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Pasifika women helping drive gender, cultural diversity on boards honoured

Friday 12 August 2022 | Written by RNZ | Published in Pacific Islands, Regional

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Pasifika women helping drive gender, cultural diversity on boards honoured
The Pasifika award winners at the event which was held at Parliament in Wellington. Photo: Supplied

Pasifika women in leadership across New Zealand were recognised at the recently held Women in Governance awards at Parliament.

The awards honour the achievements of women who are governance leaders and directors, all making a difference to achieving gender and cultural diversity on public and private sector organisational boards.

The big winner of the night was Samoan-born Meleane Burgess. Having been nominated in the previous Women in Governance awards, Mrs Burgess said she sensed something positive was going to come out the second time round.

As the only Pasifika woman in the Rising Governance Star category, the Waikato-based chartered accountant said she was in disbelief when she was announced as the winner.

"I had a mind blank moment to be honest," Mrs Burgess said.

"I thought of those that supported me through the journey that I'm on 'cos it hasn't been an easy journey for me through this path and the boards that I sit on and then the thoughts of my family and the supporters I had with me on the night."

Meleane Burgess centre with Elle Archer left and Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio
Meleane Burgess, centre, with Elle Archer, left, and Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio. Photo: Supplied

Taking home the 'Gender Diverse Organisation Leader' award was WE Accounting.

The couple behind the business - Wyndi and Eli Tagi said WE Accounting was driven to help Māori and Pasifika people understand finances better and reduce the impact of poverty among the community.

Wyndi Tagi said stepping into governance felt right, as it would further her and her husband's cause to changing people's lives.

"When I started the opportunity to get on to boards and stuff like that - I just thought it sounds like it'll further what it is we're already doing and make a difference and create an impact."

Wyndi Tagi of_WE Accounting
Wyndi Tag of WE Accounting. Photo: Supplied

Wellington-based consultant Mele Wendt has been in governance for 25 years across 20 different entities.

She won the Not-For-Profit Governance Leader award. Ms Wendt has championed equity in the not-for-profit sector at both regional and national level.

Mele Wendt
Mele Wendt has been in governance for 25 years across 20 different entities. Photo: Supplied

However, despite her impressive accomplishments, Mele said her presence on boards has been met with scepticism - something she still experiences to this day.

"In professional roles that are normally filled by you know, older palagi men, and in board roles that are usually filled by older palagi people it presents a multitude of challenges," she said.

"People underestimate your abilities, they talk over you, their subtle racism or misogyny or sexist attitudes or whatever - it's often very subtle but even now, I encounter it occasionally."

For an organisational board to be truly impactful Ms Wendt said that it needs members from all walks of life.

She expressed a hope that the Pasifika winners from the awards would be a source of encouragement for other Pasifika women to take up governance.

"Good governance absolutely requires diversity of thought and you can't get diversity of thought if everybody around the table is palagi.

"You do need a range of ethnicities of age, different background, different religion, just different you know - you're meant to have different lived experience - different worldviews. You can't get that if everyone is of the same, particular ethnicities, same age etc.

"So it's just a fundamental requirement if you want an effective board you need some diversity around the table."