Māori scientists are pulling "cultural double shifts" in helping their colleagues and institutions navigate te Ao Māori - leaving many feeling burnt out, time-poor and discriminated against.
A new AUT study, drawing on the experiences of a group of fulltime Māori researchers, explores an often-overlooked downside of institutions trying to lift cultural capacity in a sector where Māori remain severely under-represented.
Its lead author, Professor Jarrod Haar, said the findings could also be extrapolated to other businesses and organisations in New Zealand, where Māori were being put unfairly under extra pressure.
It showed how cultural identity could perversely act as a disadvantage for indigenous employees, leading to critical issues around workloads.
That was because Māori researchers often had the experience of trying to explain to others how to work with Māori and Māori communities.
One researcher surveyed in the study said colleagues had asked for an introduction to their iwi, "but I don't even talk to my iwi".
"They need to have institutional relationships and not rely on you."
Further, there was often a push to explain to whānau, iwi and hapū what the science sector was trying to achieve.
While many Māori scientists found this kind of engagement rewarding, ultimately, the study found it took time away from other job priorities.
Haar said the study highlighted a "complicated reality" for Māori scholars, who spent a large proportion of their time helping their non-Māori colleagues understand how to engage Māori.
"So much so, they often don't get enough time to focus on their own science."
As one put it: "We spend more time being Māori for others than being Māori for ourselves."
Haar said these researchers also often weren't compensated for their time for this work building cultural capacity, so they end up doing it over, above, and at the expense of their own research.
The scientists spoke of this extra work being inferred - yet not stated - in their contacts.
One reported feeling "exhausted and burnt out", while another spoke of being asked to review others' research, just to ensure it ticked a cultural box.
"And I want to say, 'but I just noticed that your design is rubbish and that you've got no controls in your experiment', but they say they've got other scientists to do that for us, thank you. That hurts, that's why I'm angry."
Haar said that, regardless of the sector or discipline, these kinds of negative experiences could disrupt the crucial pipeline of new and aspiring Māori entering the skilled workforce.
The onus was on the organisation, not individuals, to undertake and commit to cultural engagement, he said.
"Inclusive workplaces are no longer a 'nice to have'- they are a 'must have'. This study holds a magnifying glass to the problems that come from organisations relying on or tacitly requiring specific people to build cultural capability and engagement.
"Instead, it must be supported by policies and guidelines, and with the time, money and dedicated resources needed to be effective."
Professor Jacinta Ruru, co-director of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, New Zealand's Māori Centre of Research Excellence, said the findings highlighted the importance of new drivers in the Education and Training Act 2020, and the Tertiary Education Strategy 2020.
"This research shows the sector has a long way to go to realise this.
"This research should act as a catalyst for change."
Te Pūnaha Matatini post-doctoral fellow Dr Tara McAllister, whose work has shone a light on the dismal representation of Māori and Pasifika in science, also said the new study was a timely one.
"It highlights the additional pressures that Māori scientists face and the friction between what the system and organisations want and what the communities we belong to need."
Between it and the recent publication of Ngā Kete Mātauranga - a book sharing the perspectives of 24 Māori scholars - McAllister said sector leaders were now well placed to understand the experiences of Māori scientists.
"Now is the time for action and change. Universities and the research sector need to recognise and reward Māori scientists for the dual and vitally important roles they fulfil in our research system.
"Work needs to commence immediately to expand the size of the Māori scientific workforce, whilst dismantling the institutional structures which continue to work against us."
A recent study led by McAllister found that, of 11 universities and Crown research institutes analysed between 2008 and 2018, Māori and Pasifika scientists were generally few, and there'd been little change over that time.
One university reported not having employed a single Māori or Pasifika academic in their science faculty during that time.
In science faculties at the seven other universities, Māori comprised less than 5 per cent of total fulltime equivalent roles (FTEs), with averages ranging between 4.3 per cent and 0.6 per cent, and no significant differences observed over the decade.
The picture was slightly better at CRIs, with numbers of Māori scientists increasing at half the institutes that were able to provide data.
One CRI saw an increase of Māori scientists from 1.8 per cent to 3.8 per cent, while another reported a rise of 3.8 per cent to 7.8 per cent.
But representation rates were still generally low: at two other CRIs, for instance, Māori comprised just between 0.01 and 0.03 and zero and 0.6 per cent respectively over the period.
Of 11 institutions that provided data, just three reported having Pasifika representation exceeding 1 per cent of either the total headcount, or total number of FTEs in more than one year.
Four institutions – one university and three CRIs - reported having employed no Pasifika scientists for 11 consecutive years.
The Government has moved to partly address poor representation of Māori in science through the Vision Mātauranga policy, which aimed to unlock the "science and innovation potential of Māori knowledge, resources and people".