Faith is a key to unlocking Pacific People’s potential in the workplace

“Pacific people with strong English-language literacy gain professional and managerial employment at similar levels to the wider population. There are fewer Pacific people in these roles, and literacy is a key barrier to participation. Pacific people are more likely to be in community and personal service-type roles that generally require lower literacy levels. Increasing English-language literacy is therefore a priority to address the Pacific pay gap.

Unlocking the potential of Pasifika people in the workplace has long been a challenge for employers in New Zealand and requires a more in-depth understanding of the cultures, practices and even hierarchical social systems of each of the individual islands.  Yes, the different Islands not “Pasifika People” as a group of people, but the individual islands. As Pasifika people we don’t see ourselves grouped or categorised as “Pasifika” rather as people who are from individual islands within the Pacific Ocean, we are people born of our islands we are Samoan, we are Tongan, we are Rarotongan, we are Fijian…

So, when it comes to unlocking the potential of people from the Islands, we can look to the 3 F’s for inspiration…. Faith, Family & Food.

Ok, but what does faith have to do with unlocking workplace potential?

“Understanding your learners’ faiths and spiritual beliefs will give you a holistic view of each child. Understanding faith doesn’t mean that you need to unpack it or teach to it, rather, it’s a way to find out about your learner outside of school, and a way to connect with the wider community and families.”

Faith for our people can mean something different for each of us and while it might take a novel to unpack the nuisances and idiosyncrasies of religious epistemologies in the Pacific in this blog I will attempt to demonstrate some examples of where you can use faith to inform your practice in the workplace to unlock our “Pasifika” potential.

First for non-pasifika people it is about being conscious that faith for our people is an intrinsic religiosity, it’s a way of life, it guides us, it connects us, and it is the basis of our belief systems.  Faith and our relationship with it dictates how we interact with each other, our land, our ocean, mother nature, and just as importantly our workplace. 

Demonstrating your understanding or appreciation of the concept of faith could be as simple as asking your staff (or visitors of pacific backgrounds) if, when gathered together for a meeting or workshop whether anyone would like to open with a prayer, proverb, or affirmation. Whilst also setting the intent of the meeting it also demonstrates the value and respect for the cultures present. Even if no one volunteers, the fact that there has been this acknowledgement will bear fruit in future interactions or engagements.

For a deeper acknowledgement of faith in the workplace an example of this could be work rosters that take into account religious practices. Now I realise that this isn’t always possible but bear with me, a starter for ten could be having a conversation with your people, keeping an open mind, and understanding that if they are coming to you to ask for time off for something to do with church or their faith that it must be important to them. (I guarantee if it wasn’t important, they wouldn’t ask).  

An example of this is recently a leader told me that he was approached at the end of a shift by two apprentices who had asked to leave work early the next day for “a church thing”.  With some open-ended questions, he found out that after the recent storms in Auckland the house belonging to the Pastor of the family’s church had flooded and the pair had arranged for a group of boys from their church to go over and clean up after the water damage.    

“It is worth recognising that Pasifika cultures and ways of doing things that are dynamic, constantly evolving and resulting in shifting cultural paradigms and nuisances. The same is true with identity, whereby the identities of Pasifika learners and even teachers are shifting and changing beyond traditional notions of identity.