October 14, 2012

Diversity in Action

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Best Practice, Good news stories, Leading Volunteers tagged , , at 3:41 am by Sue Hine

Promoting diversity is a significant industry in New Zealand.  The Human Rights Commission (HRC) works for a fair, safe and just society, where diversity is valued, human rights respected, and everyone is able to live free from prejudice and unlawful discrimination.  Commissioners for Race Relations, Equal Employment Opportunity and Disability Rights are included in the office of HRC.

Of course it is in the public interest (and the Government’s) to celebrate cultural diversity, to promote equal rights, to foster harmonious relations, and to meet the terms of the Treaty of Waitangi.  And it should be of no less interest to managers of volunteers.

There are some tactical advantages in aiming for a volunteer team that represents diversity in the community.  One is the signal to donors and the public that the organisation is open and community-friendly.  Better still is the opportunity for a wide spread of information and good tidings about the organisation – which in turn can generate more goodwill, and donations, and a steady stream of volunteer applicants.  And when users or clients of the organisation come from diverse backgrounds it makes even more sense to recruit a broad range of volunteers.

This approach means the manager of volunteers is faced with applications from people aged 19 to 90, job-seekers to corporate professionals, people wanting social contact and others paying social debts, those on a mission and those looking for one, the able and the disabled, and people new to town or new to the country.

All those differences matter not a jot when there is a common goal, and when the differences have nothing to do with volunteer tasks.  In other words the manager plays on volunteer commonalities.  Difference and diversity does not have to mean lack of ability to work together.

But I think there is a point where demonstrating openness and community representativeness in a volunteer programme is overtaken by attention to inclusiveness.

Selection procedures will screen out people on solid grounds, according to the nature of the service or the particular volunteer roles.  There is never a place to rule out the applicant who ‘does not fit the mould’.

Inclusiveness is what happens when the application from a wheelchair-user is not declined because of disability, but assigned to a role according to ability.   Stumbling with communication when English is your second (or 3rd or 4th) language is no obstacle to volunteering on a beach clean up or to planting trees.  The bright-eyed school leaver could be just the person to take cups of tea around to elderly patients.

Inclusiveness is what happens when the organisation offers a contribution to travel costs, or makes allowances for child care schedules.  To do otherwise is to exclude people from volunteering. Inclusiveness is taking a volunteer’s good idea and running with it instead of saying it can’t be done.

Nobody has said embracing diversity would be easy.  Nor commented on the amount of juggling a manager does to harness the diversity of volunteers.  But the end result is creating a community of volunteers working together for the good of the organisation.  Which in turn generates a flow-on impact on relationships in the wider community.


The fern represents the growing cultural diversity of New Zealand. Starting from the base of the fern, the motifs are as follows:

  • Traditional kowhaiwhai pattern from a painted panel. Manutuke church. (1849) Rongowhakaata Tribe.
  • Fleur de Lys design loosely representing the European population, taken from hinges on St Patrick’s Cathedral, Auckland.
  • Samoan pattern from tapa cloth.
  • Traditional Chinese character found on silk cloth. The character ‘shou’ means longevity.
  • Indian paisley, used in henna (mendhi) designs to adorn the hands.
  • Vietnamese motif from a piece of woven fabric.
  • Middle Eastern motif (Iranian).
  • Baby fronds symbolising new growth.

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