Diversity, equity and inclusion – The 21st Century cornerstones for long-term business success

In 1972, New Zealand’s Equal Pay Act passed into law, making it unlawful to pay women and men differently for doing the same job. And yet, fifty years later, disparity remains with a gender pay gap of more than 9 per cent. Essentially, from 29 November, Kiwi women are working the rest of the year for free. The stats are worse for Māori and Pasifika women, whose “work for free” dates are 10 November and
18 October, respectively.

GENDERTICK OFFERS ORGANISATIONS independent assurance around gender policies and practices to increase the attraction and retention of women employees. Claire Stuart is the YWCA’s GenderTick manager. “Most of the businesses that contact us are excited and passionate about this initiative,” she says. “Often we find it’s people in HR or development roles who are driving this change, and occasionally it can be a struggle to get sign-off from top tier management.” Claire believes this is down to mindset – senior managers who’ve worked a certain way for years (maybe decades) and haven’t broadened their thinking as external working practices have evolved. “Traditional work processes were established in the 1900s for a predominantly white, male, Christian workforce. The landscape has changed immensely, and some organisations haven’t kept up. There can be an attitude: ‘We’re already successful. Our system isn’t broken; why fix it?’

“However, others really grasp the importance of a diverse team, not least for improved productivity and creativity from different kinds of brilliant minds to an improved bottom line.”

To achieve GenderTick accreditation, an organisation must fulfil five criteria:

  • Gender Inclusive Culture
  • Safe Workplace
  • Flexible Work & Leave
  • Leadership Representation
  • Equal Pay

GenderTick demonstrates a business’ commitment to gender equity to its employees, customers, and stake holders. Membership organisations, including Xero, Genesis Energy, and AIA Insurance, also verify that workplace culture is enhanced. Here’s what Yellow® told FYI:

“The programme has helped us stretch ourselves…as we continue to push the boundaries and make courageous decisions to shift systems and cultures that suppress minorities. Our CEO, Tracey Taylor, leads with love, and this has enabled everyone at Yellow to advocate for change in a vulnerable and courageous way. Our people are really proud of our commitment to gender equity, and it has been one of the driving factors behind our cultural transformation. It has also given us an advantage when recruiting as we know ever more people are choosing their prospective employers based on an alignment of values. Being GenderTick accredited has also inspired us to adapt our recruitment process to encourage applications from a diverse range of people, and we have specifically cited research to encourage female applicants to back themselves, which has been hugely successful. We’re excited to continue on this journey alongside GenderTick.”

However, true diversity, equity, and inclusion extend well beyond demographic differences, as Ola Ioane, head of membership at Diversity Works New Zealand, explains. “It’s about age and life
transition, disability, neurodiversity, immigration, religion, education, language, and more.”

“Diversity Works New Zealand exists to help organisations do workplace inclusion well, and do well because of it,” he adds.

Nor is diversity about “tokenism”. One woman on a committee cannot speak for all women, just as one Samoan man cannot represent all Pasifika peoples. “We know there’s a lot of ad hoc mahi being done with the best of intentions,” observes Ola. “But a lunch to celebrate different cultures needs to be part of a connected, formalised process. Otherwise, you run the risk, for example, of one person leaving and taking that event planning enthusiasm with them.”

Just as with any other business activity (e.g., marketing), diversity and inclusion should be a strategy. “So, we help businesses channel their energies positively into an ongoing process, and help them differentiate between strategy, policy, and initiatives.”

The next generations of employees and customers are driving transformational change. Millennials and Gen Z are clear that they favour working for and doing business with sustainable and inclusive organisations. But, with such broad scope, where to start? Ola cautions against just diving in. Instead, he says there’s a Step Zero before a Step One – and that’s important kōrero, openly and honestly asking, “Are we ready to have this conversation?”

“Then we move to Step One: community willingness. This is when we work through everyone’s perceptions of diversity, the challenges it may bring, and its huge potential benefits. When we align definitions, that’s when organisations have their ‘Aha!’ moment.”

He acknowledges that many businesses may feel that inclusion is too complex. However, some industry
sectors are leading the way for them. “We recently had 200 construction companies collaborating to identify critical diversity and inclusion gaps and see how they could support their sector’s cohesive approach towards improvement.” Clearly, this won’t be a quick fix. But, says Ola, “It’s more important to understand the problem than to have an immediate answer.” What’s not in doubt is that when diversity, equity, and inclusion are embedded facets of company culture, there are three key achievements:

• Societal benefits – with customers, stakeholders, and the broader community
• Improved productivity, innovation, and motivation
• Being better placed to predict and prepare for the future, as the business’ make-up reflects its customers

And if it all seems overwhelming or momentum flags a little, Ola offers this advice. “Just pause! Remember, this is a long-term, ongoing strategy. Progress is progress, even just a metaphorical one centimetre at a time.

Soft skills

ALONGSIDE DIVERSITY, INCLUSION and equity, expert opinion strongly advises that businesses hiring for soft skills are the ones that will survive and thrive long-term. Deloitte predicts the number of jobs in soft skill-intensive occupations will grow at 2.5 times the rate of roles in other occupations, and soft skilled-based occupations will account for two-thirds of all jobs by 2030.

An interesting article in Harvard Business Review suggests that “…the best way to make your organization more data-centric and digital is to selectively invest in those who are most adaptable, curious, and flexible in the first place. Since nobody knows what the key future hard skills will be, the best action is to bet on the people who are most likely to develop them.” So, what are the crucial soft skills that business owners should seek and develop? Amongst the qualities listed by Deloitte’s report Soft skills for business success are:

  • Self-management
  • Communication
  • Problem-solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Emotional judgement (emotional intelligence)
  • Professional ethics (integrity)

The good news is that, although at first glance, many of these appear to be innate human qualities, they and other essential soft skills can be learned and enhanced, as Julie Nottage (née Raine) of JR Talks and Torque Business explained to FYI.

Emotional intelligence (EI)
Evidence proves that teams with EI have a competitive advantage, and the essential quality to nurture EI is empathy. “Being able to sense and respect a co-worker or client’s unspoken thoughts and feelings can definitely improve productivity and customer service delivery,” says Julie. Being curious can help develop this skill. “When you talk to someone you don’t know, for example, at a networking event, ask them meaningful questions and really listen to the answers.”

Ethical responsibility and integrity
Warren Buffett famously said: “We look for three things when we hire people. We look for intelligence, we look for initiative or energy, and we look for integrity. And if they don’t have the latter, the first two will kill you, because if you’re going to get someone without integrity, you want them lazy and dumb.”

Julie provides some more context. “When someone tells you they’ve made a mistake and how they intend to fix it, you know you can trust them. Therefore, to nurture a culture of integrity, leaders need to admit to their own mistakes and encourage other team members to do likewise. This requires a company culture of psychological safety.”

Self-management and self-motivation
Self-motivated people are easier to manage and require less supervision. “Because they have a vision, they generally set themselves sensible goals and timeframes,” Julie comments. For people wishing to boost their self-motivation, this goal setting is vital. “Be realistic but challenge yourself, break bigger tasks
into smaller steps, and create a reward system to celebrate progress.”

Moreover, renowned motivational speaker Tony Robbins writes, “’The one common denominator of all successful people is their hunger to push through their fears.’ When you have enough hunger, you can easily learn how to self-motivate to meet the goals you’ve set your mind and focus on.”

Flexibility and resilience
Especially in these unpredictable times, team members need to be open-minded, be willing to accept diverse responsibilities, manage uncertainty, and adapt their behaviour by understanding colleagues’
challenges and needs. “Resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’, which some people seem to do naturally,” says Julie. “Once again, psychological safety as part of workplace culture is key. For example, employees should be encouraged to voice concerns or ask questions, and supported when they do so.”

Share this article:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Bernadette Robert

Bernadette Robert