The Rise of the Rainbow Flag in Corporate New Zealand: Three things we learned

Global Women hosts quarterly diversity and inclusion (D&I) MeetUps as an opportunity for our corporate partners to get together and discuss a specific topic in the D&I space.

Our September D&I MeetUp was themed “The Rise of the Rainbow Flag in Corporate New Zealand”, and was co-hosted by our Principal partner PwC during their annual diversity week.

Our panel


(L-R) Michael Stevens, Russell Windsor, Candice Collier, Toni Lea

The event was facilitated by Michael Stevens, Founder of the Rainbow Tick, and featured three panellists: Toni Lea, Group Recruitment Manager at Fletcher Building, Candice Collier, Senior Manager Customer Experience at Westpac, and Russell Windsor, Partner at PwC.

All three panellists have been instrumental in developing successful LGBTTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, tākatāpui and intersex) diversity strategies in their respective organisations—and as members of the community themselves, shared their own stories of the impact of these changing corporate approaches.

DI Meetup blog collage

(Top, L-R) PwC offices, Meetup attendees, (Middle) Panellists in action, (Bottom L-R) PwC Senior Assurance Partner Leo Foliaki, Candice Collier and Russell Windsor.

Three things we learned

The panel discussion allowed us to see why it’s important to create an LGBTTI inclusive corporate culture, how it can be achieved, and the very real organisational benefits.

To feel as though you belong at an organisation, you need to be able to bring your whole self to work

In his opening notes, Michael made the point that for many members of the LGBTTI community it can be easy to camouflage at work—however uncomfortable. Candice cited Westpac’s research, which found that over 50% of working New Zealanders feel like they can’t be their whole selves at work, and that the Rainbow community were two times more likely to feel this.

To make space for LGBTTI employees to be their happiest and most productive at work, we need to create corporate cultures where they are valued and supported. Supportive corporate environments help employees to come out as “professionally gay”, raising the profile of the LGBTTI community in the organisation and making it safe for others to come out in turn.

This visibility is important. Candice told us the story of a senior leadership member who shared a personal anecdote that included his partner and effectively came out to his team during a presentation. This single authentic act had a hugely positive impact on Westpac’s D&I journey—and importantly, allowed younger LGBTTI staff members to see themselves reflected in their organisations leadership.

To make it safe to come out at work, organisations need to be prepared to come out in support of their LGBTTI employees, listen to what they need, and take a strong line on cultural issues like bullying.

Change needs to be championed from the top—but supported from throughout the organisation

A big question for any organisation is whether this change should be driven from the top or from grass-roots level.

Our panellists were unanimous: to achieve real change within an organisation, its leaders need to step up, own their diversity initiatives and listen. They need to be seen authentically role modelling the change—personally and professionally—and clearly signal that they value and want diversity.

Changing hearts and minds within an organisation is no easy feat. Businesses need to be clear in their message, align their D&I initiatives to their corporate values, and to commit real resources in order to maintain momentum. They may also need to engage a number of different approaches to get the full engagement of the organisation across all levels.

Our panellists agreed that it can be challenging to get nation-wide engagement in LGBTTI D&I initiatives. They agreed that the most effective way to bring regional centres along for the ride is to engage them directly and keep the messaging relevant to their individual experiences.

Organisations can also use the attitudes of external stakeholders to help engage their staff. By demonstrating the value that clients or customers see in an organisation’s LGBTTI D&I approach, it can be easier to overcome internal push back.

A commitment to LGBTTI diversity has real impact on finding and keeping staff

Making these changes isn’t about diversity for the sake of diversity. It’s about creating space for true talent.

Our panellists talked about the demonstrated benefit their Rainbow approach to diversity had in terms of improved staffing outcomes: helping them keep existing employees, as well as making their organisation more attractive to new recruits.

Candice talked about how new graduate recruits found Westpac’s Rainbow Tick a real drawcard whether they identified as LGBTTI or not, believing that it demonstrated the bank’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

And Toni gave the example of an LGBTTI staff member who decided to stay at Fletcher Building after the introduction of the organisation’s targeted LGBTTI D&I initiative—a demonstration that their identity was valued and respected by their employer.

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