'The more we realise there's nothing to fear, and lots to gain, everyone benefits from it,' says chief people and culture officer
In May 2022, Wellington City adopted an ambitious 10-year Māori strategy, Tūpiki Ora, marking a significant commitment to the wellbeing and culture of the city’s Māori population.
Tūpiki Ora also represents a shared vision for Wellington that places the wellbeing of whānau (families) and the celebration of Māori culture at its core.
One key aspect that sets this strategy apart is its emphasis on engaging the entire workforce at Wellington City Council (WCC) to actively participate in its implementation. Just as Te Tiriti o Waitangi was a binding agreement between the Crown and Māori, WCC views the responsibility to understand, uplift and celebrate Māori culture and wellbeing as a shared commitment.
Meredith Blackler, Chief People and Culture Officer at Wellington City Council, told HRD, “It falls on all of us, including tauiwi (non-Māori New Zealanders) to come to the party – otherwise, it’s a bit like inviting a team to your home ground to play, and not even taking the field.”
She continued, “It’s also important for everyone at the Council to be involved because it requires us all looking at how we work and the opportunities we have each day, including with those big strategic plans, to make sure that we’re making progress against the strategy and its desired outcomes.”
Kōkiritia programme for staff
To facilitate this broader engagement, the council is introducing the Kōkiritia programme, a Mātauranga Māori capability framework designed to equip every staff member with the knowledge and skills needed to contribute to the council’s Tūpiki Ora 10 -Year Māori Strategy.
“To be able to achieve this strategy and its outcomes, this needs to be a Council-wide response. It can’t be placed on the shoulders of our kaimahi Māori or Mataaho Aronui, our Māori Strategic Partnerships team - and nor should it be,” said Blackler.
Kōkiritia comprises three core hoe (a hoe is a paddle, or oar that helps us propel our waka forward). In this context, these hoe are categories that equip our kaimahi to move forward in this new way of working, catering to various skill groups. These capabilities span from understanding Te Tiriti o Waitangi to valuing a Te Ao Māori perspective, supporting equitable outcomes for Māori communities, and acquiring specialist capabilities related to the environment.
Leaders, although not required to be fluent in te reo Māori, are encouraged to uplift their capabilities and serve as advocates for te reo Māori.
“We acknowledge that this might be challenging for some of our people, so an underlying principle for designing the introduction of Kōkiritia is Manaakitanga,” said Blackler. “That is to ensure that all kaimahi understand they will be supported on their capability uplift journey, that expectations of them are reflective of where they are on their journey and that effective and accessible training options are available to everyone.”
HR’s role in building inclusive Wellington
HR plays a central role in driving the Kōkiritia programme; with support from Mataaho Aronui and consulting firm Kawea Consulting, the capability framework is led by the WCC’s Culture and Capability team.
“It sits with us because we’re responsible for all organisational-wide core capability programmes, and this is no different,” said Blackler. “We already have an existing core capability framework, Ki te Hoe, and this is expanding on the one core capability that we’d already identified which was Mātauranga Māori. But it’s also a good example of where HR operationalises an organisational strategy supporting strategic outcomes and priorities.”
Touching on the negative discourse around co-governance and race-based rhetoric circulating in New Zealand media right now, now, more than ever, it’s an important time to lean in, she said, “and to see the opportunities and beauty that comes with te ao Māori, and better understand what being partners to te Tiriti means for us as a country. The more we realise there’s nothing to fear, and lots to gain, everyone benefits from it.”
“As HR professionals, we need to ensure that our kaimahi Māori feel safe in our organisations so they can bring their full selves to work, but many of us don’t know where to start. We want to lean in, but there’s a real fear of getting it wrong, causing offence, or just plain old lack of confidence,” said Blackler.
To be employer of choice, ‘you need to be inclusive’
Organisations need to look through that fear and start building cases for implementing Te Ao Māori strategies within their organisations, she said.
“Iwi are genuine business partners who can contribute excellent outcomes to businesses, and if you want to be seen as an employer of choice, you need to be inclusive.”
Blackler then turns to the “obvious” reason.
“We’re all here in Aotearoa, New Zealand. And we have obligations as signatories for te Tiriti o Waitangi. We need to do better and part of that is having a genuine understanding and appreciation of te ao Māori and genuinely supporting all Māori outcomes. This includes supporting the preservation and revitalisation of te reo Māori which is a vital aspect of Māori culture and identity. I would like to wero (challenge) other HR teams in Aotearoa to lead this kaupapa in their organisations,” said Blackler, adding that as a nation, we have a lot of redress to still work through.
“In HR, we have the opportunity to be part of this redress, by building in te ao Māori and tikanga into HR practices but it’s also about being able to support kaimahi Māori to rediscover their own culture if they haven’t been able to while growing up.”
‘Richness and cultural dimension enhances work’
This includes ensuring kaimahi Māori have priority when it comes to any training that is offered, and ensuring it is offered in a way that is safe for them, she said.
“For example, making the policy decision to give an instant ‘yes’ when any kaimahi Māori want to take a year off to attend a full te reo Māori emersion course,” said Blackler.
“For those that don’t understand why we need this, or who see this as unnecessary or divisive, my response would be we need to shift our perspective to better understand why it’s a value add. it doesn’t take away from anyone or anything else we’re involved in – quite the opposite, in fact. It adds a richness and a cultural dimension that enhances our existing work, and the outcomes we achieve through it will benefit all Wellingtonians.”