Another in our series of Migrants’ Tales – first hand accounts of the migrant experience in New Zealand, taken from locations around the net.
Today’s tale is taken from the advice and support forum Expatexposed, the only not-for-profit forum where immigrants of all nationalities talk frankly about what it’s really like to work and live in New Zealand, and where none of the posts are moderated or censored.
In in the author, a professionally qualified and experienced New Zealander, tells of the difficulties he experienced when trying to find employment back in New Zealand after a period abroad. He demonstrates how the phrase “No New Zealand experience” is used as an excuse for racism and fear of competition, and suggests some long terms solutions to the problem:
I spent many years away working at the leading edge of my profession in major foreign centers and with household-name organizations. Like many, I decided to return to NZ for “lifestyle” and family reasons. (It’s OK – I put inverted commas around the L word).
When I began to explore employment opportunities while still abroad, I was met with a wall of silence. I couldn’t even get recruiters to call me back. Email replies were pro forma of the “please get in touch with us again when you are in New Zealand” variety.
I had expected (naively) to be welcomed with open arms by the organization I had worked with before leaving New Zealand. I had maintained convivial relations with key persons in that organization during my years away. But that organization too shunned me – at least initially. No discussion. No invitation to call and chat – just an email along the lines of “We don’t have any opportunities at your level at present. Thanks for thinking of us”.
I got on a plane and flew over. I made some progress (not a lot) when actually in country. What was I told most often? I was told that I don’t have any recent NZ experience. My qualifications were from New Zealand (at least the undergraduate degree and a professional membership), so that argument could not be used against me. My early years of work experience were in NZ. I was (and am) a white male with several generations of NZ ancestry – born in NZ and educated in NZ. I come from the “right” background and the “right” school (sarcasm intended). I work in a field that does have significant country-specific requirements, but the core is very transportable. Darn it – despite the years away, I still sounded (mostly) like a New Zealander when I spoke.
I eventually made progress with one recruiter, who had also recently returned from an extended period abroad. And I made progress within my former organization, through persistence and old connections – the later being completely unavailable to new migrants and not the way I like to get job offers.
I got two offers – one rather too junior and one that looked OK (in my old organization). I took the later and came home (at least I thought at the time that it was home).
When I started work I was in for a shock. I had completely forgotten the way a New Zealand workplace operates. I need not go into it here as the chief characteristics are covered regularly in other posts. Suffice to say I was persona non grata. Some made me welcome, but many did not. In particular there was an absence of collegial and cooperative atmosphere. I seemed to be perceived as a threat and others quickly closed ranks to “defend” against that perceived threat. And I was a “boss”. I was in a position to handle the crap. Many do not have that advantage available to them.
Frankly it was an unpleasant working environment and I lasted only six months before going off to start something new (still in NZ).
I will tell another story. This one involved somebody I employed some time later in NZ. This person was foreign born, but had been in NZ from primary school age. This person was therefore New Zealand educated throughout high school and college and had great grades in her degree. This person was a New Zealand Citizen. But this person could not get a job after graduating. There were no apparent barriers to hiring – the usual biases that might put off narrow-minded employers were absent. Good looking, good communicator, NZ accent (more or less), great grades, and a well presented resume.
She was told she had no NZ experience. How is a fresh graduate supposed to have any experience?
So what prevented her getting a job? Her race and her name. When I hired her she was literally knocking on doors and asking if there was anything she might help with. It probably goes without saying that she turned out to be a great employee. We did however have one client who asked that she not work on their account. “Can’t you give us a Kiwi to work with?”. I “sacked” that client.
So why is the “No New Zealand experience” the cliché put forward to prevent people getting an interview? Two simple reasons – racism and fear of competition (the latter basically being the tall poppy syndrome). Fear of competition may in some cases be a lesser grade – fear of change.
This is of course only a small part of my experience when I returned to New Zealand. I have not lived there for years and have no plans to live there again. I went to a country where I was made welcome, where my experience was respected, where nobody gave two hoots about my accent or my name, and where our national, cultural and social problems (of which there are many) are openly discussed and debated rather than denied and ignored. Again, I had the freedom to do so. A great many people, including many on this forum, sadly do not have that option open to them.
What is the solution to employer bias at hiring and to discrimination in the workplace? It has to be three-pronged. The preferred route is education, but the culture is deeply ingrained and it will take years to see results. The second prong is legislation. Current law provides power to those discriminated against, but not in a way that they can practically (and cost effectively) utilize it. The detail of that is a subject for another day. The third prong – unfortunately – is enforcement. Just like drink-driving, the country needs to enforce the law if it is to change the habits of a lifetime. Absent that, there is no desire for change. If change does not come about through desire, it must come about through a wish to avoid discomfort. This can be in part via litigation initiated by the individual – but that will only ever be a small part. Why put oneself through more pain, and cost, where even a success at trial means you end up on an unwritten employment blacklist? Enforcement needs to rest with government (something I dislike – but it is a means to an end for the two generations it will take to change the culture).
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