A fair go in the public sector?

Diversity is important for an effective public service. It can help maintain core public values, increase managerial efficiency, improve policy effectiveness, raise the quality of public service and enhance social mobility.  Greater diversity in the public service can also contribute to improving inequalities. According to Business NZ CEO Phil O’Reilly: “If Māori and Pasifika don’t succeed in the next twenty years, New Zealand will fail as a nation. It’s that simple.”

public sector 303 A fair go in the public sector?

What then, are the barriers to public senior management being more ethnically diverse? A State Services Commission report suggested this could be because of the high proportion of young people in Maori, Pacific and Asian populations. The majority of these populations also live in Auckland, while most high level public service jobs are in Wellington.  However, cultural differences also play their part, as does direct and indirect discrimination.

Although there were EEO objectives set up for state services in 2001, these were not met. A 2007 report found this was because of a lack of public sector wide leadership as well as a lack of genuine commitment. As we have seen in other areas, efforts were mostly confined to adding on ‘target groups’ to an existing structure, without seeking to change the structure itself. Another reason for this failure could be the tendency for recruiters to appoint (and listen more to) people like themselves, often being unaware they are doing so.

The Commission has found that public policy is not developed with the implications for Maori and Pacific peoples in mind. Cabinet paper checklists for example, state that Treaty of Waitangi principles must be followed, but do not ask whether the implications for Maori have been considered. Including an analysis of these implications early on is important to ensuring solutions for Maori are not an afterthought.

Some agencies have been trying to shift organisational attitudes. The Office of Ethnic Affairs published a report on improving policy related research about ethnic communities in 2007. The Department of Corrections refined its policy development process to include an “Effectiveness for Maori Guide”. The NZ Police were also one of the first government agencies to develop a dedicated ethnic strategy, which you can read about here.

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