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When the Pasifika Students’ Council teamed up with P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A. (a women’s organisation) to host an event titled “Empowering Pacific Women in Education”, you best believe there was a mix of impromptu dancing and choreographed routines, beautiful fairy lights, and whole lotta knowledge and wisdom passed down from experienced and successful women in the workforce to us younger world changers. It was an evening filled with laugher, difficult questions, and many lessons learned.
I asked one of the women “what is more confronting for you in the workplace—being brown or being a woman?” She answered by saying neither. In the workplace, she is her position. She encouraged us to internalise and exude the confidence that we can get shit done. Our being Pasifika and our being a woman needs no announcing—it’s visible in our body, in our names, in our languages, in our humour. But our competency, that’s what we need to assert. Don’t be afraid to claim your titles, your abilities, and your worth (in the workplace and everywhere else).
However, she said, that in no way means reduce our cultural and language competency. Why in the world do we not emphasise our bilingualism? We are used to keeping our languages at home, keeping it within our families. Some tell us our reo, our gagana, isn’t as valuable. But New Zealand’s current and future clients and customers need people who understand their world, their struggle, and their desires. Cultural competency is such an asset for the workplace. We know how to navigate different worlds, we know how to meet and connect people who are different from us—we do it daily. We know how to persevere against systems created to our disadvantage. We live it every day. And don’t let anyone tell you that won’t help you be a productive and valuable asset to any organisation.
This is the wisdom passed down from one woman to another. It was encouragement I’ve heard before, but she was more like me than anyone else who has told me the same thing (excluding my parents and sisters, but like the disobedient child I am, I didn’t take their word for it). And I hope if you’ve never heard this, or you’ve heard it before and ignored it, you hear it now—your difference in language, culture, sex, and gender can be your weapons against the very things that tell you they’re worthless.