December 11, 2023

Normalising Te ao Māori in the workplace key to dispelling whakamā

Normalising Te ao Māori in the workplace key to dispelling whakamā

‘Kia kaha, kia māia, be brave and lean into it.’ Newsroom speaks to Spark’s Māori development lead Riki Hollings about what it means to be on a te ao Māori journey – and the best way to support that  | Content Partnership

Riki Hollings is a descendant of Ngāti Ranginui and Ngai Tamarawaho of Tauranga Moana. He’s confident when speaking te reo Māori but he’s also on his own te ao Māori journey alongside the rest of his Spark whānau. Riki has been working at the telecommunications and digital services company for 27 years, almost four of those as Māori development lead.

Yet when a call comes in for him to lead a mihi whakatau in the large atrium of Spark’s Tāmaki Makaurau HQ, Riki still gets nervous. Even as a confident speaker, standing up and speaking te reo in front of a group is, well, kinda scary.

So Riki understands the trepidation of some colleagues as they get involved with the company’s te ao Māori-based kaupapa, which sit within Spark’s Māori strategy Te Korowai Tupu o Kora Aotearoa – the cloak of growth of Spark New Zealand.

“There’s a lot of fear,” Riki tells Newsroom. “A lot of people have fear about causing offence, or mispronouncing something.

“But we all carry that fear. I carry that fear with me as well.”

One of Riki’s key roles at Spark is dispelling that fear; making te ao and te reo Māori a normal part of working life via the various programmes that are part of Te Korowai Tupu.

Spark’s Māori strategy was established in 2017, Riki tells Newsroom.

“We looked at ourselves to understand who we were, what world we inhabit, what’s important in our world, and what are the things that we do. Then we explored te ao Māori to understand who inhabits that world, what’s important in that world, what happens in that world, and we brought those two worlds together to identify the shared space that exists between us.

“And it’s that shared space that we identified as the place where we could all thrive together as we walk hand in hand.”

Since then, Spark has worked on developing programmes that are increasingly an important part of working at the company, reflecting the values of the organisation, Riki says.

“There’s a Spark app, which explains things like the difference between pōwhiri and mihi whakatau, and what happens on a marae, and what you can expect if you attend an event. It also has pronunciation and small mihi people can use if they are invited to an event and want to participate.”

Meanwhile, more than 100 people at Spark are participating in an online programme developed by Education Perfect called Te Ao Māori for Professionals. The programme allows those involved to work through the online lessons at their own pace as they learn about Māori culture and te reo Māori. In addition to the online course, Education Perfect facilitates Te Tiriti o Waitangi wānanga where participants are taken through the key principles within Te Tiriti and how it works alongside Spark’s values and Te Korowai Tupu in practice.

For those eager to take their te reo Māori journey further, Spark also partners with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa to offer te reo Māori classes once a week with a kaiako or teacher at its Tāmaki Makaurau office.

It’s about allowing people the opportunity to engage in – and become comfortable with – various parts of te ao Māori, Riki says.

“We put as much as possible into supporting our people, but most importantly it’s about acknowledging that everyone’s at a different stage of their journey, and we need to support each other.”

There are risks when a company takes a bold step like Te Korowai Tupu, Riki says. On one side there’s avoiding tokenism, and at the other, “we do worry about culturally taxing our people”.

“Our focus has been on building our authenticity through the partnerships we create and building momentum on our journey through actions with others.”

Some of these partnerships are with organisations such as Ahikōmako which runs a Maōri start-up accelerator called Kōkiri, Whāriki – the Maōri business network, Education Perfect and Te Wānanga o Aotearoa which both assist with uplifting cultural competency amongst Spark’s people.

And his own journey? What happens when he gets that call and heads down to the atrium to open an event?

“I say to myself ‘Kia kaha, kia māia’, be brave and lean into it, because it’s through those experiences that we actually develop and grow.”

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