How Maori Language Week can turn your workplace into a force for good in your community

Nahea e nehenehe Wiki o te Reo Maori tahuri koutou wāhi mahi ki te puai no te maitai i roto i to koutou hapori

It’s Māori language week here in NZ. Te wiki o te reo Māori. It’s an opportunity for Kiwi businesses to honour our awesome, diverse country while also achieving those company #culturegoals. Bringing the ‘Inclusion’ part of your Diversity&Inclusion policy, to life.

Inclusive culture can have a huge positive impact on your team productivity, your company’s bottom line and your retention rates — it’s pretty well documented. But have you ever thought about the impact your inclusive culture can have beyond the office walls?

Our workplaces should be like mini versions of the communities we live in. Often though, the representation’s a bit off (hello #girlsintech).

And in NZ where Māori are heavily underrepresented in leadership roles and, in some cases, entire industries, it’s looking a bit grim.

A culture of inclusion can change the world

One of the things we talk about heaps in the Weirdly team is how business has the power to effect big change. And if there’s one change we’d all like to see, it’s a shift toward a more inclusive society built on empathy.

A few recent events have made this feel more urgent lately — ranging from the truly tragic, to the truly ridiculous. I’m not sure where ‘the rise of Donald Trump’ fits in that shitty scale but you can be sure, it fits somewhere.

We wrote a blog a while ago about how the diversity of New York city could stand as an example for building diverse, culture-led workplaces.

Now as business people, we‘ve got an opportunity to flip it: let’s make our inclusive, diverse workplaces an example for our cities and communities to follow.

By creating a culture of inclusion, we’re helping our teams challenge and review their perspectives. And when our perspectives are challenged, and people’s differences are valued, we have more empathy for each other.

Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori: An opportunity for inclusion

We don’t have the same level of overt racial conflict that some other countries do. And we’re making slow progress in addressing more than a century worth of systemic “othering”. Our Māori heritage is widely recognised as an important part of what makes NZ so special. But we’ve still got a ways to go. Think about your own workplace.

How well does it recognise that heritage? Could you do any more to be inclusive of Māori perspectives, language, traditions?

Heaps of our organisations are great at this. But you know, some of us could do a little better.

Two of Weirdly’s four founders are Māori. I’m one of them and if I’m totally honest, the thought of using Te Reo to create a more inclusive culture hadn’t even crossed my mind. But after hearing fellow founders talking about being “the token Māoris” at business events, or how they wince every time they hear their entirely white team rolling out the old Māori-place-names-as-swear-words joke, it made me think. Language is powerful. It’s a tool for uniting and teaching. It creates familiarity. If we’re serious about being inclusive, language is a great place to start.

Inclusive = empathy = productivity = good for business

A friend of mine works for a multi-nation engineering firm. They’ve developed an education resource — a game for school-aged kids to learn about resource management and engineering infrastructure (I was all 🙄 about this too, but it’s actually pretty cool). In revising the tool for the NZ market, they’ve engaged various iwi to consult on parts of the game. They’ve included challenges around piping water through tapu sites, they’ve woven Māori words and phrases throughout the game — they’ve actively looked for ways to translate their own culture of inclusivity into the product they’re creating.

And the coolest part is that this process is making the workplace an even more inclusive place. Discussions about different perspectives are happening organically over lunch-breaks. People are becoming more empathetic as a result and that’s leading to more productive discussions when opinions differ on a project.

Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori provides an opportunity for us to create that same effect in our own workplaces.

It’s about using language to bring a culture of inclusiveness to life and create a culture of open discussion and productive empathy.

There are obvious positive roll-on effects to innovation and productivity. But imagine for a minute, the impact it also has on our local communities. Embedding this kind of empathy and inclusive respect into our workplaces means people carry those same attitudes into their own homes and communities.

In the case of this week’s whakanui of Te Reo Māori, we get to use language as the way to build more inclusivity and familiarity with a crucial part of our national identity. Making part of our nation’s culture, a part our workplace culture.

That’s pretty tu meke, if you ask me.