ACE New Zealand has developed a diversity and inclusion (D&I) policy that members can use as a springboard to create their own policy. Chief Executive Paul Evans talks about the value of D&I and ACE's approach.
Why is diversity and inclusion important to ACE?
Through our involvement in The Diversity Agenda (together with Engineering New Zealand and Te Kāhui Whaihanga NZ Institute of Architects), ACE has clearly recognised supporting and promoting D&I amongst our members is an essential part of our role.
Ultimately, the consulting and engineering sector aims to create solutions and deliver fit-for-purpose outcomes for our communities. The simplest way to do that is to ensure that our firms look like the communities they work in.
People often talk about diversity of thought, but I don't think that should be our go-to point as it can become an "easy out" for maintaining the status quo and from having more challenging conversations.
On the other hand, if we drive diversity of thought by developing a diverse workforce, we can challenge that status quo and change the way we do things. Encouraging a place for challenging conversations and organisational curiosity allows us to create innovative solutions to our society's myriad complex problems.
Why did ACE develop a D&I policy?
Our policy development began when the ACE Board challenged me on how serious we are about supporting D&I within the sector.
Sure ACE had actively supported The Diversity Agenda, which was an excellent first step in demonstrating its value in advancing our sector's future fitness. Still, we needed to develop a robust framework to guide the way we work.
In addition to this, last year, we researched our members' maturity on diversity and inclusion and asked whether they had developed a D&I policy. Our research showed that most of those surveyed thought D&I was critically important to their company's future, but most admitted they didn't have a policy document. This led us to write a framework policy that we can share with our members. The policy can be adapted to each company's circumstances and is designed to be a starting point for their D&I journey.
We have also created metrics around the policy that will allow us to measure our success and whether our work has the desired impact within the sector. We will share those metrics with members through a future blog.
How did ACE develop the policy?
A wide range of organisations with far greater resources than ours have done some fantastic work in the D&I space. I looked widely through that work and borrowed extensively from businesses I felt were leading the way.
The further my research took me, the more apparent it became that the company I admired most was the New Zealand accounting software business, Xero. They have developed an aspirational policy that struck a chord with me. They also operate in the tech sector, which has some challenges very similar to consulting and engineering.
We used their approach as a base and adapted it to fit our purpose. There's no shame in learning from others who are further on in the D&I journey, and we want our members to fine-tune our policy to make it resonate within their companies. Each company should shape a unique approach that works for their organisation as there is no "one right path" for D&I.
What's the purpose of the metrics?
Our Board developed a set of metrics to measure the success of the work we do with D&I. Those metrics will ensure that we hold ourselves to account and allow our members to as well.
We will tell our members what we are doing, how we're going to measure our work and report the results. Those outcomes will allow our members to challenge us if they feel we are not doing a good enough job.
I think an excellent example of this will come from our joint conference with IPWEA in September this year Future-Fit Aotearoa, where we have set some exacting targets around D&I, including the gender and ethnicity balance of our speakers.
We must continually challenge the status quo when considering speakers at our events and not settle for the easy option. This year's conference is entitled Future-Fit Aotearoa, and the speakers will offer a broad range of perspectives from diverse communities that will challenge status quo thinking.
Is it just about putting a policy in place?
This policy is just the first step in the D&I journey and sets out our intention to help members make some initial moves in this space. ACE is a little bit unique in that we have a dual role. We aim to get D&I right within our organisation, but we also want to support our members to develop a robust, progressive approach as a membership body.
The consulting and engineering sector is currently facing some significant workforce challenges, and I think a robust D&I approach is vital in ensuring we attract the very best talent.
What needs to happen now?
The development of a D&I policy isn't something to fear. People are often a bit nervous about taking the first step because they don't want to do something wrong. I'd like to see our members begin the conversation around D&I in an open, honest, and genuine way and encourage their people to join the journey. It should be made very clear that D&I is not about one group losing something; it's about ensuring that we allow our businesses to access the diverse talent pool available in Aotearoa. That will help us get the very best outcomes for an increasingly complex society.
Any final thoughts?
I want to encourage people to download our D&I policy and browse through what other organisations are doing. The next step is to look at what resonates with you in the ACE policy and combine it with the information gathered from other approaches to develop a tailor-made plan that fits your organisation's purpose.
Finally, if you aren't already signed up for The Diversity Agenda Accord, I'd encourage you to do that. The Accord is a chance for leaders to come together in a non-competitive way. They can increase their knowledge of the value that D&I brings to their business, have an opportunity to discuss their challenges in a supportive environment, and advance their practices through collective learning.
Other D&I approaches worth checking out:
- Xero (their approach is what we embraced)
- Air New Zealand
- Diversity Works New Zealand also has some great tips