Cultural Competence, New Migrants and Superdiversity

Cultural Competence, New Migrants and Superdiversity

In terms of migration New Zealand is unique among the OECD countries. We have the highest inflow of migrants per capita compared with any other country in the OECD.

In 2015, there was a nett gain of some 62,000 new migrants settling permanently in New Zealand, adding a rich, new dimension to an already rich and increasingly diverse country. The speed with which this is happening has been called ‘Superdiversity.’ And it is here to stay not only in Auckland but increasingly throughout the country.

So what are the benefits and challenges that this brings to NZ as a country and for NZ organisations and businesses? What do employers and managers have to do, to get the best from their increasingly diverse workforce?

How do we adapt?

How do ‘we’ and our ’new’ New Zealanders adapt, adjust, contribute to, build and strengthen New Zealand’s social cohesion and prosperity as a modern 21st century nation?

Not exactly small questions but how we address them together is absolutely vital to our collective future as New Zealanders. This is encapsulated in the quote from Dr Martin Luther King, “We may have all come on different ships but we’re in the same boat now.”

A united crew is a strong crew. To keep ‘boat New Zealand’ harmonious and on an even keel, with everyone rowing in the same direction, New Zealanders and not just the new migrants, both need to learn more about each other. Each needs to recognise and appreciate the strengths the other has to offer.

Social cohesion

It is a shared journey of nationhood in which tolerance and mutual respect play a key part in building a prosperous and dynamic country.

On the social cohesion front, while stating the obvious, it important that new migrants truly understand that there are different cultural norms and ways of doing things here. It is important that they understand New Zealand’s unique history as a multi-cultural nation within a bi-cultural context (See story on Waitangi Day), the importance of the rule of Law, transparency in business and government (NZ is one of the top 4 most transparent countries in the world), fairness and care for the environmental are core New Zealand values and what these mean for the way they do things in their new homeland Aotearoa New Zealand.

On the prosperity/economic front, NZ businesses and organisations need to learn how to manage, lead and make the most of the benefits Superdiversity brings to their increasingly culturally diverse teams and workforce. Equally, new migrants need to learn how to work in the Kiwi workplace with the often unspoken expectations Kiwis have of how things are done and of course how to understand the subtleties of and how to speak ‘Kiwi English.’ It is a dynamic two-way process and ongoing conversation in which both can learn and hone the essential 21st century skill of ‘Cultural Competency.’

What is Cultural Competency?

Cultural competence described by the chair of the Superdivesity centre, Mai Chen, “is the ability not to presume that other people are like you and to see the differences as a benefit and not as a detriment.” Cultural competency also includes, “the willingness, tools and ability to identify and respond creatively to cultural challenges and conflicts in ways that both respect and engage the Other [culture],” as described by Dr George Simons, who has more than 50 years’ experience teaching Intercultural understanding and collaboration and expertise in influencing and negotiating across cultures.

And the Good News is…

The good news is that these are skills which can be learnt.

Both current NZers and new migrants can and need to learn and develop ‘Cultural Competency’ skills if we are to minimise the negative effect of two major issues that have beset other nations. These issues are that some NZers may become resentful of the new migrants and the new migrants being discriminated against, not being employed and feeling marginalised leading to anger and frustration.

However we are optimistic about the future.

Many cultures, One people

NZ can be described as ‘Many cultures, One people.’ Despite the incidents of racism in New Zealand’s history, which no nation is immune from, New Zealand has a high degree of tolerance and acceptance of other cultures as evidenced by the high proportion of cross-cultural marriages compared to many other countries.

Everyone in NZ all share one thing in common. This is described by the late Dr Michael King when he observed, “In a country inhabited for a mere one thousand years, everybody is an immigrant or a descendent of an immigrant.” Learning to live and work together and to get the best from each other, is in all our best interests now and for future generations. It is a shared future encapsulated in the Maori proverb – 

He waka eke noa – ‘We are all in this canoe together.’

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