Six Months in a Leaky Boat

The heading above is a fantastic Split Enz song, and a great way to segue between disability and the nautical theme of this blog. The song is a reference to the time it took pioneers in the days of sail, to travel to Australia and New Zealand (hence the line "the tyranny of distance"), and a metaphor that refers to the lead singer Tim Finn's nervous breakdown. Hat tip to Wikipedia for this information, which I hope is correct.

Previously I have referred to the Diversity and Inclusion journey of businesses as uncharted territory, requiring careful navigation. We have developed a process called He Waka Taura, which draws symbolism from the original two hulled canoe (or Waka) which initially brought Maori safely to New Zealand across the vast Pacific Ocean. This was long before English sailors arrived in their "leaky boats".

The solution we are promoting to best approach D & I, is to utilize a proactive recruiting model, where you start the process even before there is a job opening. You start communicating with leaders of diverse communities and try to understand how to work with their people. You share information with them about the types of potential roles that may be required, and how to tap into the strengths of these people to understand where they could best be placed within your organization.

In effect, you are creating your own Talent Pools. Employment Branding and marketing is critical for others to understand the organization and its ethos, and is what draws people into your Talent Pool. Building the organization's story creates a richer context of knowledge, enabling alignment and fit when attracting and communicating with talent.

The core function of sourcing is to identify key expertise, skills and experience. There are a range of diverse attributes that a new staff member can potentially bring to the organization, for example, hidden talents, strengths, motivations, thoughts and personality. On-boarding is not only about how you bring a new staff member into the organization, but also having the support mechanisms in place to unlock their potential.

This is the tenet of He Waka Taura, which merges Maori thinking and culture with "HR best practice"

Where do you begin with D & I?

Start small, and work with other businesses who have already started their D & I journey, and share their learning. We all need to lift the bar jointly, as a community and as a nation, for the betterment of all.

The Rainbow Tick is an initiative which audits businesses, to see whether they are inclusive of LGBTI people. During the process of completing their "Tick", businesses often have existing staff members who feel the courage to "come out", knowing they are working for an organization that welcomes the whole person.

A disability scenario would be the same - many organizations have disabled staff, but just do not know it. Many people who have an invisible disability do not share this information for fear of a potential career-limiting threat. Also, the higher up the career ladder that you go, the more likely you are to remain incognito; especially if the disability is a mental health issue, like depression.

Rugby in New Zealand is more than a national obsession. We are fortunate that one of our rugby greats, Sir John Kirwan, has "come out" with his long battle with depression. He now fronts a campaign where he promotes the idea that depression is not a weakness, it is just an illness. It has had a huge impact, especially on men, to openly discussing this topic and admitting they have previously suffered from this condition.

Many people will still not "come out" with their disability, as they do not want to be defined by it (i.e. the deaf Accountant), but it would be healthier for the business to have potential mentors for other disabled people joining the company. It also highlights that the business is compassionate, "disability ready", and inclusive - which is the perfect encouragement for others with disabilities to join.

Further, the aging work force will mean that your staff will suffer from age related disabilities, which they previously did not need to contend with, but will need to address.

In summary, people with disabilities are the second largest demographic in the Diversity spectrum after gender. Ignore this group at your peril, as the discretionary yellow "disability dollar" is far more powerful than the LGBTI "pink dollar." Apart from the economic benefit of hiring people with disabilities, at 24 percent of the New Zealand population their buying power alone should be reason enough to better engage with them.

I will discuss the economic and financial ramifications in my next blog.


In the first blog of this series, I explained the reasons why I began this D & I journey, which centered on the lack of information about potential science careers when my daughter was looking to do a BSc at the University of Auckland. This was not an attack on the University, who have been absolutely fabulous during her time there (particularly the Student Disability Services Office). She has since completed her degree and is now working towards her Masters, and then plans on a PhD.

I recently met with a young vision impaired Tourism graduate, who wanted to do Sciences at another university in New Zealand. However, she got dissuaded as they also did not have information about what career she could have, and in hindsight she now regrets her degree choice. I am sure this will be the case in universities the world over, so I am not singling out institutions - and did not name the other university as I have learnt my blog lesson.

What is sorely needed, is a worldwide pool of information from which both universities and students can access, detailing employment opportunities, real stories of disabled people, and the necessary career paths. However, this would not be elitist and would cover the whole employment spectrum from non-skilled work, to apprenticeships to become skilled tradesmen and beyond, and would showcase what is possible.

My BHAG would be for this website to be in the Wikipedia style format with individuals supplying content. Otherwise it would be a heavy burden to populate and keep updated, as technology creates sweeping changes to the way we work.

So if there are any IT people out there, here is a challenge for you!!

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