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Maretha Smit, Diversity Works New Zealand Chief Executive

Maretha Smit

 Chief Executive

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Maretha has held a number of senior leadership roles in her native South Africa and New Zealand, including that of Chief Executive of a large member organisation where she effected significant transformational change across an entire sector.

She has a strong background and appreciation of the challenges in diversity and inclusion, with experience in senior leadership roles in the disability sector, as well as delivering programmes to improve social cohesion through performing arts, education and training. She is passionate about her life purpose to create a more sustainable and equitable society through national conversations and creative initiatives.

Maretha has a degree in Psychology from the University of Stellenbosch, a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, and is a Chartered Director of the Institute of Directors (South Africa). She is a Trustee and Chair of the Finance Committee of Belong Aotearoa, a specialist settlement agency that focuses on addressing the barriers to successful integration of newcomers in New Zealand.

Ola Ioane

Ma'aola Saminatoto Milovale Ioane

General Manager: Membership and Community

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Ola is drawn to roles that reduce inequities and has a decade of experience providing solutions in the finance and health sector. With his experience in managing dynamic projects and transforming equity initiatives through innovation, he is energised to also use his lived experiences of exclusion to convert conversations about inclusion and fairness into meaningful action.

Ola has a Bachelor's degree in Commerce from the University of Auckland and Master's degree in Business from the University of Queensland. From this, he has worked with clients in health, hospitality and not-for-profits to create messaging that improves organisational outcomes.

He is a proud brother to three beautiful sisters and the son of hard-working migrant parents of Samoan and Fijian descent from the villages of Vaisala and Vaivase-Tai. He is also a creative for the Odd Family arts collective, a songwriter, fitness trainer, natural bodybuilding champ, and a very proud resident of Aukilani i Saute.    


Helena Chan

Helena Chan

Member Success Manager

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Helena joins Diversity Works New Zealand as a Membership Success Manager after spending the past five years working within infrastructure, urban regeneration and social housing. Prior to this, she worked in various industries including a year abroad working for Mickey Mouse at Disney World in Florida, USA.  

She graduated with a Bachelor of Business majoring in Advertising and Marketing and a Postgraduate Diploma in Business (Marketing) both at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) on a Community Partnership Scholarship for people with disabilities.

Helena was born and raised in Tāmaki Makaurau to immigrant and refugee parents from China and Cambodia. She was born with cerebral palsy and has experienced obstacles ranging from transportation to healthcare and education to employment and navigating public spaces.

Driven by her own lived experience, she is passionate about encouraging the inclusion and success of underrepresented groups in the workplace in Aotearoa.

Outside of work, she has a keen interest in keeping fit, investing, photography, reading self-development books and is a lover of podcasts and audiobooks.

Zach Edwards

Zach Edwards

Member Success Manager

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Zach joins Diversity Works New Zealand having spent five years supporting international students throughout Aotearoa New Zealand in his role as relationship manager at Southern Cross Travel Insurance. He also established and embedded the company’s Diversity and Inclusion forum, building on his prior HR experience for one of the UK’s leading DIY retailers.

Zach was born in Bristol, UK, to an English father and New Zealander mother, making him a dual-national. His mother was born profoundly deaf, meaning Zach was raised as a Child Of a Deaf Adult (or CODA), using British Sign Language at home. From a young age, and by being part of the local deaf community, Zach was able to witness first-hand some of the inequalities that some communities throughout the world face. This has given Zach a passion for working with businesses and communities to support and promote equitable outcomes for all.

In his free-time, Zach frequently listens to foreign language music and is a big lover of languages, with interests also in geography and geo-politics.

Lyka Raagas

Lyka Raagas  

Member Success Coordinator

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Lyka joins Diversity Works New Zealand as a Member Success Coordinator having spent the past five years working within the education and migration sector. Her experience as a migrant as well as working in the migration industry supporting international students in Aotearoa has given her the motivation to pursue a career in the diversity and inclusion area. She has also worked in the technology and financial sectors, including nine years working with IBM Philippines.

Lyka has a bachelor's degree in Communication from the Philippines and a Postgraduate Diploma in Management (Business) from Toi - Ohomai Institute of Technology in Rotorua. She migrated from the Philippines to Aotearoa with her husband and son in 2016 and now calls New Zealand home.

With a background in business support and coordination, Lyka supports the membership team while expanding her passion and knowledge of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Katriana Taufalele

Kat Taufalele 

Member Success Intern

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Kat has worked in a range of equity roles promoting advocacy and inclusion in the public sector. Through her studies, she hopes to work within the field of family law, focusing on the experiences of minority and migrant communities.

Kat is in her fourth year at the University of Auckland, studying a conjoint degree of Law and Arts, double majoring in Sociology and Pacific Studies. She has also completed a three-year research module, ‘Art Scholars,’ focusing on the experiences of Pacific female students within tertiary education. Using both a western sociological and Pacific-centered approach, Kat aims to empower people within systematically inequitable institutions.

Kat was born in the beautiful kingdom of Tonga, and raised in South Auckland alongside her two brothers. As a poet, she is a lover of words and stories, and the many ways a conversation can be told. With Aotearoa at the forefront of leading with diversity, Kat hopes to add her perspective into this ocean of a discussion one drop at a time.


Pete Mercer

Pete Mercer

Head of Research and Development

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With 12 years of experience in diversity, equity and inclusion related roles and a penchant for membership bodies, Pete is thrilled to be a part of the Diversity Works New Zealand whānau. He views employers as not just a reflection of society, but as crucial vehicles for driving both structural and cultural change.

Prior to this, Pete spent 6 years delivering and managing membership programmes and content development for an equalities charity in the UK, specifically advising public and private sector organisations alike on LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace. His latest role there as Head of Global Partnerships involved building relationships with multinational employers and LGBT+ charities across the world, and leading a team to develop resources, policy frameworks and global indices. Pete has an MA in International Diplomacy from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, in which he focused on the global politics of human rights.

At the end of 2020, Pete moved from the UK to Aotearoa New Zealand with his fiancé and is delighted to call Auckland their new home. He loves natures, so is constantly in awe of the sheer beauty of Aotearoa – and takes any opportunity he can to take a dip in the water!

Nata Tolooei

Dr. Nata Tolooei

Senior Research Associate and Accreditation Manager

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With a human-centric design background, and previous experience in planning and conducting qualitative and quantitative research, Nata wants to use her skillset to contribute to designing inclusive workplaces that are welcoming for diverse people.

Nata is passionate about translating people’s unmet needs into meaningful experiences and in particular those who likely experience exclusion. As part of her interest in the area of user experience and inclusive design, through her PhD research, she has explored how inclusion and equity can create meaningful experiences for marginalised people and how product design can empower those experiences.

Nata has worked in the field of diversity, equity and inclusion for several years. Before doing her PhD at AUT, she worked on inclusive design projects to develop products and services and taught in this field at Tehran University in Iran.

BA, MA, Ph.D.


Milica Van Leeuwen Bobic

Milica Van Leeuwen Bobic

Content Development Manager

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Milica has been immersed in the fields of diversity, equity and inclusion throughout her academic and professional life, in various countries around the world. Having researched and experienced the barriers to workplace integration, Milica is excited to be a part of social change and apply her theoretical knowledge and personal experience in building a more equitable world.

Milica has spent a year and a half advising Diversity Works New Zealand’s member organisations on workplace inclusion. Prior to this, Milica has conducted research projects at universities, published papers and created content and resources to support integrating asylum seekers and refugees into local communities. Milica has a bachelor’s degree in Ethnology and Anthropology from the University of Belgrade and master’s degrees in Culture Studies and Gender Studies from the University of Belgrade and one in Sociology and Gender Studies from the University of Auckland. She spent a year studying at Lund University, Sweden, her first glimpse into different cultures and ways of living.

In July 2022, Milica moved to Europe with her partner and will be working remotely for Diversity Works New Zealand from the Netherlands. When she is not reading and doing research, you will find her cycling around and eating stroopwafels.

Sheryl Blythen

Sheryl Blythen

Head of Marketing and Communications

+64 9 580 4447

+021 674 443

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Sheryl has been working in the communications industry for more than 25 years, managing print and digital publications and helping New Zealand organisations connect with their communities and disseminate key messages.

At Diversity Works New Zealand, her role is to tell the stories of forward-thinking local companies that are maximising the benefits of a diverse workforce and creating an inclusive workplace culture. Sheryl also helps to foster public debate and grow people’s understanding of diversity issues by engaging with media and overseeing content development for the Diversity Works website, newsletters and social media platforms.

Sheryl joined Diversity Works New Zealand in 2016 after working the private sector as a journalist and editor.

Sarah Bayliss

Sarah Bayliss

Marketing Executive

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Sarah joins the team with a marketing background and passion for empowering others. Driven to engage in the community and support others, she is excited to use her skills to tell meaningful stories and contribute to a diverse, inclusive Aotearoa. 

Trained in film production, she comes to Diversity Works New Zealand with experience across various charities and and has held roles in marketing, operations and managing movie channels, with a focus on brand management and engagement. Sarah’s strengths are in combining creativity with organisation and communication and she is excited to develop impactful marketing strategies that grow inclusivity and understanding within New Zealand workplaces.

An avid sports fan, Sarah enjoys being active, exploring and challenging herself. She competes in several sports teams, including waka ama and dragon boating squads that compete at national level.

Fiona Beal

Fiona Beal

Head of Shared Services

+64 9 580 4449

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Fiona uses her broad skillset, multi-tasking talents and range of experiences to provide leadership and support across operational and transactional services, helping to drive the strategic direction of the organisation.

Her background crosses a variety of industry sectors and covers administration, commercial contracts, tenders, project management, sales support, technical product knowledge, training and coaching, process improvement and reporting. Adaptable and open-minded, Fiona has taken on various roles within Diversity Works New Zealand as the organisation has grown, providing the foundation for her current role leading the finance, events, and administration support team.

Fiona enjoys finding what drives others to achieve while also appreciating their differences and the value that brings. She is a keen gardener and enjoys floristry in her spare time.

BBUS – Management, DipHRM, DipMgt – Unitec Institute of Technology

Sonya Mills

Sonya Mills

Events Manager

+64 9 580 4444

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With more than 10 years’ experience in event coordination and proven ability to project manage events, conferences, meetings, and incentive programmes, this support “superstar” is passionate about using her skills to support Diversity Works New Zealand’s members.

A natural organiser, Sonya thrives on new challenges in a dynamic work environment, converting team ideas and visions into appropriate action plans and delivering innovative outcomes. She is looking forward to working with a variety of stakeholders and members to assist them in achieving their strategic goals. 

Maia Hemara-Tylden

Maia Hemara-Tylden

Cultural Support Intern/Member Success Intern

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Ko Whakatere me Ruapehu ngā maunga 
Ko Waima me Mangawhero ngā awa
Ko Ngātokimatawhaorua me Aotea ngā waka
Ko Ngāpuhi me Ngāti Rangi ngā iwi
Ko Te Mahurehure me Ngāti Tui-o-Nuku ngā hapu
Ko Otatara me Maungarongo ngā Marae
Ko Maia Hemara-Tylden tōku ingoa 

Maia is of Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Rangi descent and maintains a strong connection to te ao Māori and hopes to incorporate this into Diversity Works New Zealand. She is a passionate Māori wahine who recently completed her Bachelor of Arts in which she focused on Māori development and Education. She is ready to learn and grow with us at Diversity Works New Zealand to support the Membership team and provide a Māori perspective in such an integral space.

Drawn to this role, Maia recognises that the element of workplace diversity and inclusion is not only intergral to our multi-cultural society in Aotearoa New Zealand, but it is also beneficial to creating success and educational advancements in the workplace.

Sonarli Jayaweera

Sonarli Jayaweera

Accounts Assistant

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Sonarli has been working in accounts for almost 15 years in various roles covering different aspects of accounting across her career. She has worked in the commercial sector, and also in the not-for-profit sector. She enjoys liaising with creditors, customers and other stake holders.

Sonarli was born in Sri Lanka and moved to New Zealand as a teenager, completing high school in Auckland before studying at Auckland University. As a migrant, Sonarli knows how important it is for people to feel a sense of belonging where they live and work. Sonarli lives with an auto immune condition and her part-time, flexible role at Diversity Works New Zealand allows her to manage that while contributing to the workforce.

Richard Mortensen

Richard Mortensen


+64 9 525 3023

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Richard joined our organisation in 1997, taking on a variety of administration tasks to support the Diversity Works New Zealand team. He suffered a serious brain injury as a result of a climbing accident in his early 20s, and as a result some of his physical abilities are limited. After his accident, Richard had casual administration jobs until finding a permanent part-time role with Diversity Works New Zealand.

In addition to his work here, Richard spends time at the Laura Fergusson Trust and Headway House every week as part of his rehabilitation.
As a committed member of the Brahma Kumaris spiritual movement, Richard makes an annual trip to Mt Abu in Rajasthan, India to spend time at the headquarters of the group to focus on meditation and learning and enjoy fellowship with other followers.

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