September 9, 2016

Law firm leaders are Women of Influence

Published in LawTalk issue 896

“I knew I had been nominated [for the Women of Influence Awards], but I didn’t expect to get selected as a finalist,” Chen Palmer partner Marina Matthews told LawTalk.

“I was quite surprised and humbled really, just looking at the other women that are on the list. And it is good to see there are Māori, Pasifika and Asian finalists as well.”

Ms Matthews leads the education and public policy teams at Chen Palmer, and is based in the firm’s Auckland office.

She is also the CEO of the Superdiversity Centre for Law, Policy and Business (see It is her contribution in this role that has led to her selection as a finalist in the “Diversity” section of the Women of Influence Awards.

The Superdiversity Centre is a multidisciplinary centre specialising in analysing the law, policy and business implications of New Zealand’s Superdiversity.

The Centre’s vision is to enable businesses, government, and NGOs to maximise the benefits of the ‘diversity dividend’ arising from New Zealand’s transition to a superdiverse society.

“Academics have defined superdiversity where you have more than 25% of the resident population that is comprised of migrants, or where there are more than 100 nationalities represented,” Ms Matthews says “Academics have defined superdiversity where you have more than 25% of the resident population that is comprised of migrants, or where there are more than 100 nationalities represented,” Ms Matthews says.

“50% of Auckland’s population are Māori, Asian or Pacific people. 44% of people in Auckland were not born in New Zealand. There are 200 ethnicities and 160 different languages – and that’s just Auckland.

My old home town, Invercargill, is increasing its diversity, with education organisations – including SIT – bringing hundreds of international students to the region, and with them comes economic development to the community as well as their culture. My mum who lives in Invercargill is always telling me about the different ethnic restaurants and cafes that are opening up in town.

“New Zealand right now is 34% Māori, Asian and Pacific. In 2038, it will be 51%. So we are already a superdiverse society in New Zealand,” Ms Matthews says.

“Mai Chen, Chair of the Superdiversity Centre, wrote the Superdiversity Stocktake: Implications for Business, Government and New Zealand which was released last November and has been downloaded over 100,000 times. The Stocktake sets out facts, statistics, case studies, research and analysis relating to Superdiversity for Government, business and New Zealand.

“In March this year, we ran a Response to the Superdiversity Stocktake Conference in Auckland with 100 top business leaders talking about how New Zealand can develop cultural intelligence to lift its economic and social performance, and about how we can leverage off superdiversity to lift business success, including for Māori and the development of a legal and policy framework for considering the implications of superdiversity.”

What next for the Superdiversity Centre?

“The conversations in business and government are building around cultural capability and cultural intelligence. Cultural intelligence, or CQ, is the ability to relate and work effectively across cultures. I think this is vital. Developing cultural intelligence will be increasingly important as an increasing proportion of New Zealand’s demography begin to identify as Māori, Pasifika, Asian and other ethnicities,” Ms Matthews says.

The Superdiversity Centre delivers bespoke superdiversity training programmes, undertakes cultural intelligence audits and is developing policies for government and business about working with superdiverse New Zealanders.

“We have designed and delivered special leadership programmes for Asian, Māori and Pacific leaders. It’s not like the normal leadership training programme. It’s tailored for superdiverse who are emerging or established leaders who can break through the bamboo ceiling and use their difference with confidence to go from good to great.”

“We also deliver Asian capability training to build the cultural capability of individuals and businesses so they can bridge the ‘cultural’ gap and operate effectively in Asian markets. There is a lot of demand as many businesses have the products or services, but not the cultural capability to work with Asia

“Māori have a saying: ‘Kāore te kumara e kōrero mō tōna ake reka – the kumara does not say how sweet he is’. This is about the value of humility and humbleness.

“It may be hard to believe, but I’m a shy person, and don’t like to put myself forward. But in order to get ahead, I have to do that. What the Superdiversity Centre bespoke training programmes teach is that your culture is a strength, not a barrier.

“Superdiversity Centre Chair, Mai Chen, is also working on the next big thinkpiece, The Diversity Matrix: Refreshing what diversity means in the 21st century.


“I’m Māori. I am Ngati Kahu and Tuwharetoa. My father was part of the great freezing works migration in the late 70s where they had a innovative recruitment plan to encourage a bunch of Māori men from the Far North and East Coast to move down to Invercargill to work at the Bluff Freezing Works.

“They forgot to tell them what the weather was like! So I consider myself a Southlander and still roll my rs.”

Ms Matthews did not begin her career as a lawyer. “I spent 10 years in the public service before I came to practise,” she says. That included serving as a Private Secretary (Education) to four senior Ministers of the Crown, and as a senior manager at the Tertiary Education Commission.

“I’ve always had an interest in education and young people, and doing what I can to help provide opportunities for young people through education. I went to the public sector to try and make a difference to enable young people reach their potential”.

Following her service in the State Sector, she joined Chen Palmer in May 2011. “I came to Chen Palmer because they are experts in public law and public policy, as well as being one of the top education law firms in the country.”

It sounds like you have a couple of big passions. One is around government policy, and the other is around diversity. Is that right?

“Yes. “I’m passionate about helping organisations understand how Government and public policy works so they can maximise their business. I enjoy translating ‘Wellington speak’ for clients.”

Are there any things you would like to see happen in terms of diversity within the legal profession, within New Zealand society?

“I would like to see more Māori, Asian and Pasifika women leaders within the profession. “The report [First Steps: the experiences and retention of New Zealand’s junior lawyers, by Josh Pemberton] that you covered in LawTalk recently, it was astounding some of the results that came out of that about women”

When she was at Otago University Law School, Ms Matthews was a member of Te Hunga Roia Māori o Aotearoa, the Māori Law Society, and Te Roopū Whai Pūtake (TRWP), the Otago Māori Law Students Association.

“It was great to see my Māori Land Law Professor and fellow TRWP member, Jacinta Ruru recently win the Prime Minister’s Tertiary Teaching Excellence award. Judge Caren Fox, the Deputy Chief Judge of the Māori Land Court, she is another role model.

“I am fortunate to work with Mai Chen. She is an exceptional lawyer, successful social entrepreneur and champion of women and superdiversity. I learn from her every day. “We need more women leaders, more women of influence like that!”

As well as a busy law practice, and being CEO of the Superdiversity Centre, Ms Matthews is a director of the YWCA Auckland Board and is a member of the Australia New Zealand Education Law Association (New Zealand Chapter) Committee.