Diversity in Action - the Council at Victoria University of Wellington


Last month, the winners of the Westpac Women of Influence Awards were announced, celebrating the outstanding contribution of women leaders in every aspect of New Zealand society—from the public service to business, community, the arts, and science.

Each of the winners and nominees richly deserve these accolades. They have achieved incredible things and have mentored and inspired many future women of influence as well.

At the same time, though, I look forward to the time when these awards will be rendered superfluous – not because the achievements of these women are not worthy of celebration, but because women leaders stand on an equal footing with their male counterparts, and their success is not immediately associated with their gender. I hope this time will come soon.

 In the meantime, it’s important to make sure that as well as celebrating the achievements of those women at the pinnacle of their profession, we encourage all women who think they might be able to make a difference to take up leadership opportunities. Doing so will help ensure that the leaders of our political, corporate and educational institutions reflect the diversity of our societies.

 Put simply, we can’t afford to discriminate. Organisations around New Zealand and, indeed, around the world need to make the most of talented individuals, whatever their gender, ethnic background or age.

 This commitment to equal opportunities for women and diversity in our leadership roles is something we take seriously at Victoria University. We are very proud to have equal representation of men and women on our governing body—the University Council—and to have a range of cultural perspectives and ages around the Council table.  At our December Council meeting we will appoint our 3rd Maori member following the recent staff election.

 Diversity too is a hallmark of Victoria’s senior leadership team, which has nearly even numbers of men and women. We are a member of the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust and, alongside other New Zealand universities, Victoria supports the New Zealand Women in Leadership programme.

 Producing and sharing knowledge is the core job of a university but these institutions also play a role in holding a mirror up to society—commenting on important issues and helping to improve the world we inhabit. One of the most valuable contributions universities can make is to highlight that there are many ways to view issues and in this respect, they are powerful advocates for diversity.

 This of course also applies in their own back yards. Universities are communities of people from many different backgrounds and, to function well, must accept, accommodate and celebrate diverse perspectives on their campuses.

Addressing gender imbalance is important, as is ensuring greater participation in tertiary education by Māori and Pasifika students. At Victoria, we’ve seen the number of Māori and Pasifika students increase every year since 2012, driven by more scholarship funding for these students combined with other initiatives such as opening dedicated spaces for Pasifika students, offering mentoring programmes for Māori students and incorporating mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) into Victoria’s curriculum development. And with the Professor Rawinia Higgins recently appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Māori) at Victoria and the Hon. Luamanuvao Winnie Laban in the role of Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Pasifika), we’re showing Māori and Pasifika students—women students, in particular—that they can be leaders in the field of higher education.

 My hope is that diversity and the attitude towards women’s equal participation in university governance and leadership becomes the norm, not the exception. The fundamental driver for those of us in governance roles must be to ensure that we have the right mix of people to understand and reflect the concerns and priorities of those whom we serve and lead.

 Coupled with this, we need to establish the systems and frameworks to facilitate women’s leadership and to ensure that everyone is treated equally—from pay, to career prospects, to work-life balance, to respect in the workplace.

 Ensuring women can reach their potential—that they are enabled and supported by the organisations they work within—benefits not only women but New Zealand as a whole.

 E kore e taea e te whenu kotahi

te whāriki te raranga.

 (The tapestry of understanding cannot be woven by one strand alone.)


One of the most valuable contributions universities can make is to highlight that there are many ways to view issues and in this respect, they are powerful advocates for diversity.

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