Rotorua's Kiriwaitingi Rei has become the first woman appointed to the board of the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union in more than a century.

A descendant of Te Arawa, Ngati Awa and Ngati Toa, Rei has become an independent director on the board - the first time in the 108-year history of the union, a woman has become a board member.

Bay of Plenty Rugby Union chief executive Mike Rogers said having Rei would be a valuable asset to the union.

"Kiriwaitingi provides great governance expertise and a plethora of other skills, but it's not just her business acumen that have piqued our interest. She genuinely approaches life with optimism and energy, traits we admire here at Bay Rugby.


"We have a strong focus on women's rugby and looking at creating a better connection to the wider Māori community as well as identifying partnerships for Bay of Plenty rugby.

"I think Kiriwaitingi, will help us tick all of those boxes."

Rei said it was an honour and a sign of the changing times in Aotearoa.

"It sends a really strong message that women add value and they should hold leadership roles across all sectors of New Zealand society. I might be the first woman, but I will definitely not be the last," she said.

Rei, who started her career as a lawyer in Rotorua, has held several high-profile leadership roles in Māori organisations including chief executive of Māori Investments Ltd, corporate affairs manager at Te Arawa Group Holdings and general manager of Te Arawa River Iwi Trust.

The mother of two also has an extensive governance experience as chairwoman of Putauaki Trust and director roles in Waiū Dairy Ltd Partnership, Ngati Awa Group Holdings, Pukeroa Lakefront Holdings, and has participated in the Future Director Programme on Auckland Airport's Board and the Rotorua Economic Development board.

Although she admits to not being a rugby enthusiast, she brings a wide range of skills that will be an asset to the union.

"While I'm not an avid rugby fan, rugby is our national game and I am genuinely interested in the Steamers doing well as they represent our province.

"I have real knowledge around commercial activity, and I do understand that there are financial pressures upon unions to be profitable. Bay of Plenty is in a really good financial position in comparison with other unions, and player participation is increasing particularly around the women's game."


She said it was important for women to take a real leadership role in governance issues.

"I totally support more women getting involved. Organisations are embracing diversity and inclusion and measuring success not purely through profitability but by social and environmental standards."

The new director said the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union had really diversified in recent years.

"I think the union has taken an innovative approach to challenges. I have been impressed by the leaders right across the organisation, from the chair through to the CEO and the staff within the union, who work closely with the community.

"They are a really great group of people and I'm looking forward to working with them."