A nationwide survey of almost 5000 Kiwis has uncovered startling data on our cultural competency – that is, our understanding and application of te reo Māori, tikanga Māori and Te Tiriti o Waitangi principles in the workplace.
Fewer than half of us understand how Te Tiriti o Waitangi principles can be applied to the work that we do, and we struggle with confidence in this area.
Overall, however, there is an appetite for change, with most New Zealanders surveyed indicating they would strongly support their workplace offering a Māori perspective on their work, partnering with Māori groups and organisations more readily and actively valuing te ao Māori.
Young New Zealanders (aged between 18 and 25) are the most willing to support te reo Māori, tikanga and Te Tiriti at work - and by extension, show the most confidence when incorporating Māori perspectives and using te reo Māori in written communication. And women, the survey shows, are more inclined to broaden their knowledge and embrace te reo Maōri and tikanga than men are.
The research was undertaken by insights organisation AskYourTeam, in partnership with Te Taura Whiri I te Te Reo Māori | Māori Language Commission, Te Puni Kōkiri | Ministry of Māori Development, Tatauranga Aotearoa | Statistics New Zealand, Te Hiringa Hauora | Health Promotion Agency and Maurea Consulting.
Over two years, 4900 employees in executive and non-executive roles across 30 organisations took part. The goal, says AskYourTeam’s pou tikanga [cultural adviser] Conrad Waitoa, was to develop a snapshot of our cultural capability at work and assist organisations across the motu as they begin to improve their understanding of, and implement or progress, their cultural capability plans.
“Cultural competency is so much more than a sole focus on te reo Maori,” begins Waitoa (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tahu). “It’s about how we understand the treaty, how we incorporate tikanga, how and when we engage with Māori groups, and how we embrace equality and minimise racism at work.
“What these insights tell us are essentially three things. Firstly, that there is certainly a desire from Kiwi employees to learn more and improve cultural competency. Secondly, that most of us see te reo Māori as a great doorway to take us through to the wider concepts of equity and better engagement with Māori. And thirdly, that it’s our young colleagues leading the way – shining a light on the gaps and demanding that we do better.”
Waitoa says he’s not surprised that the survey – now available for any workplace to measure its own cultural competency – points to younger kaimahi spearheading change in this space.
“Our rangatahi are more culturally aware and equipped, taking a holistic view of work life rather than just profit and market share. They are raised prioritising wellbeing, and this extends to their expectation of a balanced work environment where fairness is a core value. Our research shows 86 per cent of our 18 to 25-year-olds see cultural capability as a priority, and that it’s our senior leaders who rank lower when it comes to viewing learning te reo Māori, for instance, as a worthwhile skill.
“Perhaps they are time-poor, or nearing the end of their working lives, or perhaps they are coming from the nine-to-five mentality and, as I have experienced myself, systemic racism, unconscious bias, and an unwillingness to change.”
Another insight from the survey exposes a lack of understanding of how Te Tiriti o Waitangi applies to our work lives and workplaces.
Only 44 per cent of New Zealanders surveyed felt they could explain how the treaty impacts their work. Just two in five employees felt confident in their ability to explain Māori concepts, and only a third of New Zealanders could adequately describe key historical moments and how they impact both Māori and Pākehā.
Waitoa says there is work to be done – “essential work, which education is already doing well, linking Te Tiriti into the curriculum.”
“We’re also seeing AskYourTeam client organisations driven by, typically, younger executives and CEOs who understand the strength of equity. And we are seeing more knowledgeable Māori influencing boards and gaining higher positions within companies, which can certainly help break down those barriers,” Waitoa says.
Interestingly, it’s women who are more likely than men to show strong intent to improve cultural competency, with a 10-point gap between men and women when it comes to viewing te ao Māori as relevant to their work.
“Women’s psychology is different to men’s – their brains allow them to more readily think back to the past and look into the potential future,” offers Waitoa. “This may drive a deeper interest in developing stronger relationships and supporting te ao Māori.”
Waitoa says AskYourTeam is well-placed to work with organisations to, firstly, measure their own cultural competency through a range of survey questions, and offer ongoing support as businesses begin developing or implementing a strategy.
“Our initial data points to a strong desire, overall, for organisations to provide more opportunities to engage with the Māori bicultural space and partner with Māori groups. Other ideas from the survey questions indicate that Māori reo lessons, signage at work in both te reo Māori and te reo Pākehā, as well as developing a buddy mentorship system could work for some organisations. Our hope is that many more businesses and organisations will dive into this space, survey their own people, listen, learn, and embrace the journey.”
For more on the insights paper Te ara ki tua /The pathway forward, go to https://www.askyourteam.com/products/cultural-competency.