And as for positively, proactively en-
couraging it, the New Zealand workplace remained conspicuous failure. Curiously for the new borderless business order of the new millennium, the lack of diversity remained entrenched among employers and recruitment agencies alike, as an Equal Employment Opportunities Trust survey showed.
Each year the EEO Trust charts our snail’s progress towards greater diversity by what it calls Diversity Index. Last year its findings offered evidence that there was increasing diversity in the talent pool of skilled labour. However it also indicated the workplace had yet to embrace the idea fully.
Diversity is an abstract which, like equity, tends to draw more lip-service than commitment. Genuine diversity embraces cultural, gender and age differences as well as the philosophical and intellectual variety.
To the EEO Trust, diversity quite simply adds value to New Zealand business and it isn’t alone in its belief. Its November report cited Standard and Poor’s study of 500 companies which found that companies rated in the bottom 100 for equal opportunity had an average eight percent return on investment, while those in the top 100 had an average return of 18 percent. Diversity pays.
The Trust says it also works for companies in other ways:
“Diversity matters to employers for two reasons: it helps to recruit and retain talented employees; it attracts and retains customers.”
Key points in last year’s Index were:
* Diversity of the talent pool available for New Zealand leadership and workplaces is increasing.
* Talented people in certain groups encounter barriers on the road to employment. When they do get work they are not always fairly valued and rewarded.
* Although the profile of leadership, decision-makers and workplaces shows improvements in some areas, it still shows talent being wasted.
Diversity may be about differences in attitudes, aptitudes, gender and race, but it is also about age. Currently about 28 percent of the workforce is more than 45 years old, according to the Index. In 10 years’ time 43 percent will be older than 45, but the crunch for the prematurely middle-aged in the workforce lies just ahead.
“… research shows an historic shift in the nature and spread of work leading to the disappearance of work for both men and women over 45. Ageism sometimes surfaces as belief among some employers that older people cannot cope with the pace of new technology. But ignoring them can be mistake for companies for all sorts of reasons,” says the EEO Trust’s executive director, Trudie McNaughton.
“It’s not just about losing institutional memory, it’s the extensive networks and contacts older people can offer an organisation,” she says.
“There is also the opportunity for mentoring — either formally or informally — so the potential loss for an organisation discriminating on the basis of age is significant.”
If more older people are included and valued in the workforce then organisations will attract older customers who, demographics show, will be large percentage of the population. McNaughton says hiring them is one thing — but understanding and valuing their different needs quite another. Some older people still have family responsibilities — for example some may want time to look after grandchildren. She says understanding their needs and allowing flexibility is important.
The oldies may be imperilled, but the Index found good news about women’s labour market participation, which continues to increase. However women are much more likely than men to be in part time work, and about fifth of those women want to work more hours.
As the century closed, the pay gap between men and women had not changed over the previous year. Women still earned 83.6 percent of men’s average ordinary time hourly earnings. And among those who graduated, obstacles remained.
Using evidence from the New Zealand Vice Chancellors Committee data, the Trust found that six months after completing their university courses, average salaries for Bachelors and Honours degree holders in full time employment were higher for males than for females in all fields.
For executive women the news was equally dismal. Quoting the Sheffield Consulting Group’s annual remuneration study of senior executives, the evidence showed for the sixth year in row that gender impacted on the packages of senior executives. Total packages of female executives under 35 years were on average 76.5 percent of the equivalent male executive’s package. The gap is wider on total packages than on salary alone so the benefits are fewer, and of less value.
If the gender issue seems change-resistant, it’s not alone — equally obstinate barriers face Maori and migrant alike. When it comes to diversity, the percentages of each ethnic group with Bachelors or Bachelors with Honours who are unemployed six months after graduation, reads like roll call of discrimination:
For European/Pakeha and Maori the figure is 22 percent; for Pacific Island peoples 28 percent; for Indian 34 percent; for Asian (Chinese and other Asians), 38 percent.
Others who suffer discrimination are highly qualified Sri Lankan migrants. With its Index, the Trust completed survey of their employment experiences and found that 96 percent of them had tertiary qualification, 75 percent held professional positions before coming to New Zealand and 92 percent were fluent in English. Despite this, more than half took up positions lower than those previously held, and 47 percent were discriminated against during their search for employment.
The survey found that employers, followed by recruitment consultants, were the most likely to discriminate. New Zealand experience and recognition of their qualifications were among the most common problems they encountered and some of the new migrants could be excused for exasperation on both counts.
Several accountants said that although they had British qualifications, they still had to sit New Zealand examinations. In the survey carried out for the Trust by Sri Lankan Asoka Basnayake, 16 people who had gained qualifications in countries like the UK, the United States, Australia and Canada, had problems getting their qualifications recognised.
For some recruitment agencies, qualifications were quite simply academic, and one respondent reported he had been told bluntly: “We don’t take people like you.”
Long, obviously foreign names deterred some employers. To counter the monoculturalism, one Sri Lankan job-seeker finally sent out two letters — one under her own name and the other under her European husband’s surname. She got no response to the letter she signed with her name, but an invitation to an interview with the other.
McNaughton has no doubt that racism runs through recruitment — and points to data and other evidence to support the claim. She finds it less than surprising given that surveys show two thirds of Kiwis believe racism exists, and one third believes it’s widespread.
“Racism exists, absolutely. I hear constantly of shortlists of applicants where people go through and put line through any surname which is not English. I am also beginning to hear stories of workplaces who say that if we really want to be competitive, we need to ensure we attract range of people,” she says.
The issue of race is not all black and white. It is often blurred because of the comfort zone of workplace compatibility aka “organisational fit” or, more plainly, cloning.
“All of us find it easier to be with people who are like ourselves. It takes conscious effort for managers to seek more diversity and then manage it,” says McNaughton.
Where diversity grows
Despite the negatives, there are signs that diversity is increasingly being recognised. Fifteen percent of boards of directors members are women, an increase of five percent in the last three years according to the Institute of Directors. And 30 percent of c