17 Feb 2020

Call for more Māori and Pasifika in NZ's tech sector

3:37 pm on 17 February 2020

Māori and Pacific people only make up two percent of the technology sector in New Zealand, according to an IT specialist.

Dan Walker, who works for Microsoft New Zealand, said it was a tragedy that the percentage was so low considering that Māori and Pasifika form 25 percent of the country's population.

Dan Walker will be mentoring Dylan in the Cloud Solutions team at Microsoft NZ.

Dan Walker, who is of Ngāti Ruanui, Ngā Ruahinerangi, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa, Maniapoto, and Tūhourangi descent, will be mentoring Dylan Apera, right, in the Cloud Solutions team at Microsoft NZ. Photo: Supplied

"Poverty is the biggest barrier as it restricts access to technology, thus making it difficult for them to excel in the field," he said.

"I did research into this and I found that the library use in South Auckland is high and the reason for that is to access the wi-fi. Only 30 percent of our children have access to the Internet and they are going to the library for it."

"Having Internet available is a core fundamental requirement around getting tech savvy and the adoption of technology is even just some of those basics having access to wi-fi."

Another barrier was the lack of Māori and Pacific role models in the technology sector.

"At the moment, people who are interested in getting into the tech sector, they have people such as Jeff Bezos or Facebook to look up to."

"The third barrier is trust - when you look at technology and the growth of it, it still has from its fundamental core a very neo-liberal approach, dominated by the profit motive rather than a tikanga Māori approach, so a lot of Māori are put off by this, they don't feel like this place is a value, driven environment."

There is currently no NZX-listed company which has a Māori and/or Pacific chief executive.

Tuputoa, an organisation that empowers Māori and Pasifika people with internship opportunities at corporate companies, has conducted research which show that only 17 percent of New Zealand's top 60 firms have an executive who identifies as other than European/Pākehā.

"If you are a leader in the IT sector, you need to work on positively discriminating towards our Māori and Pacific. We need to focus on getting out there to the community and pulling other ethnic groups in because for a lot of Māori and Pasifika, they don't always like putting themselves out there," said Mr Walker.

"If we want to turn the dial, we have to make sure the company does things to change themselves internally and working on ensuring they work at a place where Māori and Pacific want to come to."

"What Māori and Pacific people, and anyone of an ethnic background, can bring to a corporate company is diversity of thought."

"I bring with me my iwi world view, you can't just leave that at the door," he said.

"There was a study put out by Harvard around the diversity of thought and it said that you are 40 percent more likely to come up with more innovative solutions that you have not thought of before if you have that broader diversity of thought."

"If you lack diversity of thought, you end up being around the same people who think like you, therefore create solutions that are the same old solutions and then it leads to things like the economic crisis in 2009."

'Stepping out of my comfort zone'

Dylan Apera is from the Cook Islands and is currently in his last year of studying towards his Bachelors in Network Engineering and IT Service Science at the Auckland University of Technology.

Dan Walker offering his whānau korowai to Dylan Apera at the welcoming of interns to Microsoft NZ.

Dan Walker offering his whānau korowai to Dylan Apera at the welcoming of interns to Microsoft NZ. Photo: Supplied

Mr Apera is now an intern with Microsoft, working alongside Mr Walker in the Cloud Solutions team for one year.

"I made it a goal to try and get a job in New Zealand and that meant stepping out of my comfort zone and attending a lot of events. I stumbled upon Tuputoa, which is a programme for Māori and Pasifika in which they bring you up to scratch, give you tips for job interviews and build confidence in you, emphasising how unique we are as a Pacific person," he said.

"Tuputoa asked me what my three values are and I said community, culture and the environment and it just so happened that my values aligned with Microsoft and so they helped link me up with them. I went through the interview process and got accepted."

Mr Apera said that there was not enough Pacific role models in the technology space for those like himself.

"For me growing up, rugby was a big deal, so role models such as Benji Marshall, Sonny Bill Williams were who we had to look up to because we saw people as our own making it big."

"When it comes to technology, we only have international influences such as Jeff Bezos, and now for me it's Dan Walker from Microsoft. Going through university, I know Māori and Pacific people can make a huge difference in the tech sector, but we just need more people getting into it first."