The big 'D' word - why diversity?

From Voices, 3:30 pm on 1 August 2016

Can the increasingly diverse population in New Zealand add real value to our country’s social and economic success? And if so, how? What is diversity good for?

“Diversity" is a simple English language word that can mean a lot of things to different people - Rahul Watson Govindan, Strategy Development, NZTE

You could call it the Diversity Dividend; how you can turn our differences into dollars and immigrants into active citizens. But New Zealand Trade and Enterprise reckons we’re still struggling to turn New Zealand’s growing ethnic breadth to our advantage.

Graph showing the ethnic composition of New Zealand Photo: Rahul Watson Govindan

At the recent Multicultural and Mayoral Forum held in Wellington – amidst drumming by the Nara Taiko group and speeches from former Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand and other dignitaries at Johnsonville's Community Centre  – NZTE’s Rahul Watson Govindan said that the potential economic power of diversity won’t be unlocked until the right questions are asked. "It's important to talk about diversity in all its forms. What are we looking to achieve?"

Diversity of thinking brings true innovation and true creative thought. If you merely focus diversity on the numerical number rather than the qualitative nature of who you are bringing on board, you fail to unlock the true power of diversity.

According to Govindan, more international trade, access to foreign capital, new customers, and, crucially, a diversity of thought, are also positive outcomes of diversity.

Companies in the top quartile of diversity out perform those at the bottom

Companies in the top quartile of diversity out perform those at the bottom Photo: Rahul Watson Govindan

"It's not the fact that I'm Indian that makes a difference at a board or company level. It's my different perspectives that really matter. Diverse backgrounds bring different perspectives, experiences and networks to that board table. As a result of that you are going to experience perhaps more impact on your bottom line that you had before." 

Research by McKinsey & Co last year found that the most diverse companies across a range of industries and countries out-performed the least diverse; ethnically diverse companies in particular are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above the national industry median.

The forum ... and voting

Passionate about breaking down barriers for ethnic communities and challenging gate-keepers, Nigerian-born Tayo Agunlejika who is the Executive Director of Multicultural New Zealand, advocated to the candidates the importance of ethnic representation in local and national governance.

"Where is it reflected in any government policy? Having us represented will bring positivity."

Challenging gate-keepers, Tayo Agunlejika, Executive Director, Multicultural New Zealand

Challenging gate-keepers, Tayo Agunlejika, Executive Director, Multicultural New Zealand Photo: RNZ / Lynda Chanwai-Earle

President of the Wellington Multicultural Council Ravindran Annamalai says the forum was initiated to encourage voting and awareness among ethnic communities. Ravindran agrees wtih Tayo that the biggest issue is the lack of voice within city councils across New Zealand.

"They [ethnic communities] want to see the city as a metropolitan city and fully diversified, like having the advisory council on board. We want an ethnic liaison advisor come on board as well, especially on Wellington City Council, where a lot of strategic planning, implementation and policy analysis can be achieved. These are the three major things we want to enhance the employment sector."

There are a lot of skilled migrants here but the first question asked is 'do you have new Zealand experience?' How can you have this if the offer is not given? How can we resolve this matter?

The Big "D" Word - Why Diversity?

The Big "D" Word - Why Diversity? Photo: RNZ / Lynda Chanwai-Earle

Filipinos are among the fastest growing ethnic communities in New Zealand, with almost 50,000 already living here.

The Philippines Ambassador, his Excellency Mr Jesus S. Domingo (who prefers to be known as Ambassador Gary), wants a deeper relationship for mayors and local governance to tap into the resource of ethnic communities.

"But it also a two-way street. We need to register to vote ."

I'm calling on our 'Kiwi-Noys' (Filipino New Zealanders) to get involved and elect a Filipino into local governance ... to get out of our comfort zone and deal with New Zealand as a whole.

Answering how and why a diversified workforce can contribute to our international business success from Strategy Development, Ann Dysart, Manager Community Relations at Ministry of Social Development reiterates that the voiceless need to be heard and valued across all of the communities. But it's action that makes a difference.

"We want to get to the silent ones. How do we ensure those people are listened to and heard?"

It's easy to appear and speak but there's often no action involved. You cannot grow a strong society without action.

Championing the values of ethnic diversity, Former Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand says that New Zealand has been built on diversity and will continue to be so.

From a migrants point of view becoming engaged is the challenge. For the community to have value added by new contributions from different people enriches the community.