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Speech

Diversity Awards

Issue date: 
Thursday, 24 August 2017
Speaker: 
The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy, GNZM, QSO

E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi o te motu e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou.

Kia ora tātou katoa.

Thank you for inviting me to your awards dinner.  I am a strong supporter of Diversity Works. The issues you address are fundamental to human rights and dignity and are key drivers for our national prosperity.  

We all agree that discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, gender, disability or age is unacceptable in 21st century New Zealand.

Former US President Barack Obama’s comments on race relations are pertinent here. He said:

[We should] act in ways that show mutual regard, propose policies that safeguard against obvious discrimination, extend ourselves in our personal lives, and in our political lives, in ways that lead us to see the other person as a human worthy of respect.  It’s what we do more than what we say, … that saves us.

It seems to me that the same care, respect and humanity applies to the range of issues that Diversity Works deals with within organisations. It is only when we translate our values into action that they really mean something.

It is disappointing that we still need an organisation like Diversity Works in 21st century New Zealand – considering the movements for social justice that have occurred in my lifetime – but it just shows that societal attitudes don’t necessarily shift as quickly as we might like.

So I am delighted that Diversity Works is bringing about positive change in our workplaces and providing recognition for organisations that are leading the way.

As Governor-General, I have identified diversity as a key focus of my programme.  I wholeheartedly agree with the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, who sees diversity as one of his country’s strengths.

Like Canada, we are a multicultural country. Some 25 percent of people who are currently resident in New Zealand were not born here – a proportion that is significantly higher than in most other countries.

Our attitudes will determine to what extent we can all embrace that diversity, tap into each other’s potential, and achieve a healthy, prosperous and safe society for all.

One of my former roles was as a Crown Negotiator for Treaty Settlements, and this experience had a profound impact on my appreciation of our history – in particular, learning about the impact of colonisation on Māori and the legacy of discriminatory practices over many years.

So I have an abiding interest in how perceptions and ignorance contribute to bias, and how our organisations and workplaces can be more inclusive of differing perspectives and world-views.

And I have a greater appreciation of the place of education and training in helping us all to not only talk across the gender, ethnic, cultural and age divides, but also to listen to each other, and understand each other’s values and perspectives.

Turning to my own experience - when I studied law at university in the 1970s, I was part of a small female cohort.  But I wasn’t really aware of gender discrimination until I tried to enter the workforce.  Just getting a job in a law firm was a challenge.  It wasn’t just sexist work colleagues that I had to contend with.  Some clients seemed unable to believe that a female lawyer could give them solid legal advice.

Things have changed since then, but unfortunately, there is still a long way to go.

Despite the fact that a majority of the graduates from our law schools in each of the past 25 years have been female, women still make up fewer than 20% of partners in law firms, and one-third of our judges.

When I moved into board governance roles in the 1980s and 90s, I was often the only woman at the board table.

Thirty years on, it’s still an issue.  Last year women made up just 17% of the directors on NZX listed company boards, though I am pleased to say that women made up 45 percent of Ministerial appointments to State sector boards.

The realisation that the movement towards gender equality was glacially slow, and indeed was regressing in some areas, led me to decide that I needed to be more active in promoting change.  In 2009, I was one of the founding trustees and board members of Global Women, which acts as a catalyst to transform and champion the leadership opportunities for women in New Zealand, recognising that diversity is a driver of business value.

More recently I was pleased to be the independent facilitator of the joint working group of unions, employers and government that recommended principles for the implementation of pay equity, set up following the Supreme Court decision in the Terranova case. 

The principles agreed by that Working Group and adopted by the Government, recognised that the relative underpayment of workers in female dominated work forces is still a significant issue in New Zealand.

Gender equity is just one of the many areas where diversity matters.  So I am delighted to see practical guidelines on a range of diversity issues on the Diversity Works’ website.

It’s not surprising that research has indicated that organisations with effective diversity policies and practices are more likely to attract and keep talent, have better insight into client needs, and make better decisions.

Diversity Works is providing an invaluable service by emphasising diversity as a positive asset, and providing training on how to recognise and address unconscious bias in the workplace.

You must be very pleased that your six-monthly surveys of organisations show a growing awareness of bias and that diversity policies have been adopted by a growing number of organisations.

I offer my congratulations to all of the award winners tonight.   I wish everyone involved with Diversity Works all the very best with your mission to make our workplaces more inclusive for all New Zealanders.

Kia ora huihui tātou katoa

 

 

Last updated: 
Friday, 25 August 2017

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