Getting to know advocate for equality, diversity and inclusion Vanisa Dhiru

Vanisa Dhiru

Vanisa Dhiru’s passion for social justice has led to her becoming one of Aotearoa’s most inspiring advocates for diversity, inclusion and equality. She grew up in Palmerston North and now lives in Wellington.

She holds a number of service roles, including Commissioner for the New Zealand National Commission of UNESCO, board trustee for the Spark Foundation and board member for He Tohu Exhibition Board. She is a Justice of the Peace, a member of the Wellington Interfaith Council and an advisory group member of Victoria University’s Business School.

Her previous role as National President for the National Council of Women (NCWNZ), led to Vanisa being made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to gender rights.

Vanisa is passionate about using her own experiences with bias (especially gender and race) to help others recognise and overcome their own biases. She is accredited to deliver unconscious bias awareness training with an organisation called Diversitas: through the course, participants cultivate an insight into how social identity is formed, how the brain works in the decision-making process and how to develop the tools to overcome their own unconscious bias.

Available for:

  • Unconscious bias training
  • Guest speaker
  • Corporate events
  • Media commentary

Here’s your chance to learn more about one of Aotearoa’s leading advocates for equality.

What words are important to you when being described?

Community, Kiwi-Indian, authentic, real, people person, down to earth, sensible

What drives you? What gets you up each morning? What are you passionate about?

Serving my community, helping others and living a life that is better than the generations before me. I am very aware of the privilege that comes with life in New Zealand, and I feel immensely proud that I can make a difference, no matter how small.

What are the most common misconceptions about you in the public space?

Because of my former role with the National Council of Women, some people think I’m only interested in gender rights, but I’m actually interested in looking at the broader rights-based work, and particularly in the intersectional nature of human rights.

I look younger than 40, so I often have people misunderstand how much experience I have, or they think that I don’t understand business or academic contexts.

I will always live with the burden that when people see my face or read my name, that they think that I do not live, or was not born in New Zealand.

What’s something people don’t generally know about you?

I don’t drive – I don’t have a driver’s licence. I never learnt when I was young and have lived in central Wellington for years, where it’s more convenient to walk, bus, train or Uber.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

I would like to hold a role as a key advocate or leadership role for systemic change in some type of organisation or systems framework, and I’m also interested in exploring how I can contribute to broader social justice issues.

I’m on a journey to learn te reo. Although I still have a lot to learn, I can perform a number of waiata, offer karakia and my partner and I are learning a new whakataukī each month. I can understand about half of what is said on a marae during a pōwhiri, and I’d like to improve and extend my pepeha.

You wear many hats, what one brings you the most joy or provides the most satisfaction?

Being a mentor-like figure for other women, particularly women of pan-Asian descent.

“It was such a pleasure to work with Vanisa Dhiru MNZM on our New Zealand Women’s Leadership Symposium. This was the second time we have worked on an event with Vanisa, and hopefully not the last. Vanisa’s presentation was insightful and educational and was really well received by all of our participants who loved the practical tips and advice shared. Vanisa went above and beyond to join us at our event and was so understanding and accommodating regarding the last-minute format and time changes to accommodate the move to online delivery. Vanisa was a fantastic addition to our line-up, and I hope we can work together again.”

Melissa RutherfordHead of Events, Women & Leadership New Zealand