When Sripriya Somasekhar received the NZ Public Service Medal, her citation declared she “lives and breathes” her commitment to inclusion and diversity.
Dr Somasekhar moved from India to New Zealand ten years ago and is “greatly humbled” to have been recognised.
“I stand on the shoulders of women in my family who have sacrificed a lot so that I can have a voice,” she says.
As principal advisor for inclusion and diversity at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment for the past two years, Sripriya has refreshed the Ministry’s strategy.
That follows consultation via a staff survey, and the creation of safe spaces for people to share.
“People of diversity have trouble articulating experiences because they fear they won’t be believed and there will be negative consequences,” Dr Somasekhar explains.
“At MBIE, we’ve have been hearing one on one from Māori, Pacific, Asian and Rainbow communities. We listen, empathise, acknowledge and believe.”
After hearing from people at MBIE, Sripriya says it’s clear racism and discrimination is an issue, not just at the Ministry but across the public sector and the wider community.
“But there is also an appetite for people to learn more.”
INCLUSION AND DIVERSITY TRAINING
That’s resulted in a work programme that’s been developed for MBIE’s nearly 6000 staff. Leaders were involved in the training from the start, as it was important for them to be supportive.
The programme includes Mana Āki, a cross-public sector foundation online course, focussing on cultural competence and what multiculturalism means in relation to biculturalism in Aotearoa.
There’s also a workshop on the history of Aotearoa, “how our history has affected Māori, how public servants were part of making some of those decisions, and what we as public servants can do differently.”
And MBIE runs a Beyond Diversity workshop which gives people tools to have courageous conversations about race “so we can talk about it in a safe way”.