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Professor Paul Spoonley with Philippe Legrain at a seminar on the economic benefits of ethnic diversity at the Albany campus.

Multi-ethnic Auckland underplays 'diversity dividend'

Local and government authorities need to do more to harness Auckland's “diversity dividend” by recognising the scale and potential economic and social value of its diverse migrant cultures, Massey sociologist Professor Paul Spoonley says.

Auckland is technically ranked as a “super-diverse” city in its ethnic mix, not just a “diverse” one, he said at a seminar on The Economic Benefits of Ethnic and Immigrant Diversity at the Albany campus this week.
This is because about 40 per cent of Auckland's 1.4 million residents were born overseas, making it one of the most ethnically diverse cities globally alongside Vancouver and more so than Sydney, where 32 per cent of residents are from other countries.

Professor Spoonley suggests removing barriers that prevent immigrants being able to find suitable work. Barriers include credential recognition, employers' assessments of English language competency and employers' attitudes.

With immigrants predicted to make up a greater portion of Auckland's workforce in the next 10 years, diversity planning and management will become more important, he told the audience of 50 local government, business and immigration agency representatives.

The seminar was also addressed by visiting British author, commentator and journalist Philippe Legrain, who said New Zealand could reap economic and cultural benefits by “unleashing the power of diversity”. Mr Legrain, the author of Open World: the Truth about Globalisation and Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them, said the successful Manchester United football team was an example of the benefits of diversity, reflecting the collective skills, talents and approaches of players, coaches and management from 10 countries.

The international football model applied equally to business. Research showed people from different cultures come up with more innovative results to problem solving and entrepreneurship than if all have the same the background, he said.

“But don't just judge the benefits of diversity solely through economics. It's part of the essence of humanity. If we value individual freedom, then allowing and enabling immigrants to flourish is a moral imperative - it's the right thing to do.

“Diversity can also have indirect benefits - it acts as a magnet for attracting creative, talented people. Diverse societies are generally more entrepreneurial because they are more open and tolerant.”

In managing diversity, managers need to “allow people to be different and treat diversity as an asset, not a cost“, Mr Legrain said.

Professor Spoonley heads the Integration of Immigrants Programme, a five-year research project on how immigrant employees and business owners use their skills as they settle in New Zealand. It involves a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from Massey and Waikato universities, funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.
 
The seminar was organised by Massey University, the North Shore City Council and the Office of Ethnic Affairs.

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