DEI: Actions speak louder than words

'A lot of leadership teams are saying, 'Yes, we need to do this', but is that translating down to the front line, to recruiters, to processes?'

DEI: Actions speak louder than words

DEI is a conversation we’ve been engaged in for a while in Aotearoa. A simple Google search of “diversity, equity, and inclusion in New Zealand” returns pages of public DEI promises from leading Kiwi organisations.

But new research suggests that substantial barriers to equitable employment persist here, particularly during the recruitment process.

Nearly half of the workforce in New Zealand (46%) has encountered barriers in applying for and securing employment, according to a survey by Randstad, based on responses from 4,302 New Zealanders across 150 major companies.

These barriers encompass factors such as language, gender identity, physical or mental impairments, sexual orientation, and other identity-related aspects.

The findings are not surprising, according to Brittany Teei, founder of Māori and Pasifika mentoring and employment not-for-profit 3 Bags Full. She believes it’s time for organisations to move beyond mere rhetoric around DEI to enacting real meaningful change. 

“The research says it, there are still barriers that need to be really honestly looked at,” Teei told HRD.

“The bigger kind of meatier issues in society do take time to change, but what it comes down to is actions speak louder than words. [DEI] is being talked about a lot, but it seems like the talking is where it ends,” she continued.

Barriers to equitable employment

Organisations trying to embrace diversity are encountering obstacles such as legacy recruitment processes and an open mindset to do things differently, said Teei.

“A lot of leadership teams are onboard, saying, ‘Yes, we need to do this’, but is that actually translating down to the front line, to the recruiters, to their processes? Do they know how to engage diverse communities? How to speak to them? Where they are coming from?” she said.

Highlighting what we’ve always done might not be the way forward, said Teei.

“You can put an ad on Seek, that’s great, but what if those diverse communities that you’re targeting aren’t even looking at Seek? How else are you reaching out to them? How are you supporting people who don’t have English as a first language to come through a system that is built on understanding English?”

Touching on the economic advantages of diversity, she said, “I think having people with a different life experience, lived experience, different worldviews is always going to add more colour to a picture, it's going to add more dimension to solving problems.”

Changing demographic landscape

Furthermore, Teei brings attention to the changing demographic landscape of New Zealand and how a diverse, highly skilled workforce is crucial for supporting our aging population.

“If we look at New Zealand at a macro level, Māori and Pasifika are a youthful population, and as those people grow up, they’re going to be a majority in our workforce,” she said.

Randstad’s research found that 54% of employees find it important that their employer actively supports DEI, but broken down to just millennials, that number jumps to 61%.

 “We know that diverse teams and workplaces that accurately reflect the market they operate in create better business outcomes,” said Ian Scott, Randstad New Zealand’s general manager for talent solutions. ”We see the benefits of diverse workforces in so many ways – for instance, in the depth of thinking, ideas and relationships.”

While creating diverse and inclusive workplaces is high on the leadership agenda for many New Zealand businesses, he said, “the challenge is translating those well-intentioned strategic plans into action and measurable outcomes. Intent to hire needs to be followed through at all levels of the organisation including frontline recruitment where candidates are still experiencing barriers to employment.”

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