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Recruiting for Cultural Diversity with Harmony and Balance


​The Ministry of Education has received many accolades for its success in bringing cultural diversity to its intern programme and wider recruitment efforts.

Ben Pearson and Sandy Eaton from Beyond Recruitment sat down with Lilian Singson, Sourcing & Selection Manager and May Tagaolo Wright, Sourcing & Selection Advisor at the Ministry of Education to discuss their Summer Intern Programme and how they are leading the way in Diversity & Inclusion.

Can you tell us about the intern programme and what the key aspects were that you had to consider or learned along the way?

Established in 2018, our three-month-long Summer Internship, part of an Early in Careers programme, allows interns to experience what it would be like working for the Ministry of Education. By directly recruiting for the internship process, MOE can target Māori, Pasifika and diverse communities directly.

May spoke of ensuring they were giving every opportunity to allow those that may be interested a chance to learn more and apply for the internship. This includes offering additional evening presentations specifically for the Māori/Pasifika community during Career Expos. They also focussed on making the sessions hospitable and welcoming e.g. ensuring food was freely available (at a presentation at Victoria University they had KFC) – “if we expect them to sit and listen to us for a couple of hours, the least we can do is feed them as well.” May also adapts her presentations to suit the audience.

Did you find there was a high level of interest from the Māori/Pasifika intern community? If so, how did you manage the assessment process from a volume perspective?

There has been considerable interest in the programme and its popularity has increased over the years as it has become more established and well-known. MOE has also been able to increase the number of interns that they can bring into the organisation.

MOE chooses a range of people from diverse backgrounds to be on the assessment panel. The interviewers are trained on how to overcome unconscious bias and to understand how one’s cultural background can impact the way potential interns respond in an interview situation. This includes the humility a lot of candidates may have and a reluctance to “toot their own horn” and promote themselves and what they have done.

May encourages candidates to draw examples from all aspects of their life, including voluntary, spiritual and personal experiences. They are encouraged to bring their “whole self” to the interviews.

Once successfully accepted into the programme, did you have to adapt your standard intern onboarding/induction processes for a more diverse pool of starters?

As part of the onboarding process, MOE ensured that they had someone from a similar cultural background as the intern’s buddy – someone they could feel safe with as they settled into MOE. This was part of their plan to ensure cultural safety from their first day as an intern.

May, who comes from a Samoan background, relayed how much of a difference it made when she joined MOE and was given a buddy from another team who was also Samoan. The story had a twist when she found out that her new “buddy” lived next door to her!

Both Lilian and May spoke extensively about the importance of Le Va. Le Va is the space that relates traditionally to Pasifika people; sacred relationships exist between people, as well as between people and the environment, ancestors and heavens. To nurture the Va is to respect and maintain the sacred space, harmony and balance within relationships. Bringing people from a Māori or Pasifika background into a new role includes embracing what they bring as a whole and ensuring this is fully supported in the workplace.

Originally they included psychometric testing as part of the screening criteria but as time went on they realised that psychometric assessments are based on Western practices and can have a built-in bias towards minority groups. You’d need to be intentional, considering the test results as a data point combined with other selection tools so you get a holistic view of the candidate’s abilities.

Outside of the internship programme success, can you comment on the Ministries’ approach to general recruitment regarding embracing diversity, particularly talent from Māori/Pasifika talent communities? For example:

What are the key barriers and what advice can you give to overcome them?

Lilian described how MOE has had to tailor its recruitment processes to be a lot more deliberate when targeting diversity. She noted the need to start with your own whare and how they have needed to change their mindset and thinking in this area. This includes educating hiring managers on how to identify potential rather than focusing solely on skills already in place. Once again humility plays a part and a reflection of this is a tendency by candidates to use “we” in examples rather than personally taking credit for something they have done.

This has been a journey with leadership in the D&I space having come from the CEO down. Lilian noted the importance of people leaders “walking the talk.”

Have there been any unintended consequences (positive or negative) with a more deliberate effort to recruit for diversity?

There were some queries on whether we are “reverse discriminating.” Lilian’s answer to that is that we have been discriminating unconsciously and systemically for so long and disadvantaging the Māori and Pasifika community with western based recruitment processes and to right this balance we need to focus deliberately to bring in diversity.

They usually end up keeping around 50% of the interns who move on to entry-level roles within MOE. There are some notable examples of people who entered through this programme and have grown and developed and are now in senior advisor roles either at MOE or have taken their career learnings and skill development to other government organisations.

The importance of reflecting whom we have working in government organisations directly to whom they work with in the general public is certainly greatly assisted by having these directed programmes and recruitment processes focusing on bringing in diversity. MOE certainly are a great example and there is a lot to learn from what they successfully achieved and the lessons they learnt along the way.


What is your company doing for diversity & inclusion? Are you making the right adjustments for your new hires? Reach out to our specialist recruitment consultants today – we’d love to hear your thoughts!

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