November 8, 2016

How superdiversity can give your business an edge

Published in the Spark Digital New Zealand

As New Zealand becomes even more of a melting pot, businesses need to expand their thinking beyond traditional Kiwi audiences. Matching the market’s superdiversity is a way to super-charge results. We speak with three people at the forefront of inclusion to find out more.

Superdiversity is a social science term used to describe a complex level of population diversity, specifically where more than 25% of the population is born overseas or more than 100 ethnicities are represented in the population. It encompasses ethnicity, culture, age, gender, sexual orientation and disability. In New Zealand, no region is more diverse than Auckland. Currently almost 50% of Auckland’s population is Māori, Pacific or Asian, and yet many businesses are only optimised to attract the stereotypical Euro-Kiwi.

Kiwi-Taiwanese lawyer Mai Chen, chair of the The Superdiversity Centre for Law, Policy and Business has become the spokesperson for superdiversity in New Zealand. The centre’s Superdiversity Stocktake has been downloaded more than 130,000 times in less than a year. She’s taken superdiversity on board not just because it’s a socially correct aspiration, but also because it represents an opportunity for businesses to win new customers, discover new markets, improve customer service and be better employers. It is critical for the optimal performance of our economy.

She says, “Most New Zealand businesses are not currently thinking of diversity as a point of leverage to beat the competition. They’re only thinking about it in terms of social justice, equality and the same old ‘we should have more women’ thing. However there is a huge market advantage for businesses that have the cultural capability to connect with more groups in our increasingly superdiverse society. Not only is this critical to understanding your customer, but also to understanding the issues faced by employees, so you can help them maximise their full potential.”

Mai knows from the demographic statistics, and from those who have sought her advice, that the status quo of targeting the traditional Euro-Kiwi audience with a staff of Euro-Kiwis is unsustainable.

Already New Zealanders speak more than 160 languages and identify with over 200 ethnicities. In our largest city, 44% of the residents weren’t born in New Zealand. And projections out to 2038 predict that Māori, Asian and Pacific people will go from being 34% of the total Kiwi population to around 51%.

Westpac’s building a balanced and inclusive culture

As a founding partner of the Women of Influence Awards, Westpac is committed to honouring the contribution women make to the success of New Zealand’s economy. Karen Silk, GM Commercial, Corporate & Institutional at Westpac, says the awards shine a spotlight on female leadership abilities.

“Women make up just over half of our customer base, and they help shape the country’s values and place in the world. However there’s still a way to go in terms of women as corporate and big business leaders. These awards showcase and celebrate the contribution of women in a whole variety of areas. Recognising their collective achievements puts a focus on women within the leadership forum.”

Within Westpac, nearly half of the executive team and 48% of managers are women. The goal is to get the ratio of women in management to above 50% by 2020. Just as importantly, the bank is also working on improving diversity across ethnicity, faith, gender and disability.

“We’re creating a really inclusive environment, so that you can bring your whole self to work. Through policy and action, we’re making sure there is no reason for anyone to be uneasy about anything in the workplace. New Zealand is becoming increasingly diversified, in fact Auckland is the third most culturally diverse city in the world. Our people need to reflect our customers, and the face of our customers is changing.”

Unconscious bias training has been highly successful within Westpac. Delivered by its own people, who were schooled by experts, the training helps employees to identify and understand their individual biases, and then overcome them.

“Of all the things we’re doing to create an inclusive culture, this initiative has had the most impact. It’s very revealing and there are always surprises. It has created awareness that you can’t take these things for granted. Being unbiased is something you have to work at.”

Westpac also embraces difference through regular employee campaigns. Recent examples include Mental Health Awareness Week, Māori Language Week and LGBT Ally Week. The bank was one of the first corporates to get the rainbow tick.

“I believe you have to support cultural difference within your business from the top down. Simple things like acknowledging employees and customers in their own language shows you care.”

Spark recognises superdiversity as a way to better serve everyone

Here at Spark, cultural intelligence is regarded as hugely important for attracting and retaining talented people within the business. Jolie Hodson, CEO of Spark Digital and recent Women of Influence Award finalist, says the Spark team needs to mirror the diversity of its evolving customer base.

“Both of the businesses I have worked for over the last decade – Lion and Spark – have recognised the increasing importance of superdiversity. Recently Spark appointed Rhonda Koroheke, who’s been with the company for 11 years, to the full-time role of Diversity and Inclusion Programme Manager. She’s leading a broad range of initiatives across Spark.

“But ultimately it comes down to each of us actively thinking about how we are contributing to a more inclusive environment. How welcoming are we to different cultures? Are we taking time to understand what’s important to the different groups within our business? I was up at the Network Operations Centre (NOC) last week where they were celebrating the differences within the team by dressing to represent their ethnicity and sharing foods from their various cultures.”

Speaking to Spark’s goal to unleash the potential of all New Zealanders through digital technology, Jolie points out that mobile technology removes some of the barriers to superdiversity, because it allows people to work from home in different locations and cover timeframes outside of business hours. Within companies it can also bring together people who share similar culture, ethnicity and identity.

So where to start?

Before your business or organisation can make progress towards the goal of superdiversity, it’s important to understand what you already have in terms of your customers and employees. Where do they come from? What languages do they speak? What differentiates them? When you know this baseline, you can take steps towards achieving greater diversity, including recruiting from a more diverse employee pool, developing diversity-friendly policies and creating opportunities for employees to share ideas about building a more inclusive culture.

For additional ideas and inspiration, you can watch Mai Chen’s series of videos where she discusses cultural intelligence practices with a number of culturally-capable leaders throughout New Zealand.