Top tips for being inclusive of Pasifika peoples.

Honor Eimi Colombus is an experienced engineer who featured on our Pasifika in construction webinar panel. Honor acknowledges companies have a growing desire to increase Pasifika representation but says there’s a lack of willingness when it comes to addressing the inclusion part of the equation. For this month’s top tips Honor enlightens us on the different levels of change we can each contribute to in creating the shift toward inclusive professions.

Engineers are problem solvers, and I think that if we equip ourselves appropriately we could be great at problem-solving our social issues, like representation and inclusion.

Honor Eimi Colombus

I would encourage us all to be intentional with how we approach increasing Pasifika representation – to reflect on our own identities and how we relate to, and with, Pasifika identities, and improve our awareness of the diversity within Pasifika peoples. This will help with tackling barriers like racism and bias. The issues involved with exclusion and marginalisation are tough things to approach and they won’t disappear by us wanting to do better. We need to equip ourselves, and our peers, to be able to do the hard work and then start doing it. I believe that it’s also important to distinguish intention from impact when assessing what we’re doing in this space, and to hold ourselves accountable.

It starts with the individual

So take it upon yourself to school up – cultural competency training and learning indigenous history are great places to start. You could also diversify the voices that you’re listening to through social media feeds, news, and academic readings.

Take up those opportunities and invitations to engage with Pasifika peoples and culture, such as national independence celebrations and language week activities. The NZ Ministry of Pacific Peoples celebrate Pacific Language Weeks each year and these always involve activities and events across Aotearoa. This year NZ celebrated our first national Kiribati Language Week – Kam na mauri!

The ‘team’ level of change

This requires us all to ask – what’s my role in the team to improve inclusion and increase Pasifika representation? Encourage others to increase their awareness, call out racism, and be an ally to your Pasifika colleagues. 

If you’re in a leadership position, commit to anti-racist education, actively listen to Pasifika voices in your team, and learn how to handle courageous conversations. Institutional racism is a big barrier and, in my experience, it’s common but may be invisible to those who aren’t impacted by it.

Let’s go wider and jump to a company or institution level

Equip your staff with tools for change and create environments where this change can happen. The Beyond Diversity programme teaches people how to have courageous conversations through the use of things like a personal compass tool, and set agreements and conditions.

Value the skills of cross-cultural and indigenous leadership by including them in professional development programmes or frameworks. There are Māori and Pasifika organisations who can assist with this, and a wealth of research and references by Pasifika and Māori academics.

Review recruitment practices and check that strategies are being implemented effectively. I’ve been to interviews where the job ad included competencies like inclusive leadership, basic confidence using te reo Māori, understanding of Te Tiriti – but in the interview, there were no related questions and it became apparent that there was no one on the interviewing panel who had these competencies. Using Māori kupu and talking about Te Tiriti obligations appeared to make the panel uncomfortable and were quickly brushed past.

Participate in Pacific and Māori-led initiatives. A great example is the TupuToa Internship Programme, which involves a summer placement with your company and includes Managers Cultural Competency Training. As you’re planning your summer intern/student programme, why not dedicate some of your positions to this programme.

For my Pasifika peers

If it’s safe, I believe that it’s a powerful thing to be visible as a Pacific person in our profession – to hold space in those uncomfortable moments where everyone else looks and behaves differently to you. I code-switch regularly in a working day but in those moments when I hold strong, my hope is that people will see my difference and learn to, and want to, change. Finding a strong network of like-minded people and identities in the profession has really helped me with this.

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