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Building up your tribe

Rachel Petero looks at why, now more than ever, it’s vital that companies empower and enable Indigenous women to take up leadership roles.

If you haven’t heard of Rachel Petero, then tune in.

Rachel has a strong background in human resources and business and has held numerous director-level positions throughout her career. She currently holds a ministerial board director role, a global governance role with UNICEF New Zealand, and is most proud of her tribal and community-based roles.

She is an entrepreneur, a professional speaker and sought after coach, and now adds published author to her list of achievements. She is also a finalist for the second time in the Westpac Women of Influence global category.

Her passion for developing people’s potential has taken Rachel all around the world from Miami and the United Kingdom, to Qatar and New Zealand, but she now calls Auckland home.

“Titles support me in a western society because this is how success is defined,” Rachel said. “But this is not who I am. Who I am, is defined by my identity, being strong in knowing who I am, who I came from, honouring the wisdom of my ancestors, bringing that knowledge respectfully into the 21st century, being clear on my non-negotiable core values and commercial purpose, and empowering collectives and my tribe along the way.”

This powerhouse is the proud force behind Indigenous owned and led management consultancy, Rise2025 Global, which is geared towards building the confidence and capability of Indigenous women which extends to whanau or family and ripples out to the wider collective or tribes.

“Culture and coaching are central to all Rise2025 development programmes and non-negotiable,” she said. “The mission is to empower and enable Indigenous women for placement into roles of leadership where they can fully explore their voice and purpose with a tribe of people who have similar cultural values.”

She said the secret to her work was in building tribes – not communities and thanked her family and ancestors who led her to her greater purpose which she said was to be a light for other Indigenous women.

“At 16 and 17 years old, my mother and father discovered they were expecting me,” Rachel said. “They were living in their tribal area of Waikato, in the northern region of New Zealand, but knew they needed to find work.

“They went through a lot to find employment and faced outright racism at times, but they still paved the way to become educated and to hold jobs. They carried a strong cultural background, while growing into a western world and this was the key to me understanding my identity, cultural value, and strengths in being a woman in the workforce.

“I am here today as my ancestors stood in their place and fought for what was right and now, I follow the work of those amazing leaders.”

When asked more about her purpose, Rachel said she continued to write books, speak about the topics, celebrate leaders, and that it all felt very natural – that it had become purposeful.

“Our younger generations need female leaders they can look up to,” Rachel said. “They need to think, ‘She looks like me, she sounds like me. We have the same skin. She’s there, and that’s normal’, and so that begins to be a socially accepted idea of self-empowerment.”

“Leaders of diversity need to be given the opportunity to shine. If businesses can support this visibility, others with the same values will be attracted to your cause.

“The first step for businesses wanting to attract Indigenous people and leaders is to acknowledge us. The second step is to find an authentic voice or voices to attract and partner with Indigenous leaders. This applies for all diverse communities.

“The conflict between the Indigenous and the western world is an ongoing dialogue. It is necessary for healing, justice and to finding a way forward. The colonial forefathers failed to understand our Indigenous worldview. Today, the question for businesses could be, ‘how we can change our worldview for the betterment of all?’

“Once you are able to acknowledge the history of Indigenous populations, it’s easier to understand why you need someone who has walked those paths. Find an Indigenous leader within your business and work with them towards your shared goals.”

For businesses who didn’t have Indigenous representation within their business, Rachel suggested a different approach to finding authenticity of voice by integrating an advisory group of diverse leaders.

“Once a business has partnered with the right advocate or advisory, it’s about finding the unique stories and harnessing the power of language to convey them effectively,” Rachel said. “Think about how you talk about your partnership. Think about how you talk with your partners. This is how businesses need to shape conversations with the people it wants to attract.”

“The stories you tell must be spoken in a language that is familiar and attractive to diverse people. If you want to attract women, you must have a woman talking to the values they will share. It does not matter if they are on the frontline, in governance or in a position of leadership.”

For Rachel, building diverse and inclusive ‘communities’ in businesses never sat well with her.

“It’s all about authenticity of voice and how you choose to use language to connect,” Rachel said.

“Communities is a word used prolifically by businesses, but the word tribe or mob is something more akin to the ways of thinking and speaking for our Indigenous or First Nations people. Tribes are all about sustainability.

“We want businesses to have sustainable strategies and visions, and we want to see strong leaders telling stories that resonate with us. Leaders should be selective in the stories they share – they must be transparent and be aligned to the kinds of diversity they want to attract into their tribe.”

Rachel said understanding and appreciating culture, using the right language, and committing to finding the right people for your tribe, required vulnerability.

“Every side of the conversation will need to demonstrate some vulnerability,” Rachel said. “We must be comfortable with feedback and that’s where meaningful conversation really begins.

“We all have a responsibility to forge our own pathways, and we have to believe that the narrative that’s been sold to us, is not the whole story. It was not written by us – it was written for us, and now is the time for everyone to re-write the story.”

Rachel recently wrote Take Your Space with co-author Jo Cribb which talks about the secrets behind 14 successful women. Take Your Space is now available in bookstores throughout Australia and New Zealand.

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