Can NZ reap the benefits of workplace diversity?

Why are organisations in New Zealand falling short on diversity in the workplace?

Why are organisations in New Zealand falling short on diversity in the workplace? Could it be that they are not rising to the challenges they face when trying to achieve diversity?

In a poll of both employers and employees in New Zealand by recruitment company Hays, 55 percent of employees say their organisation’s public face and the way they portray themselves on issues like diversity isn’t a true representation of the real business culture.

Of these, 34 percent said diversity is not a genuine concern for the organisation, 29 percent said the public face is a goal not reality, and 24 percent said line managers fail to genuinely embrace policies such as diversity when they recruit.

In further evidence supporting the case that more needs to be done, just 56 percent of organisations value mature-age workers, 29 percent employ people with a disability and 72 percent employ people from various cultural backgrounds.

Also, 53 percent of people are not satisfied with the career path available to women at their organisation.

“Over recent years there has been a notable increase in the number of diversity initiatives within both private and public sector organisations,” says Jason Walker, Managing Director, Hays New Zealand.

“Yet those efforts do not seem to be achieving the changes we need to see. There are numerous reasons why organisations fall short of delivering on their diversity strategies.

“For some the challenge is about hiring or promotion mechanisms. For others, it is due to branding the diversity plan in a certain way, not securing executive commitment, or using ineffective training techniques.

“The benefits of diversity are that it can create a highly-engaged workforce that in turn will drive productivity and innovation, and therefore profitability.”

According to Hays, there are seven main challenges that employers face when trying to achieve diversity in New Zealand’s workplaces. These are:

1. Promoting the business benefits:

Many managers, executives and even HR teams fall short of understanding and promoting the benefits of diversity within their organisation.

2. Personal prejudice:

This is a difficult topic to explore, but unless hiring managers truly embrace diversity with a positive attitude no edict from on high will lead to true change.

3. Unconscious bias

We need to unravel unconscious bias in the recruitment process, particularly when it comes to managers recruiting candidates like themselves.

4. The ‘merit’ argument

A common argument against diversity holds that if you focus on recruiting a diverse workforce you do not recruit the candidate with the very best skills or experience. Of course the final recruitment decision should always be based on who possesses the most suitable skills and experience, but if there is not diversity in your application pool how do you know you have attracted the very best shortlist from which to select from?

5. Business culture

Many organisations have inbuilt and often hidden elements in their business culture that do not support diversity, such as the perception in IT that women can’t code.

HR, with the support of the CEO, may need to drive cultural change in support of diversity, which is no easy task.

6. Diversity fatigue

Diversity fatigue refers to disinterest in diversity activities after months or years of diversity programs. Causes include a lack of executive involvement, failure to link programs with a business case, or lack of accountability.

7. Integrating differences

Rather than merely accepting people from different target groups, diversity also means managing and integrating their varied lifestyles, beliefs and needs to your business.