But Why? Taking another look at the importance of cultural diversity in business

On the morning of 4 April, Global Women partners got together at Auckland War Memorial Museum to revisit the Big Why of diversity and inclusion—understanding why diversity in business is so important.

We explored the Museum’s exhibition Being Chinese in Aotearoa, and then headed over to the auditorium to hear from our three panelists.

Attendees DI meetup

D&I Meetup attendees check out the exhibition “Being Chinese in Aotearoa”

Our panel


(L-R): Jonathan Beale, GM Wealth Management ASB; Professor Edwina Pio, Professor of Diversity AUT; Kara Brown, People and Performance Manager, Fletcher Construction – Infrastructure

Our first speaker was Professor Edwina Pio, Professor of Diversity at AUT, who discussed the broader context of cultural diversity in New Zealand.

Edwina was followed by Jonathan Beale, GM Wealth Management at ASB, who discussed the value of building a diverse workforce that reflects the customer base that it seeks to attract.

Finally Kara Brown, People and Performance Manager, Fletcher Construction – Infrastructure wrapped up the morning’s event with a personal view on the value of cultural diversity to business.

Together, our panelists gave us an overview of cultural diversity in New Zealand: why it’s important to New Zealand as a whole, the value it adds to businesses, and how organisations that actively embrace cultural diversity empower and activate their people.

Three things we learned

Cultural diversity is here to stay

New Zealand’s population is changing rapidly. In setting the scene, Edwina told us that, according to the latest census, there are now 213 different ethnicities represented in New Zealand. Māori, Pacific and Asian populations have a younger median age than the dominant Pakeha population.

This means that businesses are dealing with more diverse pools of talent now—and this diversity is set to increase in the future. To be ahead of the curve and catch the best talent from all backgrounds, organisations are best to put in place mechanisms to embrace diversity now.

Take a look at Edwina’s guest post to get more cultural diversity workspace pointers.

Change takes conscious engagement

All three of our panelists emphasised the need for organisations to actively embrace cultural diversity in order to take advantage of the benefits for their organisation.

Jonathan told us how, in the last three years, his wealth management team has worked to change their make up from predominantly older white me. Now sporting a 48/52 split of women and men, the team has a younger average age of 42 and  25% identify as Asian.

This has been achieved by making conscious decisions to create a diverse team of high performers—through shaking up interview panels and working to attract high-quality candidates from diverse backgrounds. In return, ASB’s Wealth Management business is growing, feeding back financial benefits to the bank as well as raising customer satisfaction.

Speaking from both her individual experience and experience as a specialist in the people and performance space, Kara discussed some active measures taken at Fletcher Building to actively embrace the diversity of their staff at all levels of their business.

She spoke about the career support she’d received in her 20+ years at Fletcher, and the organisation’s work in developing a leadership that better reflects New Zealand’s population as well as Fletcher’s workforce. This includes Whakatupu, an internal leadership programme that uses a Māori worldview to help build the confidence and skills of emerging Māori leaders.

There is a freedom in bringing your whole self to work

Individual experience and background is fundamental to the ways that individuals problem solve. That’s why it’s important that organisations are clear that they are embracing diversity because—not in spite—of difference. As Kara said: “Who I am impacts how I deliver the what.”

In order to access all the gains that a culturally diverse workforce can bring, employees need to be given the space to bring their whole selves to work—not be expected to blur aspects of their personality in order to fit in. To fully embrace all the benefits of cultural diversity, businesses should see their workforce as a mosaic, rather than a blend of experience and knowledge.


Post image: The Gock Family, innovative market gardeners in Māngere, South Auckland, 1960s. Courtesy of Megan Blackwell, on behalf of Fay and Joe Gock.