From the Exosphere
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From the Exosphere

Cultural competence in the workplace in Aotearoa

To mark Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, Director Richard Tait explores the importance of undertaking a journey in te ao Māori within the workplace.

MartinJenkins is setting out to increase our capability in te reo, tikanga and Te Tiriti o Waitangi so that we reflect our Aotearoa history and achieve better outcomes for Māori. Our Māori Action Plan is He Pī Ka Rere, meaning a fledgling bird preparing for flight and symbolised by the pīwakawaka pictured here.

Tēnā koutou katoa

Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori is a good opportunity for us all to think about the significance of te reo and te ao Māori in our workplaces.

Over the last year I’ve been trying to expand my own understanding of te reo. I haven’t found this easy, but my repertoire is growing gradually.

I can now recite two karakia, I can recognise basic sentence structures, and I use Māori salutations in emails more often now than their English counterparts. My progress has been helped by having a small but committed group of likeminded people at work who are supporting each other to do the same thing.

A personal journey

This is a personal journey for me, as it is for anyone. As a New Zealander of European descent my whakapapa is mainly to Great Britain. But I am not of that land, and nor do I particularly associate with its culture, at least not consciously.

For me, I believe that being part of Aotearoa New Zealand includes understanding and embracing te reo Māori and tikanga. Not in a way that appropriates it — I am not Māori — but in a way that respects and honours it.

Which takes me to the issue of being more culturally capable as an organisation, something that MartinJenkins is working towards. There are a couple of very practical reasons to prioritise this.

Normalising te reo and tikanga in the workplace

A big part of it is attracting and retaining Māori staff. To do this it is critical to have an inclusive workplace where embracing te reo and tikanga is normalised.

Over the years I have occasionally heard people in other workplaces ask questions like ‘Why do you say karakia in meetings when there aren’t Māori staff present?’. The question usually isn’t asked in a judgemental way — it’s just a genuine question, and a fair one.

Only recently I have come to fully appreciate the answer: we do it because it normalises tikanga by making it part of how things get done in the workplace.

Through some recent client work I got a better understanding of the barriers that a non-inclusive workplace present for Māori staff.

Things that say ‘Your culture isn’t important here’

In this case, a group of wāhine toa, all successful professionals, described their own experiences and those of many other Māori professionals as they come into a workplace that’s dominated by non-Māori norms. They said that right from the outset the environment did not feel positive and welcoming or ‘safe’.

They noted the absence of any job advertisements and descriptions in te reo, of any Māori on the interview panel, and of any appropriate welcome to the workplace. Seemingly small things that together amount to a pattern of undervaluing te ao Māori. It says ‘Your culture isn’t important here.’

These wāhine also described workplaces where they were expected to help out with tikanga and te reo matters because they were Māori, and not feeling acknowledged or valued for that contribution they made.

It was powerful stuff because these issues seem so obvious but are so often not considered. To attract and retain Māori in our organisations requires attending to a whole range of these seemingly little things — which together add up to ‘inclusion’.

Working with Māori and Māori organisations

The other main reason to increase workplace cultural competence, in my view, is about working with Māori and Māori organisations in a respectful way.

To work almost anywhere in this country now, and particularly in government circles, requires engaging effectively with Māori, iwi and hapū. This must involve more than just cursory communication — it takes authenticity and a willingness to listen and work together. For non-Māori it requires some understanding of historical and cultural context and of te reo and tikanga.

Our own journey as a firm

So at MartinJenkins we are on our own journey as an organisation. We have a three-year plan with a range of things in it to extend our knowledge and practices. This includes building basic knowledge of te reo and tikanga among our people, thinking about how we present our work, and adjusting our internal operating practices to set up a more inclusive environment.

This journey is going to take longer than three years — it’s not one we can complete quickly. But to get anywhere it is important to start where you are now and take some first steps.



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