Government departments are failing to promote racial diversity.
Despite progress in getting women into leadership roles, the diversity of public sector management has stalled or fallen in the past decade.
Figures from the State Services Commission reveal that salaries for Asians, Maori and Pacific Islanders working in government departments lag behind the average by up to 19 per cent.
Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres said the situation made him feel dispirited.
"It seems the momentum has gone out of making public sector agencies more diverse, even to the point most don't have a strategy."
The drive began with a "hiss and roar" 10 years ago, but the impetus had fizzled out, he said. "A decade later they have moved on to other things – in essence they've failed."
Women occupied 40 per cent of senior management positions last year, up from 33 per cent a decade ago, the figures show. But Maori, who comprise 15 per cent of the population, held only 9.2 per cent of the roles, a decline from 9.7 per cent in 2001.
The proportion of Pacific Islanders in senior roles also fell from 1.9 per cent to 1.6 per cent, and Asian representation was up from 1.7 per cent to 1.9 per cent. The 2006 Census shows Pacific Islanders comprise 7 per cent of the population, and Asians 9 per cent.
And ethnic minorities are also likely to earn less. Pacific Islanders earn on average 19 per cent less than other employees, while Maori and Asian employees lag behind by 11 per cent.
The commission said part of the difference was the result of certain ethnic groups being over-represented in lower-paid jobs, but the report highlighted a failure to address the issue.
"Interviews indicate a perception the situation has stalled, or in some cases, is getting worse," the report found. "There was also a perception chief executive roles are increasingly daunting for under-represented groups, and that like begets like, creating a self-perpetuating cycle."
De Bres said the report should be a wake-up call. "The higher you go up the public sector tree, the less representative it is."
He called for greater monitoring of diversity and improved connections with ethnic communities. "It's imperative for the public sector to be available to all."
Ethnic Affairs Minister Judith Collins said she was supporting the Office of Ethnic Affairs in encouraging workplace diversity. A core project had been a how-to guide for employers called Riding the Wave.
The office is also training staff on recruiting without bias. "It's hoped this will lead to more people from ethnic minorities being hired," Collins said.
Some progress had been made in increasing the number of Asian and Pacific Island public servants but the numbers still fell short of population estimates.
Meanwhile, women have overtaken men in government agencies, and now comprise 59 per cent of the workforce.
- © Fairfax NZ News
How important is NZ's anti-nuclear policy to you?Related story: It's all good, just don't mention the nukes