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From the Law Society

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Let’s enhance our diversity

Diversity is to be welcomed. It has been excellent to see the increasing number of initiatives to promote diversity in our workplaces and in positions of leadership.

Human rights initiatives often focus on where there is discrimination. An important aspect of human rights, however, is to promote the positive aspects of the humanity that we all share – to promote aspects such as diversity.

In New Zealand, we have some distance to travel in terms of achieving true equity for the people who live in our country, regardless of their location, language, religion, ethnic origin, gender (including intersex), sexuality or sexual preference or any other status.

Researchers have suggested that one big driver of human behaviour is a preference for homogeneity. That frequently results in an environment that tends to reinforce our preference for people who are similar to us.

But that does not translate into better performance. Diversity does, however.

This was highlighted in research conducted by economist Sara Ellison. Entitled “Diversity, Social Goods Provision, and Performance in the Firm,” this paper was published last year in the Journal of Economics and Management Strategy.

“The more homogeneous offices have higher levels of social capital,” Sara Ellison states. “But the interesting twist is that … higher levels of social capital are not important enough to cause those offices to perform better.”

The study used eight years of revenue data and survey results, covering 1995 to 2002, from a professional services firm with more than 60 offices in the United States and abroad.

Among other results, the economists found that shifting from an all-male or all-female office to one split evenly along gender lines could increase revenue by roughly 41%.

This is just one of many studies that demonstrate that making a workplace more diverse in terms of gender or ethnicity significantly increases the firm’s bottom line.

The research supports the importance of diversity in the workplace. But much of the focus to date has been on gender and ethnic diversity. In this issue of LawTalk, we take a look at another aspect of diversity: the LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Questioning) community.

I read with interest the recent comment of American Express’s diversity officer, Valerie Grillo, who cites Amex’s positive rankings on lists for “LGBT-friendliness”. Amex’s commitment to diversity is “not just because it’s the right thing to do, but frankly, because our business leaders believe that a focus on diversity is actually going to help us with the bottom line.”

The experiences of people within our profession that are discussed in this issue of LawTalk demonstrate how important it is that we address the issue so as to ensure that all members of the profession can fully participate in it, and so that we can give service to our clients that fits with who they are.

We take diversity seriously at Russell McVeagh where I am a partner. It is the right thing to do, but also it enables us to provide a better service to our clients.

So I commend diversity. Embrace it and welcome people whose background or status is different from your own – whether that be because of gender, ethnicity, LGBTIQ status or any other point of difference.

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