Speaking te reo at the top table can cause a ripple effect – with Brett Ogilvie

We talk to Tonkin + Taylor Executive Leader and ACE New Zealand board member Brett Ogilvie (Ngāti Whakahemo, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Pākeha) about his journey with te reo and how firms across the sector can show leadership.

Brett Ogilvie

Brett Ogilvie

What does Māori language week mean to you?  

For me, Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori is both a celebration of the language and a reminder of how much further I have to travel in my learning journey. My reo is far from fluent, but there’s a reason for that. My mother was Māori, from the rural Bay of Plenty, and she was of the generation who, because of government ‘assimilation’ policies, were beaten for speaking te reo at school. There was shame attached to being Māori and speaking Māori. She moved away from home for work, met my father, who had a British background, and English was the language spoken in our home and at school.  

So I was brought up in a time and place time where we didn’t even hear te reo spoken. Things like kura kaupapa didn’t exist. Now there’s a younger generation coming through who are bilingual, and there’s a generation dying off who are bilingual, but I’m in that gap in the middle. 

I have an aspiration one day that I’ll take a chunk of time off work and become a fluent te reo speaker – but I’m just not sure when I’m going to fit that in!  

Why is it important that we embrace te reo in the consulting sector – not just this week but every week?  

Te ao Māori is one component of the context for so much of our work in terms of the Treaty and the partnership between the Crown and Māori.  

As consultants, or people who design and build things, understanding that broader context is really important. If you’re going to start anywhere, understanding te reo gives you an understanding of that broader context. You can’t learn the language without learning about the culture and the history and the stories of the places you’re working. So in doing that we can do our work in a way that achieves much better outcomes for everyone in Aotearoa. 

How can firms show leadership in the use of te reo across the sector?  

On a basic level firms can do this by providing opportunities for people to learn and immerse themselves in te ao and te reo Māori - through their project work, through training and development, and by working with tangata whenua.  

Our sector has low numbers of Māori staff overall, but we are particularly lacking Māori leaders who can both be role models and help others on their learning journeys. As the saying goes, you can’t be what you can’t see, and if young Māori can’t see Māori in leadership positions in our sector, then they won’t aspire to join it or stay in it.  

We need to create pathways for people who value Māori concepts such as whakawhanaungatanga (relationship building) and whakamōwai (humility) ahead of other ways of thinking that have been the route for career progression in the past. A key part of this will be to address the bias, unconscious or otherwise, that arises from having low numbers of Māori in the management and HR roles where hiring and career development decisions are made. 

You have lived experience of te ao Māori – how to do you bring that into your work on a daily basis? 

I try to infuse te reo and te ao Māori into what I do, for example I’m the guy who first opened and closed a leadership team meeting with karakia. That was quite confronting for some people but it wasn’t very long ago.  

But when I explained the meaning and the reasoning behind it, I got fast followers, and there were others who put up their hands to learn a bit of te reo so they could do it next time. So I can see that it does have an effect.  

This Monday at Tonkin + Taylor we had our company-wide meeting where several people shared their pepeha for Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori. At first I thought, should I be offended that I wasn’t asked to speak? But then I realised and was really pleased there were all these non-Māori people sharing their journey with te reo. Maybe that means I did something right.  

Do you have any advice for people who are keen to use more te reo but are feeling a bit whakamā and don’t know where to start? 

If you can project forward and envisage a world where things have changed for the better because of something you’ve done, like pronounce a word correctly or use te reo in the right context, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable, then that should inspire you to do your best.  

Outside of our comfort zone is where change happens.

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