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Tech outreach in action

Posted 2 months ago in Tech by Ruth James
Posted by Ruth James

At Xero we believe that valuing diverse ideas leads to innovation, as well as inclusion. A diverse workforce reflects our global small business customer and partner communities and allows us to be relevant and well connected to both.

That said, diversity and inclusion is by no means easy – especially if you want to do it properly (not just lip service). The technology sector as a rule doesn’t have a great diversity track record. At Xero we share our gender diversity stats in our annual report (page 81 if you are interested), but gender is only a small part of the diversity piece.

One of the things I love about Auckland city is its rich diversity. In Auckland we have more than 100 ethnicities and more than 150 languages spoken on a daily basis. A large proportion of those in the tech teams at Xero are from overseas (me included). One of the most vibrant and culturally rich communities in Auckland is the Pasifika community – and yet – we have a distinct lack of Pasifika representation in the tech space.

This is why, last year, when I was at the SunPix Awards (by invitation from the Pacific Business Trust), I was blown away by one of the winners of the Pacific Education Award: Viliami Teumohenga and the ‘Amanaki STEM Academy (ASA), with what they were doing in Palmerston North.

Established in early 2017 by co-founder couple Viliami Teumohenga, Tanya Koro and their kids, ASA already shares many success stories. The Academy was born by the needs of the Pasifika community, and a challenging future. Their vision is to transform learning support systems for our pasifika students in STEM subjects (there’s currently isn’t a blueprint for success tailored towards pasifika students).

Their mission is to encourage and normalise the uptake and achievement rates of STEM subjects among pacifica students access Palmerston North intermediate and secondary school students.

Last Friday, we had the honour and privilege of meeting four of these ASA students in our Wellington office. The purpose of the visit was to showcase what it’s like to work in tech, introduce people and opportunities from the Pasifika community to the students and to encourage greater diversity and inclusion within the tech sector.

The students caught an early flight to Wellington and spent the morning with the Xero teams. They went on an office tour (covering all five levels) and spent some time ‘shadowing’ a development team each to understand how we worked. This was then followed by a catch up with some of our recent graduates and interns and a conversation around transitioning from school to uni and into the workplace. The morning was wrapped up with the opportunity to meet two of our Pasifika Xeros working in our development teams.

After lunch we’d invited some people from the wider Pasifika community to come and share their stories and journeys. For me personally, this was also a good excuse to meet some amazing individuals, and, as someone who’s P?keh?, to learn and understand how we can best support and encourage others from the Pasifika community into the tech space.

First up was Winona Ngaro – who I was introduced to through a mutual friend of ours. Winona is a deeply passionate tech enthusiast and self-proclaimed nerd! She’s currently studying for her Master’s degree in Software Development at Victoria University. We spent over an hour with her and listened to her talk openly about her challenges and her passions. She shared with us the importance that family played in her journey as well as resilience and being true to herself. A highly inspiring young woman and role model (I became an instant fan girl!).

Our last catch up for the day was with the delightful Maureen Tukaroa-Betham, she’s the Manager, Regional Partnerships, Central at the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP). Maureen talked about the role of the MPP in Aotearoa and especially the work they do with young people and the Toloa Programmes. These programmes look to encourage Pasifika students to pursue studies in STEM subjects, with the aim of increasing the number of Pasifika peoples employed in STEM careers. Maureen also shared with us a recently commissioned Pacific Aotearoa – Lalanga Fou Report. She highlighted the four goals of this report:

  • Thriving Pacific languages, cultures and identities
  • Prosperous Pacific communities
  • Resilient and healthy Pacific peoples
  • Confident, thriving and resilient Pacific young people

The last goal really resonated with the group of students as conversations around confidence and resilience had been highly topical throughout the day.

Before the students headed home that day, I asked them for feedback on how their experience at Xero had been. They all confessed that they were expecting a rather boring and dull office visit – but, they’d all really enjoyed themselves and felt super inspired and motivated to learn more about coding.

A few days later I received the below feedback from Tanya Koro, one of the ASA team who helped coordinate the visit.

“They will be sharing their experiences with the rest of the group tomorrow during our normal ASA session. I have not caught up with the boys but Teise cannot stop talking about the amazing time she and the boys had with you. She is so inspired and motivated because she has seen where her coding can lead to. She was thrilled when her gracious tour guide asked her to have a go at the website she’s designing. Teise and all ASA students are learning programming with Ian Tairea at Tai Wananga Tu Toa’s digital technology lab every fortnight. It was great for her to see the possibilities and options available to them. Thank you so much for taking such good care of the kids, greatly appreciated.”

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