Royal Reed.

Royal Reed, Prestige Law, finalist in the Walk the Talk category. Photo / File
Royal Reed, Prestige Law, finalist in the Walk the Talk category. Photo / File

"There are so many people standing up and influencing the workplace over and above their job descriptions," Porteous said.

He said it was gratifying that so many small-to-medium-sized organisations had entered the awards this year.

"Its fantastic to see such a breadth of organisations focusing in this space and understanding the benefits of an inclusive workplace culture," he said.

Diversity Works has been embroiled in controversy after its chief executive Rachel Hopkins was accused of bullying and cultural insensitivity by a Samoan staff member, Fia Collins.

The complaint was dealt with internally last December, and Collins left with a payout of about $100,000, and Hopkins remained in the top job.

Winners will be announced at a gala dinner event in Auckland on August 28.