For te wiki o te reo Māori last year, Maia’s workplace put a te reo label on the coffee machine.

Frustrated and fed up, Maia - who asked Re: News not to include her real name in order to protect her job - sent an email to her higher ups listing the ways they could truly support te reo Māori and Māori communities.

“Good luck with that, let us know how you get on.” That was the email response she got back.

“As a brown person at these companies you are made to feel so tokenistic, and so other brown people don’t want to work there, which puts so much pressure on the few of us there,” Maia, who is Māori and Pasifika, said. 

“They don't make us feel comfortable or represent us, and then put the responsibility of fixing that environment on us. [Because of that] we're all burnt out and tired as shit.”

This job was in the advertising industry, a role Maia had taken to try and improve the representation of Māori and Pasifika people in ads. 

But everytime her work didn’t perform well or she made a mistake, she said “they looked at me as though all Pasifika did that, ” she says. 

“The common theme of racism is the constant feeling of representing your whole community. It doesn't matter which industry, there is always a constant fear and anxiety from that pressure”.

Maia says almost every member of her community has experienced racism in their workplace - her sister in healthcare, her friends in education, and herself in the corporate world. 

A recent survey from the Massey Business School showed they aren’t alone - with 94% of Māori and 96% of Pasifika people saying they had experienced racism at work in Aotearoa. 

Widespread experiences of workplace racism

The frequency at which Māori and Pasifika people experienced racism in NZ workplaces is fairly unprecedented, Massey’s research lead professor Jarrod Haar (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Mahuta) said.  

“To have only six percent of Māori and four percent of Pasifika people say they haven’t experienced racism at work… when I saw that I thought ‘holy crap, this is so bad’,” Haar said.

The survey was filled out by 585 Māori and Pacific employees across a range of occupations and industries.

Haar said the most common experiences of workplace racism were racist jokes made to Māori and Pasifika people, or when they were close enough to hear. 

It’s equally common for people to reference stereotypes about these communities.

“The survey showed it is common for people to make comments based on stereotypes as if they are true, such as asking a Pasifika person if they know how to use a computer.”

This workplace racism caused people to experience high rates of depression and anxiety, Haar said.

“It was a strong predictor of poor mental health. Which makes sense - no one wants to go to work and hear that, or worry about when it’s going to happen again.”

Haar said people often feel unable to address racism when it comes up in the workplace because people will degrade them further for standing up for themself.

“The coping mechanism is often to just laugh along or lower your head and keep going.”

He said there is often a resignation to this racism because, as the survey shows, it’s not like people feel like they can quit and find a job where they won’t experience racism.

“Taika Waititi was right, there is a lot of racism in Aotearoa,” Haar said.

“We need movement around making this a more identifiable thing, and having workplaces deal with it. As much as we like to talk about inclusion, we still have plenty of work to do.”

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