Ethnic people ignored for leadership roles

This is not Inclusive New Zealand

Eric Chuah

New research shows that ethnic diversity at the leadership table is the key ingredient missing from a truly inclusive multicultural society in New Zealand.

As a part of a social enterprise research project undertaken by Multicultural New Zealand and Cultural Connections in August 2017, more than 400 migrants were asked a series of questions about creating an inclusive multicultural society.

The research shows very clearly that the number one area of improvement being called for by New Zealand’s multicultural population is to have a more ethnically diverse senior leadership table.

Poor representation

The leadership across government, business and the education sector, is not seen as representative of today’s multicultural society and this is holding us back.

Participants in the research were from various ethnic backgrounds throughout New Zealand, 24% of whom were born in New Zealand and 76% overseas.

Many participants completed the survey in their native language.

New Zealand is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world and continues to experience record high levels of migration.

Migrants important

Migrants are an important, diverse and changing community who make up 25% of New Zealand’s population.

That is why this research is really important, Multicultural New Zealand Executive Director Tayo Agunlejika said.

“We can gain a better understanding of what migrants and local Kiwis in New Zealand think, what is holding them back and what needs to change so they can contribute their full potential. By and large, New Zealand is a very welcoming society and migrants feel they are able to participate and succeed when they come to New Zealand,” he said.

Worrying trend

However, surveys conducted by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment show a worrying trend. Kiwis feel that New Zealand is less welcoming to migrants now (76%) than we did in 2011 (82%).

“This is very concerning, and we want to make sure we do what we can to turn this around. Part of that is giving a greater voice to migrant communities in New Zealand,” Mr Agunlejika said.

The research has the support of Dame Susan Devoy, New Zealand’s Race Relations Commissioner and Professor Edwina Pio, New Zealand’s first Professor of Diversity at Auckland University of Technology (AUT).

Dame Susan said that we can and must do better in understanding the challenges and barriers for migrants in being able to participate fully in New Zealand society and to recognize their economic, social and cultural rights.

Our role

“We all have a role to play in the future of our country, and the results of this survey provide a baseline which illustrates we all have work to do,” she said.

The 2017 Stakeholder Summit under the leadership of Professor Edwina on ‘Ethnicity in the Workspace’ was positioned to provoke a thoughtful multi-dimensional interpretation of ethnicity and key learnings for organisations.

“This report is an endeavour to create greater awareness of diversity to build and sustain inclusive communities and organisations in business and society,” Professor Edwina said.

Westpac support

Westpac New Zealand General Manager of Operations and Contact Centre Leanne Lazarus said that this research is a good reminder of the further work to be done in building a truly diverse and inclusive New Zealand for all of its people.

“As the country’s population changes, a sustainable and inclusive plan is key for the New Zealand of the future,” she said.

The report is available at


Cultural Connections is New Zealand’s first social enterprise to specialise in migrant research. Visit

Multicultural NZ (Federation of Multicultural Councils Inc) is a national organisation with 20 constituent regional multicultural councils and 37 Newcomers Networks throughout New Zealand and national councils for women, youth, seniors and business. Visit

Eric Chuah is Founder-Director of Cultural Connections based in Auckland.

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