ASB's Whakaterehia Acceleration Programme encourages diversity and inclusion, discovers Raewyn Court

Two years ago, ASB Bank recognised its staff who identified as Maori were under-represented in its workforce and in management roles. This awareness led to a small but strong group of Maori leaders within the bank conceiving a programme to encourage diversity and inclusion.

The Whakaterehia Maori Acceleration Programme, run in partnership with Te Puni Kokiri (Ministry of Maori Development) and now in its second year, is aimed at supercharging the development of Maori managers and aspiring managers.

Angela Busby, ASB Securities Principal, says they wanted to create a programme that would develop a strong, vibrant and supportive Maori whanau within the bank, and a Maori talent pipeline to generate greater competition for senior roles and attract more Maori to the industry.

She says the "stand-out benefit" achieved by staff in the programme is confidence. Over half of those in the original 2015 Whakaterehia cohort have had a promotion and Busby says that without this newly-gained confidence, "they may not have stepped forward towards these new opportunities and secured their new roles."


This year, participants from other corporates -- Fonterra, Vector, Mainfreight and Fletcher Building -- have joined ASB in the accredited programme, which is provided by the Institute of Management and awards graduates with a diploma at the end of the one-year course. Busby says it was always part of their vision to invite corporate partners to be part of the journey and to share successes and learnings in order to provide further career opportunities for Maori in other industries.

Topics covered include communication, accounting principles, HR management, applied (project) management and leadership. Busby says ASB added mentoring, individual coaching, guest speakers and a cultural component to the workshops.

"Participants are also asked to be involved in a relevant business community project to embed their skills and foster stronger relationships with our communities by giving something back," she says.

Ngaire Angus, ASB regional manager private banking, was promoted to her current role after completing the inaugural year of Whakaterehia. She had initially seen the programme advertised on the staff intranet but was hesitant to apply. "A colleague in the leadership and development team gave me a gentle nudge, and after being shortlisted and interviewed I was fortunate to make the cut," she says.

For Angus, the challenge was not just undertaking Whakaterehia while working full time - she was also pregnant and gave birth during the year. "It was tough, but I was determined to do well. There were long nights burning the midnight oil, but my husband and whanau were supportive in meaningful and practical ways, such as looking after our toddler when baby arrived and I needed to hit the books."

Angus says the knowledge gained from the programme "absolutely" gave her the confidence to apply for promotion into a senior role. "I am better equipped for senior leadership now. I've been in management roles with ASB for eight years but the learning curve over the past 18 months has been incredible. The knowledge and networks I developed on the programme were certainly the catalyst for stepping up to a new role."

Angus feels she brings a greater self-confidence to her role. "I would have made it eventually but the programme has accelerated the process." She would recommend the programme because "the opportunity to learn, grow and connect with ambitious Maori is inspiring and has been a highlight of my ASB career".

Naomi Aporo, Fonterra's learning and development manager leadership, is undertaking the programme this year. She says Fonterra became involved with Whakaterehia because diversity and inclusion is vital to the company and the uniqueness of the programme impressed them.

"We haven't seen a model like it anywhere else in the corporate sector. With other partners coming on board this year, creating an even more diverse experience for attendees, it was a really compelling initiative to get behind," she says.

The programme is run in normal working hours as a two-day workshop every two months, with all other work (including assignments which follow every workshop) done in the participants' own time. Aporo admits that juggling the course with a full-time management position is challenging at times. "Particularly when my workload hits a peak at the same time as assignments. But that's just life, you manage it as best you can and know the late nights and hard work will be worth it," she says.

Although it's early in the year, Aporo is already finding the programme useful. "Like most things in life, the best part is the people. Having participants from different sectors is a great opportunity to really broaden our thinking and challenge the way we do things. The assignments are sometimes difficult and time-consuming, but they help to make the content stick." She says most of the assignments require the participants to draw on things that are happening in the business, "so you get a much better understanding of your organisation and purposefully try things that you normally wouldn't".

Despite Whakaterehia meaning "acceleration", Aporo doesn't think people necessarily undertake the programme to gain a promotion. "We're doing it because we're driven to be the best version of ourselves. This programme sets about stretching and growing us over 12 months, so when we finish we are more capable than we were, in lots of areas.

"Then we're better prepared to step up and take on more when the opportunity pops up."

Busby says at ASB they are now discussing how best to tailor the Whakaterehia framework to serve the needs of other minority groups. "We believe we have a really valuable programme that can be modified for the benefit of many more people."