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Widening the talent pool: preparing future Māori & Pacific leaders

How TupuToa is helping Māori & Pacific students navigate the corporate world to claim their seat at the table.

When it comes to hiring new talent, a lot of businesses can fall into the habit of looking in the same places for grads and interns. Which means underrepresented groups like Māori and Pacific students, get left out of the recruitment loop. A closer look at the tech industry in New Zealand reveals that only 13% of Māori and Pacific people are represented, compared to 72% of White/Europeans. 

Established five years ago, TupuToa aims to change that trend by partnering with corporates to take on Māori and Pacific tertiary students as part of their summer internship program. In 2020, Salesforce New Zealand became a partner organisation.

TupuToa’s vision for change

Our vision at TupuToa is to grow Māori and Pacific leaders for a greater Aotearoa (Te Reo Māori for New Zealand). We do this by creating an employment pathway that starts with securing 12-week paid internships for Māori and Pacific tertiary students in our partner organisations with the goal of converting those internships to full time employment. Proudly, we have an 80% conversation rate of our eligible final year students and graduates. 

Even though Māori and Pacific people make up around 27% of New Zealand’s population, very few are visible in the corporate world. You can’t be what you can’t see and so TupuToa’s mission is to transform that situation and create a self-sustaining ecosystem by helping  Māori and Pacific young people into those roles. “If all we do is learn culture it will die,” says TupuToa CEO Anne Fitisemanu. “If we all commit to practicing culture in our daily lives, it will not only live but last for the generations to come.”

Nick Lawrie (Salesforce), Mikara Hendrey, Anne Fitisemanu, Florida Foliaki (TupuToa Lead Navigator) and Talalelei Reweti (Lead Navigator – Cadetship) talk about the importance of workplace diversity.

Mikara’s journey: finding a seat at the table

For TupuToa intern, Mikara Hendry, who now works as a Solutions Engineer at Salesforce, it was exactly that visibility and commitment to culture that caught her attention. “I was nearing the end of my IT studies at university and as much as I couldn’t wait for it to be over, it was also dawning on me that I would have to go out into the real world and find a job. One of my friends was doing an internship at a law firm and I was thinking, that’s incredible — I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Samoan woman working in a law firm!”

Her friend told her about our work at TupuToa. “I had a look through their Instagram and thought it looked really cool — a place that catered to my cultural background and it was free, which mattered a lot considering the COVID-19 pandemic and being a student. So when I saw the request for applications come up, I decided to go for it.” 

Mikara was then assigned a Navigator to help find her opportunities and prepare for them. Preparation and education is a really important part of the TupuToa process. We run workshops to help our interns understand how to write up a CV, present well in an interview and office environment, and create appropriate Instagram and LinkedIn profiles. Along with those essential practical skills, we also want to instill a sense of confidence and self-worth in our interns. Many have become distanced from their cultures so this is not just a professional opportunity, but a chance to reconnect positively with their background. 

“It is so empowering to be encouraged to find your mana and discover more about where you come from and how your culture makes you unique and special. I understood that I didn’t have to fit into some corporate mould — I could be authentic. I could be who I want to be and express that without worrying about judgement. I came to freshly appreciate what it means to be a Tuvaluan woman and how it’s reflected in my values and how I do things.”

When Mikara’s Navigator came to her with the possibility of a graduate role at Salesforce, her first reaction was “What is Salesforce?” 

“But when I discovered the core values outlined on the Salesforce website, I thought, this is the one! And when they offered it to me? Well that felt like the best day of my life.”  

“I do sometimes look around the meeting room and find there aren’t often people who look like me, but TupuToa has shown me that I don’t have to hide away, I have a seat at the table and I’m just going to own it. And Salesforce really supports that. There’s no reason to diminish who I am just because I’m different. On the contrary — my difference is recognised as something valuable.”

“I love being part of the Women’s Network at Salesforce,” says Mikara. “We can just come together and talk about everything — from finances to wellbeing and professional development. It’s a safe space with like-minded women. When I walk in I never feel alone.”

TupuToa and Salesforce equality group WINDforce unite.

Leading from the heart & creating meaningful partnerships

Nonprofits are born out of people who have passion and purpose. We might not be experts in everything but we have heart. Pro bono partnerships like the one we have with Salesforce help us translate that passion and purpose into action and the Salesforce commitment to equality and diversity resonates strongly with our mission. This contributes to the mana and magic that is TupuToa.

We’ve been working with Salesforce in Australia and New Zealand for around nine months and recently had a big discovery workshop where eight engineers came in to assess our system and look at how we are using it, or not using it. Our goal is to automate and streamline a lot of our processes to save time across the organisation — not to replace roles with automation but to free up our people to work on building relationships. And we can’t wait to hit delete on all our remaining spreadsheets! 

TupuToa is growing fast, and having consistent, streamlined processes for onboarding, through to placement and beyond is essential to our movement. TupuToa has taken on new staff to support this growth. This year is a record number of opportunities, with an  anticipated 350+ internship opportunities will be matched this year, a significant increase on  210 opportunities from the previous year, even through the challenges and uncertainty due to the impacts of COVID-19. With the growth, we aim to pass on knowledge to new hires efficiently and consistently and Salesforce is supporting this.

With Salesforce working with the TupuToa team closely, we can say, we need an email template built, a field mapped or advice on data architecture, and they are always so happy to support us. This is what a true partnership is about: what do you have in your kete (basket), what do we have in ours, and how can we share in order to bring greatness to many. To us, success is a collective. It doesn’t work with just one — it takes all to be on board.

From “why me?” to “why not me?”: changing a mindset

“Sometimes you just need a little nudge,” says Mikara, “Not to say ‘you have to do this’ but to say ‘we think you’re capable of doing this’ and that’s what’s happened for me with TupuToa and Salesforce. From the first interview to presenting a demo in the last week of my internship, I’ve been encouraged to grow — professionally and personally.”

“I had a big case of imposter syndrome from the get go and I still have moments where I wonder if I can do this. But you just have to switch up the narrative and think, it’s not if I can do it, but that others know I can do it and I have to believe in myself.

“It’s not uncommon for people in our communities and cultures to think they’re not good enough, to ask ‘why me?’ The challenge is to change your mindset and ask ‘why not me?’ You’re good enough, you can do it.”

Her advice then to anyone looking to apply for a TupuToa internship? “Do it! Have fun with it. You get three months of learning, growing and networking.” And a lifetime of connections.

Mikara is now helping the Salesforce pro bono team in their work with TupuToa so it’s been really exciting to see her come full circle. “I’m now giving back to the people who gave me this opportunity,” she says. “That makes me pretty emotional!”

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Tim Johnson

Tim Johnson is the Digital, Marketing & Communications Lead at TupuToa.

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