Top Female Māori Leaders: ‘We’re small but we can punch hard’

New Zealand’s top Māori women leaders have shared ways that companies can emulate the values that are driving the success of the Māori economy, which is growing faster than the country’s economy as a whole.

Speaking at Global Women/Fonterra event Mana Wāhine on Wednesday night, the panellists were overwhelmingly optimistic in their vision of the future for Māori, and particularly Māori women leaders.

With plenty of media coverage in recent months around the lack of gender diversity on New Zealand’s boards, Māori organisations have quietly surged way out in front. ‘We’re small but we can punch hard,’ as one panellist put it. Male Māori leaders were clear that it should happen and were strategic and visionary in making it happen, Hinerangi said. Men expect gender diversity now.

The theme for the evening, Aroha in Leadership, teased out practical ways of leading from the head and heart.

Leadership is all about giving back, said Hinerangi. Panellist Pania Tyson-Nathan, CEO of NZ Māori Tourism, agreed, talking about how her great-grandmother taught her to serve; a quality passed on through the generations. Kindness and honesty, she added, were two other values essential to leadership.

One of the key messages of the evening was one of empowerment. As a leader – at any level – you are responsible for making change happen.

Panellist Rangimarie Hunia, CEO of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Whai Maia, suggested that businesses have more of an opportunity to make change and bring people together than the government. Leaders, she said, must value tiaki (looking after, protection, safeguarding) to be effective.

Hinerangi Raumati, chair of successful intergenerational business Parininihi ki Waiotara, said that we are seeing the next wave of young, ambitious rising stars in the Māori SME space.

The audience were challenged to think differently about recruiting, developing and supporting Māori talent, and to start by speaking to Iwi organisations when looking for talented young people to develop and invest in.

‘Look for differences and make space’ was another challenge. Organisations flourish when their people come from a wide range of backgrounds and have a wide range of skills and talents. So ensure you are making and holding space for these people.

Whatever challenge you choose to take on, approach it as more than your individual perspective. Bring with you your whakapapa, the wisdom and experiences passed down from your ancestors, and consider what you want to live on beyond yourself. Finally, the panellists advised, consider who else you represent, be it your family, iwi, community, colleagues or customers.