Cathy O'Sullivan
Editor-in-Chief APAC

What Kiwi enterprises need to change to attract Māori and Pasifika IT talent

May 24, 20228 mins
CareersDiversity and Inclusion

Lack of representation may not be driving Māori and Pasifika peoples into IT careers as much, but there is also no shortage of Māori and Pasifika talent if organisations really look for it, says Kiwi IT leader.

Taranaki Mount and Māori carving New Zealand
Credit: Dmitry Pichugin/Shutterstock

Despite making up more than a quarter of NZ’s population, Māori and Pasifika peoples make up just 6.8% of New Zealand’s IT workforce.

With the tightening labour market for IT staff, there is a bigger push than ever for companies to examine what they can do to attract more people to the industry. Conversations on diversity amongst IT executives have picked up, says Gartner senior director, advisory Neha Kumar.

“CIOs are losing critical talent so, they are trying to think beyond just making incremental changes to their talent strategies, they’re scrambling to sort of sharpen it and think of bold changes. And that’s where they’re starting to look at, seriously tapping into the diversity in terms of the talent pool,” Kumar says.

There are numerous reasons why so few Māori and Pasifika people pursue a career in tech but one of the main factors is the lack of representation, says Microsoft global co-chair of Indigenous Dan Walker (Ngāti Ruanui).

“If our parents and rangatahi [young people] do not see their aunties, uncles, cousins, etc., and wider whānau—or even some people that look like them—in IT, then they are less likely to think of tech as a viable option for their children or themselves. A lack of representation always results in a lack of trust. Likewise, from the schooling side, I have seen research that shows our Māori and Pasifika rangatahi are streamed into other opportunities outside of STEM curricula. It can sometimes be well-meaning support that creates a divergence in the early years which becomes exponential in the later years. The result is very few Māori and Pasifika studying for tech roles in the tertiary level, becoming self-perpetuating in the demand side,” Walker says.

If Māori and Pasifika people do consider a career in IT, Walker says they have to contend with barriers that others may not have to deal with.

Rebecca Thomas CIO at PwC New Zealand

PwC New Zealand

“These are things like unconscious and conscious bias in the recruitment processes and interviews. Examples are simple, things such as not understanding cultural nuances of deferential respect in eye contact, not wanting to speak too proudly of themselves and their achievements—especially Pasifika—, or not recognising or valuing their leadership in their own community,” Walkers says.

The importance of hiring managers undergoing cultural competency training to understand their own biases, is another key point to look at says Walker.

Rebecca Thomas, CIO at PwC New Zealand, is bucking the trend with 25% of her staff of Māori and Pasifika descent.

“If you want diversity, you need to recruit diversity and it sounds really simple and it really is that simple,” Thomas says.

Thomas points to PwC’s work in the community as being a factor in lifting their visibility. She says one of the leaders, director of NZ IT Simoli Aati, has been instrumental in building relationships with the Pasifika community. Aati regularly speaks at community sessions and at churches about careers in IT.

“You need to find women, and Māori, and Pacific people and recruit them, so that’s what we’ve done, and I haven’t found a shortage of candidates,” Thomas says.

CIOs can help encourage Māori and Pasifika people to apply for IT roles

There are four things CIOs should consider when looking to grow their pool of Māori and Pasifika talent, according to Walker.

  1. Be purposeful: It will take some extra work to identify the talent because they are less likely to raise their hand—it just isn’t in their nature. Reach down and pull them up in an intentional way. Systemic change won’t happen without some strong and deliberate action. “As my boss Matt Bostwick has said ‘the tech sector doesn’t have a supply issue, it has a diversity issue’,” Walker says. 
  2. Look beyond the CV: Recognise and value their contribution and leadership in their respective communities—Māori and Pasifika are rich in ‘contribution capital’ (a purpose-driven giving mindset without monetary or reputational gain). This isn’t a conscious focus, it is culturally designed into their societal norms and ways of being. The World Economic Forum believes soft skills such as emotional intelligence, service orientation and cognitive flexibility are going to be of even greater value in the next 10 years.
  3. Improve the culture: Organisations are spending a lot of money on recruitment drives for Māori and Pasifika yet they don’t want to do the work on their own culture to attract and keep them. “Become the harakeke (flax bush) that attracts the Tui bird rather than the net trying to catch them and then they fly away because you have nothing that nurtures them,” Walker says. Organisations can improve their culture by celebrating Māori and Pasifika success, share their culture and good stories, honour their events, foster awareness and belonging to groups both internally and externally such as Whāriki for the business sector, Tūhono in public sector or the Kiwa rōpū in KPMG.
  4. Become a platform: Find ways to use the organisation as a platform to bring benefits back to Māori and Pasifika.
Dan Walker global co-chair of Indigenous at Microsoft
Dan Walker global co-chair Indigenous at Microsoft


“I did my Masters in Tikanga Māori ki te Ao Matihiko—Māori values as a framework for digital leadership and I’m of the view that the tech sector can be a powerful force for good. If you are authentic about how you do it, and have worked alongside the Māori or Pasifika community, your impact can be local and global,” Walker says.

“I’m proud of the work that we have done here at Microsoft such as our support of Whetu Paitai at Piki Studios to create Ngā Motu, a Māori Minecraft universe, the launch of the Aotearoa keyboard with macrons inbuilt for greater accessibility, and how we have supported TupuToa and Zeducation in the launch of Hikohiko te Uira—a free Māori and Pasifika digital skills programme to name a few. As my mentor Pania Tyson-Nathan says ‘it isn’t about commercialising culture – it is about culturalising commerce’,” Walker says.

How to retain Māori and Pasifika talent

Getting more indigenous people into roles is one thing but keeping them engaged and feeling valued also requires effort, says Gartner’s Kumar.

“Unless you educate your own staff to be inclusive of the indigenous community, those people aren’t going to stick if they feel like they stand out and aren’t treated the same… [If] you’re only looking at it from the hiring lens to improve diversity and, unless you address equity and not just equality, they start from a backfoot often in many organisations,” Kumar says.

Start to focus on equity and making an inclusive workplace where existing managers and staff are educated to build an inclusive culture for these people. That’s the only way to retain this talent, Kumar says.

Walker echoes this and warns that managers also need to be mindful of the ‘cultural tax’ placed on employees that have cultural connections to a community organisations want access to.

“It shows up in ways as simple as needing a Māori name for an internal programme to checking the quality of a mihi all the way through to leading pōwhiri and mana whenua engagements. So not only does the employee need to be good at their role, they need to be strong in their culture as well—often for no extra pay. We know that colonisation has caused a majority of Māori not to be strong in their culture which brings up other feelings of inadequacy and inferiority,” says Walker.

Walker has seen this pressure especially on early-in-career Māori and Pasifika.

“While there are some exceptional rockstars, most Māori and Pasifika in the tech sector are represented in the lowest levels of our organisations. I have especially seen top performers leave because they are wanting to move up but struggle to find mentorship, sponsorship or the networks of privilege afforded to those who look and act like the people at the top,” Walker says.