We must ensure we're inclusive during the decision-making process - with Troy Brockbank

Troy Brockbank (Te RarawaNgāti Hine, Ngāpuhi) is a Kaitohutohu Matua Taiao / Senior Environmental Consultant with WSP. We caught up with him to get his views on diversity and inclusion in the consulting sector. 

As a young Māori professional, what has your experience been with diversity and inclusion in the consulting sector? 

It's been quite mixed, to be honest. At the beginning of my career, I couldn't see where my indigenous-self had a role alongside my engineering-self when I was at work. Sometimes it was very lonely being a Māori engineer. Fast forward 14 years and sometimes it can still be a bit lonely; however, I am pleased to say there has been a lot of positive change over that time. For example, when I graduated from university if you said 'kia ora' to someone or if you put 'ngā mihi' in an email signature, you would often receive the question "what does that mean?". But now I spend my days discussing tikanga, Te Ao Māori, mātauranga Māori or effective iwi engagement with a diverse range of consulting professionals and no one questions it other than to learn, contribute and support this kaupapa. I think we have made progress on understanding how Māori culture fits into the workplace in the past few years and we are now in a better place going forward. 

What has changed?  

For me, its always been quite trendy to be Māori, and now it's becoming fashionable that everyone makes an effort to understand our culture. We appear to be at a time in our history where there is a genuine intent to understand the effects of cultural misappropriation and tokenism. I believe people are trying to be more inclusive of Māori values, and this may be partly due to the large influx of immigrating consulting engineers entering the country. From what I have recently observed, they are genuinely interested in learning about Māori culture and have a desire to implement it in their workplace. Overall as a sector, I think we have made progress on understanding Māori culture, it is no longer a tag on to projects. We have started to value Te Ao Māori and looking at the opportunities to weave it into our projects to deliver Māori outcomes in accordance with iwi and mana whenua aspirations. We have moved on from the 'consultation' stage and are making progress in actually engaging with Māori.  

Who are the driving forces behind the change, individuals or businesses?  

I think it's a bit of both. Some companies are at the forefront of change, others are playing catch-up, and unfortunately, some haven't started the process. I believe that implementing a cultural change in the workplace comes down to empowering champions. These people need to be passionate about the subject and focus on ensuring the development of diversity and inclusion policies.

Beca is an excellent example of a business that is moving in the right direction as they have just appointed a Māori Business Advisor for the whole company. Harrison Grierson has appointed an independent director with a specialty in Te Reo Māori and Māori world views, so change is starting with their leaders. WSP has an established Māori business unit, is revising their Māori strategy, and we are growing our partnerships with iwi throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. It's not just consulting companies that are changing the way they incorporate inclusiveness into their workplace, it's our clients as well. Waka Kōtahi (NZTA) has recently released its first Māori strategy, which I think is a significant step forward for the Government's transport agency. Government clients have a responsibility to recognise and provide for the Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its obligations, and as consultants, we are starting to see a change in this area. 

Do you believe companies are acting on the principles included in their diversity and inclusiveness policies? 

I have seen many diversity and inclusivity policies that have been developed by a wide range of businesses, and thankfully there have been many excellent outcomes. One that comes to mind is Auckland Council's procurement procedures. These procedures ensure that consultants show how they value Te Ao Māori and Māori world views in procurement documents. It's not enough to just show how many Māori you have in your company. You must document what outcomes you are seeking from your diversity policies, how you are implementing those policies and who are you partnering with during the project. 

What value comes from following through on diversity and inclusion policies?    

We must be careful that we don't dominate each other's culture but ensure that we are inclusive during the decision-making process. By combining all these world views, we will create a more inclusive workplace. We must also guard against people embracing the things that they perceive as good about Māori culture but excluding anything that they see as wrong. 

My wero (challenge) for consultants and the engineering industry is for you to embrace your whole self in the work that you do. To bring your unique experiences and viewpoints to your work and to value Te Ao Māori. Don't be afraid of implementing a cultural lens, be leaders for our sector, and your company, in valuing Te Ao Māori through respect and understanding. 

What enticed you into engineering?  

My first thoughts were that I would become an architect. However, that fell apart when my guidance counsellor pointed out how bad I was at art and recommended that I take physics in my seventh form year. It then became apparent that following an engineering path would be best as I had developed a love of maths, tech drawing, nature and science. I have always been interested in looking at buildings and bridges and trying to work out how they were constructed, what materials were required, what forces were operating, and what made them stand up. I guess a career in engineering was a natural progression. 

How did your working career begin? 

I began my working career as a graduate engineer with Opus in the Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland office, and soon realised that perhaps structures was not my calling. Luckily, I was given the opportunity to be a part of the team working on the Northern Busway in Te Raki Paewhenua (North Shore). That opportunity allowed me to become involved in construction. Working on bus stations and bridges across the motorway, I found a growing interest in culverts, and this led to an increasing interest in water, swales, ponds, rain gardens and stormwater infrastructure. I have remained in this area of consulting ever since. 

When I think back over my life, maybe working with water in some capacity was inevitable. I grew up next to Tāngonge, a large wetland area on my ancestral land in Pukepoto near Kaitaia. I always had a passion for streams and waterways, so it makes sense that I am now working with water. 

What do you like to do for fun? 

One of my hobbies these days is to support the naturalisation of Te Ao Māori world views into everything I do. I am passionate about introducing Māori culture into my work with WSP and into my involvement with Engineering New Zealand, Water New Zealand and schools through Engineering New Zealand's Wonder Project.  

I enjoy learning more about whakapapa (genealogy), and I have returned to kura (school) to brush up on my Te Reo Māori language skills and Tikanga (protocols).  

I am a whānau man so hanging out with my wife and kids is also very important. Combine that with a passion for sport (Northland, Blues and Warriors), and there isn't much time for anything else. 

"He iti te mokoroa nāna te kahikatea i kakati — Even the small can make a big impact on the big" 

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