Te ao Māori in boardrooms gaining momentum - research

By Will Trafford

Te Ao Māori is being increasingly embraced by company directors cording to survey results from the Institute of Directors (IoD). Photo / NZME / File

Company directors are increasingly, albeit slowly, embracing te ao Māori, new research has shown

Researchers from the Institute of Directors asked its members how many were "engaged and proactive" in upskilling cultural competency in respect to te ao Māori.

Forty per cent of respondents said they were in 2022, up from 36 per cent the year earlier.

Institute of Directors chief executive Kirsten Patterson says the desire to upskill is not entirely unforeseen, given in many ways Māori governance aligns with international trends in governance philosophy, "such as the importance of long-term thinking and a concern for a broad group of stakeholders".

“In particular, in te ao Māori there are broad definitions of success linked to ideas about environmental, social and governance reporting, taking a longer view (up to 500-year planning horizons) and connections with the community,” Patterson said.

Patterson says the institute started running courses to get directors up to speed on tikanga, and a te ao Māori worldview.

"Enhancing board effectiveness'

The programme started with just two courses but, due to demand, has expanded to a seven-course curriculum. 

“The course (Kotahitanga – Principles of Māori Governance ) explores aspects of protocol, the importance of an intergenerational focus and how Māori values influence governance thinking.” Patterson says.

“Kotahitanga (unity or collective action) and whanaungatanga (a recognition of the importance of personal relationships)” are featured.

Patterson says the desire for cultural competency has a benefit for more judicious decision-making processes within organisations.

“Developing cultural competency and increasing diversity are important for enhancing board effectiveness. The most obvious gain we would hope to see is better thinking, and therefore better decision-making. Why? Because many studies have shown that diversity of thought – which includes cultural diversity – leads to better decision making.” Patterson argues.

“There is also the likelihood that learning about a Māori framework will help boards grapple with some of the most pressing questions they face – from defining organisational purpose to gnarly intergenerational issues such as climate action.”

App proves a hit

Demand for in-office and in-home learning has also seen IoD launch an app called Hautū, which provides guidance on things like pronunciation and tikanga.

“We have had 1,059 downloads onto Android devices and 3,119 onto Apple devices so far… shows directors across the board are wanting to upskill.” Patterson says.

Beyond commercial organisations, traditional not-for-profits without a foundation in te ao Māori have found even more benefits from greater cultural competency with some 55 per cent of directors in that field upskilling, roughly 15 per cent more than their commercial counterparts.

The Māori economy is worth $70 billion and outstripping growth within mainstream markets at 5 percent per annum.

Asked if she is concerned just 40 per cent of commercial directors are seeking cultural competency given the commercial opportunities available and that they are operating in a country like Aotearoa which is founded in Te Tiriti, Patterson says it’s "hard to know what growth rate to expect".

“Directors come in all types, philosophies and political persuasions. There will undoubtedly be some people who find [cultural competency] uncomfortable, just as there are some who embrace it wholeheartedly. That is part of a broader discussion in New Zealand society,” Patterson said.

“What we do know about human nature is that people are threatened by things they do not understand. So the growth in boards taking an active interest in learning about te ao Māori, and the strong interest in our Hautū app, suggests we are moving in the right direction."

Public Interest Journalism, funded through NZ On Air