Supporting Pacific Women in the workforce

“We need employers and leaders who know our struggles and aspirations,” says Manaini Cama (Fiji), Pacific Workforce Development Lead for Hanga-Aro-Rau Workforce Development Council (WDC).  “Pacific women need to see our sisters up there; to be able to say, ‘She’s wearing the same five hats I’m wearing and she’s nailing it’.  That’s how we inspire others to know they can do it, too.”

 “Diversifying our workforces to better attract, retain and progress women is a critical enabler to strengthen the New Zealand economy.” says CE Philip Alexander-Crawford. “Hanga-Aro-Rau is committed to building a more productive and prosperous New Zealand by giving employers the skills to attract and retain a rapidly changing workforce”.  Hanga-Aro-Rau acknowledges that Pacific peoples generally remain under-represented in our industries, despite being among the fastest-growing demographics in Aotearoa.  Where they are present in the workforce, they are predominately in lower-paid roles, with pay and progression inequities notably exacerbated for Pacific women who make, on average, $0.75 for every dollar that Pākehā men make. 

Manaini and fellow Pacific Workforce Development Lead, Aiganapule (Ina) Sola (Samoa), are tackling these challenges head-on to better support Pacific women and maximise the opportunities they present. “We are currently developing an action plan with tools to uplift the Pacific profile, increase engagement and explore industry insights,” Ina says.  “We’re looking at what’s happening in Pacific spaces in industry including for women, and how we can better support our workforce and build a culture of success.”  By doing so, we expect to see positive flow-on effects that stretch beyond the workplace, to industry, aiga, communities and the whole New Zealand economy. 

One critical resource created by Hanga-Aro-Rau is the Trade Careers online toolkit developed in partnership with Waihanga Ara Rau (WDC).  This online hub of resources (the campaign for which reached 2 million people in 2023) is transforming research insights into tools for Employers and Female career seekers to reduce barriers to thrive in a career in the Manufacturing, Engineering, Logistics, Building and Infrastructure sectors. TradeCareers will shortly launch a resource for employers to take tangible action to improve business productivity by supporting Pacific Women in the workforce.

Loretta Thompson (Pitcairn Island), Training and Development Manager for the Motor Trade Association, is bringing a Pacific lens to her role as a leader.  “Pacific women are natural nurturers with many family and community responsibilities outside of the workplace.  Trying to balance these needs with the inflexible requirements of a traditional 9-5 workplace-based role can be a significant barrier to our growth.  Our cultures are communal, connected to the land, to people and the ocean.  We need to see these values reflected by our employers.”

Better recognition of community and family commitments is essential to attracting Pacific women into the workforce, Manaini says.  “There is a huge opportunity for Hanga-Aro-Rau to bring Pacific women into its industries by supporting training and education that moves with the times.  I recently finished a two-year qualification; so many times, I nearly quit, because the current education system is still demanding 20-30 hours each week.  I cannot just be Manaini the student, I am also Manaini the worker and Manaini who is supporting my family.  We exist in a system that makes it really hard for us to advance, or even get on the ladder.  If we want Pacific women to thrive, we need to be more innovative and flexible in the ways we educate and train.  Hanga-Aro-Rau aims to do this by weaving Pacific perspectives and pedagogy throughout the vocational education process so that Pacific learners have been considered and can see themselves in these qualifications.”

To better engage Pacific employees, employers can and should centre communal values from the moment that workers walk in the door, Loretta says.  “It all starts with the interview process.  Inviting someone into your workplace should be like inviting them into your home.”  Manaini agrees, “For many humble Pacific people, a recruitment process with the need for self-promotion at multiple stages is, in itself, a barrier.  Businesses that open up the opportunity for families to engage with the workplace environment will resonate with the values that we hold as Pacific women.  We want to support employers to build those capabilities.”  

“We also need to attract and engage Pacific women without taking advantage of them,” Ina adds.  “These are very loyal people with 100% commitment, and we don’t want them stuck in the same position for the next 10 or 20 years because of that.  We need to raise awareness about the inequities that exist in terms of both pathways and pay because many in the industry don’t know the true impact that these issues are having.  We must uplift a profile of success and empowerment by promoting Pacific women in leadership.  We want to provide that aspiration and share stories nationally, not just within Pacific communities.”

“The key is to provide choice,” Loretta says, “with opportunities for growth and building blocks or learning modules that are reasonable and achievable.  We need greater transparency and flexibility around pathways for Pacific women, with support provided to find out what is needed to develop professionally and how we can journey together towards creating better opportunities.  Ultimately, a forward-thinking approach benefits the whole workforce and, in turn, supports better economic and social outcomes for all kiwis”

This article features Manaini Cama (Fiji), Aiganapule (Ina) Sola (Samoa) and Loretta Thompson (Pitcairn Island). As well as Hanga-Aro-Rau CE Philip Alexander-Crawford (Te Whiu, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Rēhia, Ngāpuhi)