17 August 2023

Diversity and inclusion in the Public Service

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is an essential part of the Public Service. We want our Public Service workplaces to value, reflect and understand the communities that we’re here to serve. The Public Service Act 2020 supports our D&I commitments with requirements on leaders to promote diversity and inclusiveness within our workforce and workplaces. Everyone in the Public Service is entitled to work in a safe and inclusive workplace, where people treat one another with respect.

For more than five years Te Kawa Mataaho has been focused on building a diverse and inclusive Public Service. We have made some significant gains in that time, but we know that there is still work to do. We value the voices and experiences of our people and collect the data to help give us a better picture of the experience of public servants and ideas of how our workplaces can be more welcoming and inclusive of a wide range of communities.

We are committed to doing more work and Te Taunaki provides an important benchmark and deeper understanding of where the focus needs to be. Today, the Public Service has a comprehensive approach to achieving diversity, equity and inclusion which includes three main work programmes.

  • The Papa Pounamu work programme sets priorities for growing Public Service diversity and inclusion capability;
  • the Kia Toipoto(PDF, 952 KB) and Pay Equity work programmes provide plans to address pay gaps and workplace inequities;
  • the Positive and Safe Workplaces programme helps agencies to create work environments where people enjoy working, are respected and can contribute to their potential.


Te Taunaki | Public Service Census 2021 (Te Taunaki) captured information across a range of demographic and job dimensions, allowing us to explore characteristics of our disabled public servants and how included they felt at their workplace. Understanding this helps us to gain a better picture about what’s working well and where we need to do more to be an employer of choice for all of our workers.

Te Taunaki found that there was a similar gender split for disabled public servants as for non-disabled (two-thirds women and just under a third men), and the most prevalent ethnicity was European (70.4%).

However, disabled public servants in Te Taunaki were more likely than their non-disabled colleagues to:

  • be of Māori and/or Pasifika ethnicity
  • be part of a Rainbow community
  • have lower qualifications.

Also, on average, disabled public servants were older, although it is noteworthy that by age group, the greatest proportion of people having a disability was in the under-25s.

The length of time a person has worked in a role, agency, Public Service, and wider Public Sector was generally longer for disabled public servants in Te Taunaki than other public servants. [1] 

When it came to occupations, just over half of disabled public servants were in customer-facing roles compared to 40% of non-disabled public servants and were more likely to be Call Centre Workers or Social, Health, and Education Workers and less likely to be Managers or Policy Analysts. They were also underrepresented throughout the levels of management and had a lower average salary than non-disabled public servants.

Similar to the Public Service in general, Wellington had the largest proportion (41%) of disabled public servants. However, when the proportion of disabled to non-disabled staff is compared by region, Northland had the highest proportion, at 8.0% of all staff, followed closely by Southland with 7.9% while Wellington had one of the smallest proportions at 5.0%.

A large proportion of disabled public servants were using some form of flexible working arrangement (72%) but were less likely than their non-disabled colleagues to be doing this (78%). Most disabled public servants would like to work more flexibly (84%) compared with 74% of their non-disabled colleagues.

Disabled public servants often had less positive experiences in the workplace when it came to satisfaction with their jobs, training and opportunities for development, and feeling included. Disabled public servants expressed lower levels of job satisfaction and were also slightly more likely to say they needed further training to do their job well while being less likely to agree they had access to and encouragement for development and learning than their non-disabled colleagues. Disabled public servants also reported significantly lower feelings of inclusion based on an index of key inclusion measures. This was also consistent across the full range of inclusion questions individually. For example, 70% of disabled employees felt comfortable being themselves at work compared to 83% of non-disabled employees.

Disabled participants in the survey also commented on the importance of the capability/approach of the manager/supervisor or team leader when it came to work satisfaction and inclusion

While not collected explicitly in questions in Te Taunaki, a number of disabled participants commented on the challenges of physical accessibility in the workplace as well as information accessibility.

About the survey

Te Taunaki was New Zealand’s first Public Service Census. About 60,000 public servants working across 36 agencies (departments and departmental agencies) were asked questions on diversity, inclusion and wellbeing at work, a unified Public Service, and strengthening Māori-Crown relationships. The final overall response rate was 63.1%, representing the views and experiences of about 40,000 public servants. New Zealand’s first Public Service Census started on 11 May and closed in early June 2021.

Te Taunaki gave respondents the opportunity to identify what their ‘agency/department do[es] to make you feel more comfortable about being yourself at work?’. There was also an opportunity in Te Taunaki to identify if there was ‘anything else about your experience of working for the New Zealand Public Service you would like to comment on?’. Of those identified as disabled, a total of 1,693 responses were given across these two questions. Where possible, we have included quotes or summaries of the comments from disabled public servants in the sections below.

About the deep dive reports

Cross-agency Employee-led Networks (ELNs) were an important stakeholder of Te Taunaki Public Service Census and Te Kawa Mataaho engaged with them in the development and planning stage, consulting on the survey, and they helped increase response rates of members of their communities.  After Te Taunaki was completed, we reached out to ELNs to see what questions we could answer for them based on the data that had been gathered in Te Taunaki or the Workforce Data. This proactive approach to information ensured that there was benefit for the ELNs in continuing to be involved in Te Taunaki.  

The deep dive research papers that have been produced as part of this process present reporting on topics of interest to ELNs. Te Kawa Mataaho has now completed deep dive research for: We Enable Us (WEU), the Cross-Agency Rainbow Network (CARN), and Government Women’s Network (GWN). The research covers the experiences reported in Te Taunaki by disabled public servants, and public servants who are transgender, intersex or of multiple/another gender/s or different sexual identities, and women in the Public Service. 

Te Taunaki gives us just a start at understanding the effects of intersectionality on feelings of inclusion, but further work is needed to explore the combined effects of diversity dimensions.  We are continuing to learn from what this data tells us, and the experiences of different communities and are working with the cross-agency ELNs on plans and initiatives for the future and to help us achieve our goal of improving inclusion in our workplaces and for New Zealand’s public servants.

From We Enable Us (WEU)…

"We are disabled employees of the public service representing agencies from across Aotearoa, and we know that for many of us, inclusion remains an ongoing challenge.

We note that the data from Te Taunaki shows us that disabled public servants tend to have lower job satisfaction, longer time in their role and agency and less trust in their colleagues than their non-disabled peers. This must change.

We have been pleased to collaborate with Te Kawa Mataaho to produce this disability deep dive analysis, which, along with other initiatives working to create opportunities for disabled public service employees, can help guide our mahi and focus. Working together, we can make real change for disabled people who work in the Public Service."

For this report on disabled public servants, the relevant questions that were socialised with WEU were:

  • How representative is the Public Service of the wider community in New Zealand?
  • How many people from this community are working in the Public Service?
  • More information on number of people for groups within the community (e.g., iwi, sexual orientation)
  • How is this community represented across regions within the Public Service?
  • What kinds of roles does this community have? Any over representation in occupational grouping, particularly gender?
  • Is this community paid what others in the Public Service are?
  • Why did members of this community join the Public Service? Why do they stay?
  • Are members of this community well represented in leadership positions?
  • Do members of this community have access to training and career development opportunities?
  • Do members of this community feel included at work? If not, what would they like to have their agency do (based on the qualitative questions in the Census)?
  • Do members of this community feel satisfied with their job?

Measuring disability in Te Taunaki

Te Taunaki collected information on disabled peoples’ experiences of working in the Public Service. The social model of disability specifies that individuals do not have disability - it lies in society. The experience of disability occurs when people with impairments are excluded from places and activities most of us take for granted. It happens when infrastructure and systems do not accommodate the diverse abilities and needs of all citizens.[2]

The questions used in the survey (the Washington Group Short Set of Questions) are an internationally valid and reliable way of collecting disability information, but they also have limitations. The questions relate to activity limitations most often likely to limit an individual’s participation in everyday life, but they don’t capture all disabilities or measure the prevalence of disability. Not everyone who answers positively will be disabled and not all disabled people will answer positively.

The 2013 Disability Survey from Stats NZ was designed to measure prevalence and estimated the disability rate to be 16% for the Public Service workforce. This was a lower rate than that found for the overall workforce, although the difference was not statistically significant. More up-to-date information on disability prevalence will be available in 2024 as the next Disability Survey results are available.

Out of the six functional limitations asked about in the Washington Short Set, the three most commonly identified in Te Taunaki were in:

  • seeing
  • remembering or concentrating
  • walking or climbing stairs.

Of those completing the survey, 5.5% or 2,191 public servants reported a functional limitation, disability, health condition or impairment that caused them a lot of difficulty with certain activities or meant they cannot do them at all. The 2018 New Zealand Census also used the Washington Group Short Set and 6.5% of respondents identified as having one or more activity limitations. [3]

While a question asking about mental health conditions that lasted for six months or more was presented alongside the activity limitation question in Te Taunaki, results from this were not included as disabled for the purposes of this report.  The proportion who responded they did have mental health conditions in Te Taunaki was high compared to other sources such as Stats NZ and the Ministry of Health, potentially due to the way the question was phrased. The wording will be reviewed for the next iteration of the questionnaire to bring it more in line with other research.

[1] For the Public Service tenure question in Te Taunaki, people were asked about New Zealand Public Service departments or departmental agencies, including any legacy agency (e.g. the Department of Labour is a legacy agency of MBIE) that they had been employed by. For the Public Sector tenure question, they were asked about any other central or local government agencies, for example Crown entities, Crown owned companies, schools or tertiary education institutions that they had been employed by.

[2] Guidance for policy makers - Office for Disability Issues (odi.govt.nz)

[3] https://www.stats.govt.nz/tools/2018-census-place-summaries/new-zealand#health. As the measure of activity limitations from the 2018 Census had a high rate of missing responses, some caution is advised when using this variable and it is not intended to provide an official count or prevalence rate of people in New Zealand with disabilities.