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What Does Embracing Diversity in Aotearoa Look Like?

What does embracing diversity in Aotearoa look like? ...according to Berenize Peita - Social Outcomes Manager at Link Alliance

A quick search on Google provided this definition of diversity, “In a workplacediversity means employing people who may be different from each other and who do not all come from the same background". My current work environment is diverse to the nth degree. On Wednesday last week we set up a Zoom meeting with seven members of the procurement team. They identified as originating from, New Zealand, France, Greece, Peru and South Africa. This is a picture postcard of diversity and yet just coming from different places in the world cannot be a tick for the diversity box.

I am a proud Māori woman; my genealogical ties on my maternal and paternal sides show that I am a descendant of Ranginui (Father Sky) and Papatuānuku (Mother Earth). When we introduce ourselves, we are connecting to the land. This is called your Pepeha - where you connect yourself to the mountains, rivers, seas, land and place – generally it is where your ancestors have called home for many years.

In Auckland New Zealand, I have walked up the mountains and have been warmed by the knowledge that perhaps my great great great grandmother stood here. This is why we connect to the land, my great great great grandmother has long since passed from the face of the earth, however the land remains.

The memory of her DNA is captured in the ground beneath my feet.

 Let me share with you some of the benefits of acknowledging the indigenous culture of the land you find yourself in. When an organisation intentionally learns a small piece about the culture it can never be unlearnt and if you continue to add another small piece and another, it becomes a larger piece that can influence the way that business operates.  The real benefit though is that when you embrace the culture, this provides you with a foundation upon which other cultures can sit alongside. When you have a truly diverse workplace, people from other parts of the world feel as if they and their culture are welcome. For this to be a genuine welcome, an organisation must have grounded itself in the indigenous culture of the country where it is based. 

I have seen the Link Alliance doing just this: 
  • Once the contract was signed, the Alliance Management Team sought to introduce themselves to the CRLL Mana Whenua Forum and gathered for a hui (meeting) to understand the importance of pepeha and how to create their own in te reo.  When each member (from diverse backgrounds) shared their pepeha at the Mana Whenua Hui it sent a very clear message that they valued the indigenous culture of Aotearoa.  They capped it off as a group with a waiata (song) which was appreciated by all.
  • As a way of bringing everyone together, the Alliance Management Team chose to hold a full day high performance workshop at Te Mahurehure Marae.  Protocols for entering a marae includes a male orator standing and speaking on behalf of the group.  Several attempts to get a Māori speaker, firstly approaching the Mana Whenua forum and then asking family were to no avail.  I looked to the Leader of the Link Alliance, and explained he had to stand on the marae and give a Mihi (speech of acknowledgement) in Te Reo Māori.  Although his native language is French, he embraced the challenge and delivered an admirable speech, and has now spoken on the Marae twice.   
  • When the Link Alliance moved into its new premises, Mana Whenua were approached for a cultural blessing which meant being at the site at 5.45am on what was a cold, dark and rainy morning.  To see close to 100 of my work colleagues making the effort to be part of that ceremony was heart warming and embedded another piece of cultural learning.
  • From there, further small changes were introduced into the workplace.  The team briefing used to be a little bit of a “respectful” free for all starting just after the food was brought out.  People would have one ear to the person speaking and two eyes on the food quickly disappearing.  Once the Link Alliance established itself in new premises, I shared a Māori whakataukī (proverb): Ko te kai o te rangatira he kōrero.  I gave it this meaning:  Discussion is the food of chiefs, therefore first we feed our minds and then we feed our bodies.  The sharing of food was moved to the end of the team briefing.  Now both ears and eyes are to the speaker.
  • At each team briefing between six and 10 people will address the group and at least 70% will use a Māori greeting.  The Link Alliance Project Director nine times out of 10 will say “Kia ora Team or Mōrena.”  When your Leader is consistently using kupu Māori (Māori words) this elevates the value given to the indigenous language.
I can share many more experiences where the Link Alliance has openly embraced and implemented changes in the organisation’s business as usual practices.  To my pleasure, the Link Alliance has grounded itself in learning about the culture of the land and welcomes a person in their entirety.  For me, as a Maori woman, this is what embracing diversity looks like and I look forward to further incorporation of Māori values into the Link Alliance.


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