10 Pasifika Girl Bosses on: How to tackle difficult issues in the workplace

This time last year, '12 Girl Boss tips' for all the young women starting out in their careers was posted here on TSW. I collected these tips because I was celebrating the survival of my first year as a lawyer. I remember writing, 'I survived (just!)'. And I remember thinking, I truly meant that. Just. 

It was actually one of the most difficult years of my life. One of the greatest struggles for me was learning to acknowledge that as a young female, my voice was easily silenced or disregarded. I became overly anxious about where I 'deserved' to stand. And every time I spoke up or disagreed with something, it was as though I had forgotten my 'place'. A place that has been finely curated and stamped; subtly but with such firmness - because it's a place that has been normalised, legitimised and controlled over the years by the people who created it and then continued by their peers. And as a minority, I understood that despite my efforts, I needed to work twice as hard, be twice as prepared and present twice as well, just to be considered equal. 

Although we've come such a long way, there is still so much work to be done. Thus, I've reached out to 10 incredible Pasifika women owning it in their respective professions to share some of their wisdom on how to deal with issues, that you may be able to relate to, in the workplace. Thank you to all these amazing role models for sharing their experiences and lessons with TSW. 

I hope that these tips help you in whatever stage you're at in your career. I hope that this encourages you to stand up for yourself and use your voice courageously. And most importantly, I hope you never forget that you are worthy, you are valuable, you are magic.

TSW xx

Girl Boss Tip 1:

It's embedded in our culture that we respect our elders and their opinions. This can be quite difficult in the workplace when you start where you work with people who are at the top of their respective fields and have been doing it for years (decades even!). Recognise and respect their experience and expertise but don't forget that they've hired you for a reason and that your opinion is valued. Speak up, don't be afraid to get it wrong and ask questions. Don't let the stats own you - whether it's being the only Pacific person or female there (or both in our case), don't forget that you earned your "seat at the table". Work it.

Toakase Vulangi, Solicitor, Bell Gully. 

Girl Boss Tip 2: 

As a female working in an industry which is starved of young, vivacious, Polynesian women my top tip is to embrace diversity ladies! We ARE different and there's nothing wrong with that! As females and as Polynesians we bring something different to the table. Different skills, different personalities and different solutions! So don't ever think that your ideas are worthless or that things should always be done a specific way! Own your work, be accountable for it and take credit for it. The quality of your work is what gets you respect not the quantity. So don't break your promises, communicate and don't be afraid to take the lead and push the boundaries. 

Ida Taefu, Senior Project Engineer, Fletcher Construction.

Girl Boss Tip 3: 

Navigating through a system where you are so different to your seniors/ bosses can be isolating and intimidating especially when seeking out a mentor. Although I’m extremely junior, I've found that asking questions to a range of people within your profession and those with admirable traits even outside your profession can be valuable. I definitely think its important to get guidance and investigate the systems or cooperations you want to get into and adapt such advice to your plans. There will always be people who will distract or discourage you from your goals but at the end of the day its just advice. The main objective is to hustle for information to reach the end game only defined by you.

Dr Atua Fuimaono Asafo, Doctor, Middlemore Hospital.

Girl Boss Tip 4:

Being a Pacific Islander is beautiful. Being any ethnicity is beautiful. Embrace your culture in your workplace, don't leave it at home. I am fortunate to work in a field where I meet and talk to a variety of people every day. That field is journalism. My Tongan background keeps me grounded in an environment that is very high pace. My Tongan background helps me to do justice to the stories I produce about the Pacific. Use your culture to your advantage in your workplace.

Sela Jane Aholelei, Journalist for Radio New Zealand International.

Girl Boss Tip 5:

Casual racism is still racism, whether it be through jovial banter at work or from colleagues that are "from a different time". It can be unintentional but none the less it still calls for the need to educate and ensure that certain understandings and opinions are not correct or ok. Just remember, be strong, speak up for yourself and know you are never over reacting or being classed as too sensitive.

Tania Fidow-West, Graduate Architect, Jasmax. 

Girl Boss Tip 6:

Girls, we work hard to get to where we are so always have confidence in yourself. I've been in meetings where people only address the men in the room, thinking they are in charge and I've had people assume that I was the victim of a dodgy sales deal as opposed to the legal expert. Stand strong in who you are, remember why you are there, own your position. Anything else is noise and a reflection not of you but that persons insecurities and issues. #OwnIt #ClaimYourSpace.

Josephine Bartley, Chair of Maungakiekie Tamaki Local Board, Auckland Council.

Girl Boss Tip 7:

I was a radio presenter for many years before presenting for Tagata Pasifika. One thing that I have struggled for many years with is thinking that I am not as good as many other women in the industry. I would always compare myself to other presenters and berate myself after a show, wishing I was as articulate and quick witted. Yet, I think it is only in the last few years I have come to accept that I am fine as I am. I still get nervous sometimes on air. I know my jokes sometimes fall flat and I am probably the only one laughing but that’s fine!! I am not the size 10 or 8 TV Presenter like almost every other female in mainstream TV. But I am who I am. And I know my own uniqueness, voice and contribution is valuable and this has helped me be more confident in my work.

Marama T-Pole, TV Presenter and Journalist, Tagata Pasifika.

Girl Boss Tip 8:

I work in an organisation that is 80% women. And my department alone consists of 8 staff in total. All women. The senior manager of my department is in her early thirties and the rest of the team are all younger than her. So as you can tell, it's a very female driven & youthful environment. The real issue for me I guess is trying to maintain efficiency with my work and the overall productivity of the department. It's tough work trying to keep up with an awesome bunch of women but I've found that investing a lot of focus and time on achieving the overall goals of the department & the organisation has worked best. It helps to also build a strong relationship with the rest of the team so that you all have each other's backs and understanding that the real success at the end of the day is that not only you are happy but the whole team is happy with the work produced or goals achieved. So far, for me - the application of the above has been so encouraging, fulfilling, and the results even more rewarding.

'Ana Tupou Panuve, Economist, National Reserve Bank of Tonga.

Girl Boss Tip 9:

From my own experience, it’s easy to be fixated on the lack of ethnic diversity or lack of support and start to view everything in the workplace negatively. My advice is focus on something small you can do to make positive impact. I started by introducing myself to the other Pacific person in the room and asking about any staff organisations (he organised a meeting later that month). I also signed up to be a mentor and was paired with a Samoan girl who is in her first year of studies. I think the only thing you can do is to take/make opportunities to be part of the change you want to see. Because, really, if you’re not going to do anything, who is?

Eva Laurenson, Analyst in Corporate Finance, Deloitte.

Girl Boss Tip 10:

Years of experiencing uncomfortable interactions, microaggressions and sometimes blatant racism in the workplace left me jaded and cynical about working in a predominantly palangi environment. There is an emotional toll taken when you feel you are constantly having to be on the defensive – challenging misconceptions, having to explain things to people. It’s taken time but I’ve realised there are awesome people out there who understand, or try their best to, who are open-minded and willing to learn. They will become your ‘ride-or-die’ friends/colleagues - keep an open mind and look out for them. When you find them, surround yourself with these positive and supportive people. Even something as brief as a five-minute interaction with a kindred spirit (ideally involving lots of hilarity) can get you through a tough day or week. Let the ignoramuses and the haters eat dust!

Helena Kaho, Law lecturer at the University of Auckland: Faculty of Law. 


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