Prosperous workplaces need cultural inclusion, not just diversity

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Research from a 2018 study published by Deloitte concluded that cultural diversity within a company increased innovation by 20 percent and decreased business risk by 30 percent, resulting in higher productivity and better business outcomes.

However, the study further stated that diversity without inclusion was insufficient. The factors that collectively defined inclusion in the study were described as when individuals feel treated with fairness and respect, have a sense of value and belonging, work in a safe and open environment and feel empowered.

As I write this, most of New Zealand is still reeling from the shock, grief and disbelief of the events that unfolded in Christchurch on March 15. The gunning down of 100 people as they gathered for peaceful prayer, is something most would never have thought possible in this country.

If there is anything that could be considered heartening from such an unnecessary and utterly mindless tragedy, it is the solidarity, support and compassion that New Zealanders from different backgrounds have responded with, around the country: nationwide vigils, floral tributes, messages of compassion and support for the Muslim community in addition to the raising of more than $8 million in the first four days alone to help support the bereaved families.

When I returned in 2005 from living and travelling overseas for 15 years, that homecoming was made that much easier when I saw the cultural and ethnic diversity that had flourished in my absence. I had no desire to return to the comparatively homogenous humdrum of sixties/seventies small-town New Zealand, but it saddens me that not everyone feels that way.

It is a shame that it has taken this tragedy for us all to come together and loudly proclaim our support for diversity in this country. But could we be doing more to support the considerable cultural, religious and ethnic diversity that now comprises New Zealand’s growing population? I think the answer is yes, and believe the workplace is a great place to start.

While celebrating cultural diversity is relatively common now in schools and early childcare education in New Zealand, it still seems rather muted in the workplace. We work alongside others whose backgrounds, cultural beliefs and values remain largely unknown to us, and perhaps our inbuilt aversion to prying into the privacy of others restricts us from asking.

It is often this fear of the unknown “other” that leads to prejudice and discrimination. New Zealanders are so very lucky to now have the ability to learn so much about other cultures, before we even board our first plane. But simply working alongside employees from a diverse background is not enough; we need to include them in our lives, and show interest in theirs as well.

We should increase our efforts to learn where our colleagues have come from. It is an opportunity for those who have never been to that country to connect with this new source of first-hand knowledge and learn about that employee’s traditions and celebrations. The more you learn about others, the more you realise that, underneath, we are all very much the same, wanting peace, health and happiness for ourselves and our families.

For those who speak English as a second language, be patient and helpful. Their English may not be perfect, or even in some cases easy to understand, but remember they speak their own language as fluently as you speak yours, and often a number of other languages to boot. Recognise that tactfulness requires nuance, and nuance requires a comparatively extensive and precise vocabulary. Assume that a lack of tact in a non-native English speaker may be attributable to linguistic difficulties, rather than rudeness.

Never underestimate how exhausting daily life can be in a second language, especially when dealing with complex matters such as immigration regulations (which may even challenge a native English speaker), so volunteer help if they need it.

Finally, when you see migrants socialising and celebrating with those from their own culture, understand that it is not done with the intention of exclusion. Speaking and working in a second language and foreign culture all day can be exhausting. The relief of being able to converse effortlessly and fluently in your own language at the end of the day is a joy that cannot be underestimated. 

I would love to think that, if any good could come out of this appalling tragedy, it is that New Zealand builds on the sense of togetherness that has been so very apparent since New Zealand’s darkest day, and strives to better support, include and celebrate the cultural diversity that makes up this wonderful place we all call home.

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About Author

Erin Burke

Employment Lawyer and Director at Practica Legal Email: erin@practicalegal.co.nz phone: 027 459 3375