Māori in Trades

Women in Trades NZ
Women in Trades NZ

Dave: How can I be more welcoming and respectful to wahine māori who wanna work in the trades?

Māori make up 11% in the construction industry and there are even less Māori women. With multiple genders, ethnicities and classes to consider, it can be a little daunting for employers to make sure everything is in ship-shape for a safe space for these women.

Wāhine māori are often placed lower in the perceived hierarchy of western society and this is evident in how things can be unintentionally overlooked or offensive. Let’s have a look at the situation and continue to seek solutions together.

Tikanga | Te Ao Hou | Whakatika

Here is some insight into traditional māori worldviews, modern worklife and solutions for everyone:

Ancestral names hold weight and are gifted for many reasons. They have deep connections to real people who lived a time ago and are a source of identity, familial alliances, tribal narratives and whakapapa among many other things.

When names are mispronounced, it can be hurtful and disrespectful; especially over a long period of time. It can be exhausting for the person to constantly correct people and so they give up – this in turn damages what could be really great working relationships.

Red Hot Tip

Asking the person to be patient while you make huge efforts to get their name correct, is a good start. It can take up to 100 times of saying a word to get it right. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to repeat the pronunciation of their name.

Sacred sites:
Traditional places have great spiritual and environmental meaning. What happened in these places is what has given them their sacred status. The protocols and practices set in direct relationship to those sacred sites or wāhi tapu were upheld – not for superstitious reasons – but for safety and practicality.

All plans and documents undergo rigorous testing and analysis, so there should be plenty of time and warning if the space is indeed a ‘wāhi tapu’. If this is the case, the responsibility is with the company to provide cultural safety for all who enter the site.

Red Hot Tip

You may not understand the cultural implications but that’s ok. You don’t have to know everything, just accept that it is different from what you’ve experienced. Make it common practice to provide a large water bowl or separate water bottle/container that is NOT for drinking. This can be assigned to the ‘wāhi tapu’ for washing, sprinkling over one’s head.

Māori culture is gender-neutral and matrilineal. Living in these belief systems meant that the western social biases related to gender, eg. men and women, did not apply in traditional māori life. Everyone had a role to play to contribute to the village, regardless of their physical gender. Women and girls held the same status as men and boys and this was reflected in all spectrums of leadership and work.

Wāhine Māori face additional prejudice in society. There are damaging behaviours such as exoticism and misconceptions about Māori women that make it difficult to build trust with people. These are social constructs created out of colonisation and repeated in all types of media, cultural misappropriation and intergenerational teaching.

Allow wāhine the space and time to build their skills and believe in them. Do not assume superiority or a hierarchical stance. Treat them as you would another non-māori, male co-worker.

Cultural safety:
Every member of Māori society was encouraged to study and follow a path of talent or interest that they showed an affinity to. It was common practice for the kaumātua (elders) to observe toddlers and young children then assign them mentors and teachers that would build those skill sets. Not all people became tohunga or experts but also people were not expected to do things that were out of their depth or knowledge base.

Not all Māori people know everything about Māori culture. This is a direct result of colonisation and assimilation. Let’s not assume that the one Māori in the group knows all things ‘Māori’ therefore asking them to perform cultural consultancy when it is not in their job description can be harmful and unsafe for all involved.

Where cultural consultancy is required, even at a minimal level – a professional consultant should be hired. Maintain the trust and protect the relationship of your māori workers by dispelling these expectations.

Getting flexibility from your work

Women in Trades NZ
Women in Trades NZ

Kura: Life gives us a lot to juggle. Flexible work arrangements can help you manage it all.

You can make a flexible work request at any time but it needs to be made in writing. Then your employer has up to one month to make a decision.

Here are some things to consider before you make your request:

  • How will you get your work done?
  • Will there need to be adjustments made at work to accommodate your flexible work request?
  • Will you be impacted financially if you reduce your hours?
  • What are the potential benefits to your employer, like certainty about the hours you can commit to working?
  • What are the benefits for you, like feeling less stressed about managing childcare arrangements?
  • When would you want the flexible work arrangement to start?
  • Would a trial period give you and your team a chance to try out something new?
  • How would you measure the success of a flexible work trial?
  • Get ideas from other people in your team before you make your formal flexible work request
  • Talk to your manager about your flexible work request before you make the formal request in writing

Red Hot Tip

When you talk to others in the team about flexible work you might come up with a completely new idea that works better for everyone.

Want more info? We’ve created a Guide to Flexible Work with a downloadable PDF or a video to talk you through the main ideas.

MBIE’s website has some really useful resources if you want to go ahead and make a flexible work request. This checklist is a great place to start. You’ll also find a flexible work request template to guide you.

Kura: So there you go. If you thought a career in the trades might be too tricky because life commitments would get in the way of work commitments, now you know you’ve got options.

Stuart Lawrence, ko Uenuku te Iwi, is Director – Programme Kaitautoko at Whatukura Ltd, a boutique consultancy firm where he has led a number of workforce development, pastoral care and community projects focusing on Māori and Pasifika development. He previously spent 13 years as National Manager – Māori for The Skills Organisation Industry Training Organisation. Stuart is the current Chair of the Māori and Pasifika Trades Training Board (MPTT) and has been involved with them for more than a decade through his previous role at Skills, where he worked to increase Māori participation and success across the organisation.

The Māori and Pasifika Trades Training Auckland is a group of training and industry organisations working together to help Māori and Pasifika become leaders in the trades. With partnerships throughout the industry, they combine trades training with mentoring and financial support, and connect trainees with employers to take them right into the heart of their chosen trade.

Passionate about advancing education, employment and enterprise for Māori and Pasifika, Stuart wants to use his role to better inform whānau about the trades. Stuart Lawrence, through Waikato Tainui, assisted with the establishment of an iwi le d Careers Centre based in Hamilton and the Waikato-Tainui Te Waharoa Programme, a partnership between BCITO and Waikato Tainui, that prepares young uri Waikato for the real world of trade mahi, while wrapping the best support around them.

Born and raised in the Samoan village of Salelologa Savai’i, Joy’s ultimate dream is to help and provide for her family and be a good example for her younger siblings. She is currently working at TSP Construction company based in Levin, Manawatu and is a second-year carpentry apprentice through BCITO, and loves every challenge of her job!

Grace and Holly are sisters working in the family business, Ferndale. Grace had worked previously in hospitality, law enforcement and animal care before becoming a Project Manager. Holly is an industrial designer creating custom joinery for all residential clients, drawing the cabinetry in our CAD production software, and project managing the production and installation of the joinery. Both sisters are NAWIC committee members.

From pouring asphalt to roofing, Liz Watson knows a thing or two about being a wahine in the trades. Liz started in the trades at 15 and was Tradeswoman of the Year in 2019/20. She is a boss, a mama and is handy with a nail gun. Check out her kōrero.


Right! Ready to give this a red hot go?