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​What do you bring to the table?

From our Partners

By Design Centre of Excellence Lead for ANZ Technology Sachi Taulelei

5 May 2022

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​​ What do you bring to the table?

It started with an innocent question from a genuinely curious co-worker.

“So what do Māori and Pasifika people bring to the table?”

I paused.   Not quite sure how to answer.  Slightly distracted by an uncomfortable irritation itching its way across my back and up my neck.

Why was this still a question in 2022?

I know the intent behind the question was a sincere invitation to share my thoughts on diversity in the workplace.  But what I heard was, “Tell me why you’re good enough.” “Tell me why we should include you.”

 

A struggle to embrace my place

Throughout my career, I’ve always felt like the odd one out.

The only woman.

The only Pasifika person. 

The one who laughed too loud.

The one who looked different and sounded different.

Always trying to fit in, to find my place.

Five years ago I was promoted to be part of an Executive Leadership Team. I finally had a seat at the decision-making table with people I admired, looked up to and aspired to be.  And oh how I struggled!  I struggled to participate, struggled to be heard, struggled to embrace my place.

I couldn’t figure out why.  I had this niggling sense I was different.  I saw things differently.  I thought and expressed myself differently.  There were times when I would voice my opinion and there was silence. Polite nods.  Then the conversation would move on.

“Oh what a dumb thing to say” I’d say to myself immediately afterwards.

Half the time I couldn’t take in what everyone else was saying because I was trying so hard to think of what to say next.

“Leadership isn’t for me. I suck at it.” 

I would bring it up with my manager during our one-on-ones.  I shared how I was struggling.  How I didn’t feel I belonged and how I wasn’t enjoying the role. 

They would exclaim, ‘But Sachi, you bring colour’, reinforcing the fact I was different.  They explained how they had also struggled and had experienced the same thing.  They had graduated from the School of Hard Knocks.  They had made it to the top and so could I.  I just needed to grow a thicker skin.  Be stronger.  Speak louder. 

I wanted to make them proud, so I gave it my very best shot.  Outwardly, I was going through the motions of what I thought a leader should be - and to a certain extent I was successful.  But inwardly I was slowly losing who I was.  I felt like a fraud, constantly second-guessing myself. 

I edited myself to fit into an acceptable mould but in smoothing away my unique edges, I lost my edge.

No one at the table was like me

In the workplace, our beacons of success are often the people who have climbed the mountain of achievement - our managers, leaders and senior executives. When our measures of success are embodied in the values, norms and behaviours of the majority group, its understandable why many of us who aren’t, feel the pressure to conform to get ahead or gain favour. 

Women make up less than 30% of the Technology workforce (Digital Skills Aotearoa Report 2021).  And when I reflect over my 20+ year career in digital, I’ve never had a non-Pakeha manager.

My manager’s well-intentioned advice was to give me the tools they used, and thought I needed, to crawl up that mountain. But here’s the thing.  I didn’t have to climb the mountain the same way as everyone else.  To get to the top, I had to realise I could use my wings.

Workplaces often perpetuate norms that create exclusion.  The sooner we acknowledge this, the sooner we can address it.

My lightbulb moment occurred when I realised my continual self-editing, was perpetuating the very norm I was desperate to change.

To make meaningful change, I had to start with me.

 

Finding my wings

In her TedTalk My identity is my superpower - not an obstacle, America Ferrara examines a similar point of view and says,

Change will come when each of us has the courage to question our own fundamental values and beliefs. And then see to it that our actions lead to our best intentions.

Finding my wings required a whole lot of self-reflection, realigning my values and accepting my differences as my strengths. 

This came down to knowing three things:

  1. Who I am - strengthening my connection to my whakapapa and an acknowledgement of all the people, experiences and influences that shape me. 
  2. What I’m good at (and what I love doing) - learning what I naturally do best, and how to apply this to my work.  Using tools to uncover my strengths and unleashing my creativity by spending more time on the things I love. 
  3. What I need to thrive - knowing what I value and hold true.  What drives me and motivates me.  Constantly leaning into what will help me learn, stretch and grow to become a better me.

You can have diversity in your workplace, but our systems must recognise and place value in the differences people bring - and most importantly help people amplify this within themselves.

 

Creating a place where everyone belongs

Now I lead a team of my own, I feel a huge responsibility to create a team culture based on equity, openness and a sense of belonging.

Fortunately my entire team is just as passionate as I am!  We’ve formed a working group dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion and have committed to a number of actions.

We started with a concerted effort to increase our team diversity with a mindful approach to recruitment (we’ll soon be publishing a case study outlining how we did this and sharing the encouraging results we’ve seen).

Here are a few things we’re exploring to foster inclusion:

  1. Valuing people for their unique contributions - acknowledging our strength lies in the different qualities we each bring.  We want every person to know they’ve been chosen for their unique experiences, skills and perspectives.   
  2. Connecting with ourselves to connect with others - we’re using tools to help identify strengths, skills and preferred ways of working.  We’re pieces of a puzzle, requiring the different edges people bring, to achieve the perfect fit. 
  3. Being clear about what binds us - we’ve spent a lot of time understanding our team purpose, mission, behaviours and values. We’re also up-skilling in cultural competency, exploring tikanga and kaupapa Māori. These are the things that bring us together as a cohesive collective.
  4. Changing the way we work - fundamentally re-imagining how we function as a team so we all feel safe, valued and supported.  This means changing how we collaborate, communicate, ask for feedback, even how we coach and lead.

 

Reframing the question into an invitation

Last year, I wrote an article exploring the need for more diversity within the technology workforce.  I posed the question “Does your team represent and reflect the hopes, dreams and aspirations of ALL New Zealanders?

With this in mind, organisations should be asking, “Who’s missing from our table?” and actively seeking to invite and include different viewpoints.  “We really need you.  Will you join our table?”

By doing this, we acknowledge we’re all in this together.  The change we want to see for ourselves and others starts with our teams reflecting the depth, breadth and richness present in our communities. 

For organisations, this is key to growth, innovation and remaining competitive in today’s ever-changing market.

That’s what we all bring to the table. 

 

This article is an opinion piece by Sachi Taulelei, Design Centre of Excellence Lead for ANZ Technology. 

Together with ANZ’s Head of Pacific Technology, Megan Tapsell, Sachi will discussing the value in creating diverse talent pipelines that reflect your customer base and needs in Driving Diversity Matters on Friday 20th May (part of ANZ’s Building a high performing tech organisation speaker series).

 

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