A client this week from a relatively small NZ service business asked me what's Salt's approach to "Workplace diversity" and it struck me how aware NZ business has become on this issue over recent years.

"Workplace diversity" did have the danger of becoming another over-used buzzword that was spun out of the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programmes, however, diversity awareness has matured from a nice-to-have silo in large corporates to a fundamental strategic priority for businesses in NZ.

Why? I think it is a reflection of the following:

  • strong year on year growth of the diverse immigration population in NZ
  • the increased diversity caused by the significant recent urbanisation of the NZ workforce
  • and the lack of candidates in a tight environment driving companies to expand their candidate search criteria.

The other driving factor is the progressive awareness of NZ business in trying to tap into the fickle "millennial" and so-called new "mobile prodigies" demographics - from both an employee and consumer perspective. Google research in 2016 has found these demographic's (the 14-35 year age group), the powerhouses of the next 10 years, rate businesses that have high CSR and workplace diversity approaches highly in their employment choices, in their consumer purchases and in their continued brand allegiance, irrespective of product or offering.

Finally, practical new tools have emerged in NZ which allow SME firms to measure how diversity-friendly they are, and to help them strive towards hiring a workforce that is as reflective as possible of the market they now operate in.

The ability to "reflect the marketplace in which you operate" is key and is now having a marked impact on our recruitment business, on what our clients look for, and our approach to getting new business.

Having a varied and multicultural workforce can be a great branding exercise for any business with a public profile. International research suggests having a company culture that is accessible to people of varied ethnic, gender, sexuality and disability backgrounds actually improves business productivity and increases return on HR investments and also leads to less staff churn.

I have come to understand the power of diversity in the workplace through an unlikely venture via my husband's business. They were approached late last year by Fairfax Media to install an in-house barista coffee shop in their newly leased offices down the road. Fairfax wished to use the coffee shop as a test for their "Creative Spirit" initiative - an awareness programme that aims through workplace diversity to create sustainable, economic and realistic jobs within businesses for people with physical or mental challenges. In this instance, two candidates from Deaf Aotearoa were partnered with the local coffee shop and trained to be baristas. Fairfax removed their in-house hot beverage supply from the office and instead used the money that would otherwise be spent on coffee machines, coffee, hot chocolate & milk to employ and subsidise the in-house barista coffee. Each coffee that the staff bought (via a gold coin donation) went towards supporting the sustainability of the in-house barista. Staff were encouraged to learn sign language to order coffees and converse with the in-house baristas. The project has been a phenomenal success.

Savvy businesses can capitalise on understanding the above. By not being "frightened" of diversity employment, they can create a healthy culture that can attract and retain the best staff. All the international evidence around the world suggests disabled people take less sick leave than non-disabled and are often very time flexible and incredibly loyal workers, that seems exactly what employers would want!!

References

"Be Accessible", Rainbow Tick, Diversity New Zealand, Creative Spirit Fairfax, Roost cafe, Google