July 26, 2017

Leadership strategies to overcome cultural barriers in Kiwi workplaces

It's close to 30 years since all-girl Kiwi group When the Cat's Away sang 'Melting Pot', but the single is still relevant today. Our little nation is a mash up of cultures from all around the world with a quarter of people living in New Zealand born overseas, according to Statistics New Zealand. 

With this much diversity, it's no surprise that cultural barriers can sometimes present themselves in the workplace. Let's look at how leaders can overcome these barriers. 

Commitment to diversity

First and foremost, employers need to commit to diversity in the workplace, rather than expecting foreign employees to 'become Kiwi'. Cultural diversity in our workplaces should be seen as an asset and actively encouraged. 

Cultural inclusion that goes beyond rhetoric is the first step to putting everyone on equal footing and preventing certain individuals or groups from feeling isolated.


Many organisations in New Zealand operate with a mono-cultural approach to business. Broadening perspective and improving cultural intelligence can help people understand each other. Education is the key to tolerance and understanding, so as well as any relevant training, making sure there is plenty of inter-cultural exchanges at work is a great place to start. 

As far as leadership strategies go, this can mean celebrating events and festivals from different cultures, such as Diwali or Eid al-Fitr, and recognising the needs of different religions, by providing spaces or acknowledgement they may need. Implementing these seemingly minor things can help people understand differences and the impact culture has on workplace behaviour.


Being accepting and open to differences is important, but so is the next step of learning to accommodate those them. 

Communication styles in New Zealand businesses can be tough to navigate for foreigners, sometimes causing confusion and even offence. For example, Kiwis speak quite differently to people from overseas and workplaces can be very informal. The use of slang and swear words at work can present difficulties for people whose first language is not English, or who are offended by this kind of language. Interacting is crucial to fitting in, so issues with communication can be very challenging and isolating for some people. 

Being aware that people bring different communication styles with them into the workplace can help to avoid any miscommunications. Focusing on communication styles, identifying any problem areas and adapting to suit the needs of others can help to overcome cultural barriers in Kiwi workplaces.

Good leadership is the guiding light in diverse workplaces. Here at Jackson Stone and Partners, we connect leaders with roles where they can shine.