The global coaching programme for women harnessing traditional Maori values

Rachel Petero's award-winning programme focuses on coaching Māori, Pacific Island and Asian women.

For Rachel Petero, her life’s work has been about finding people’s talents, kickstarting their personal or professional drive and giving them the platform to succeed.

It’s a career path that has seen her not only create a global coaching business but also pick up awards from The International Alliance for Women in Washington DC and work as a Women in Business Mentor for the Cherie Blair Foundation in the UK. But where Petero is setting herself apart is by focusing on coaching an often overlooked but influential group: Māori, Pacific Island and Asian women.

The term coaching gets mentioned in the same breath as mentoring, but the two are quite separate, Petero says. Mentoring is most commonly when someone senior shares their experiences with someone more junior, helping them theoretically navigate new situations and giving guidance. Coaching is more reciprocal – the person being coached is there to learn, yes, but brings their own ideas to the table.

“Coaching is led by the coachee, not the coach,” Petero says. “But it’s usually seen as a profession only utilised by corporates and executive leaders.

“My role has been to turn that perception on its head and demonstrate that coaching can be implemented in all areas of life and society. Particularly as there are little, if any, conversations about coaching for Māori, Pacific Island or Asian women.”

As a minority within a minority, indigenous women fight an even harder battle than Pākehā women for equality in this country.

Take the wage gap, for instance. It’s a well-known issue, with women paid less than men in every country. But ‘women’ encompasses all ethnicities; once you start looking at those specific numbers, the pay gap for non-white women is even wider.

The yearly results from the Household Labour Force Survey break it down: based on average hourly earnings, Pākehā men earn $31.85 an hour and Pākehā women earn $27. That’s as close as the gap gets. Asian women earn $24.21 an hour, Māori women earn $23.25, Pacific women earn $21.58. So that’s a pay gap of more than $10 an hour between Pākehā men and Pacific Island women. And that’s why there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Rise2025 is a global coaching prog-ramme, launched by Petero and her business partner Jeanine Bailey, aimed at elevating Māori, Pacific Island and Asian women into leadership roles across all areas of society. Because while ‘women in business’ has been a focus for a long time, there are both challenges and opportuni-ties for indigenous women that are rarely addressed. This has created a gap in the coaching market, and Petero believes she is the lady to fill it.

Born of Tainui descent (Ngāti Tamaoho, Ngāti Whawhakia on her father’s side and Ngāti Tahinga, Ngāti Te Ata on her mother’s side), she made the Kiwi OE move from Auckland to London for 11 years, before her husband’s job took the pair to the Middle East. Settling in Qatar, a sovereign country edged on the Persian Gulf, Petero continued to work in leader-ship roles but was looking for her niche area. The answer became apparent: she was her own point of difference.

“There were a lot of people doing what I was doing but what got me through the door was that connection of culture,” she says. “I was a bit different: ‘We haven’t met a New Zealander like you.’ We were able to connect on a more emotional, cultural level – we were more culturally aware of each other.”

Petero first became aware of the culture gap when she was recruiting for leadership positions in London in 2007.

“All I got was men, and then when I started to push for women, you got white women. I wasn’t thinking about ethnicity then, I just thought ‘Great, I’ve finally got a woman to put forward.’ But then I started digging through those statistics and found the gap would get wider and wider.”

Her move to the Middle East, and working with the indigenous women of Qatar, changed everything.

“It was a completely new perspective on women in leadership and business. > Because what we think we know from a Western, first-world perspective can be completely different to what works in indigenous societies. That’s where the idea for Rise came from – by taking off my Western lens and replacing it with my Māori world view, my ability to connect was more authentic.

“You go across the world to find what your niche is, but as an indigenous woman, you’re your own niche in this space.”

Part of the reason Petero feels the current environment isn’t beneficial is the top-down structure most organisations adhere to: there is one leader/manager, and everyone else stays in their ranks. But in tribal cultures such as Māori, power is shared between the unit and the focus is more on getting everyone to lead in their own right – more of a bottom up approach.

It’s the concept of Kotahitanga – unity – and collective leadership. After 15 years working abroad, helping develop rising stars and working with big, global organis-ations, Petero realised she was uniquely placed to bring these skills back home and start working with women who need both a voice and a platform. She wants women globally taking a leading role in their lives, careers and in business – and she wants New Zealand to set the benchmark so other countries will follow.

Returning to New Zealand in 2015, Petero admits she was dismayed at how little had changed here. It was International Women’s Day that highlighted how much disconnect there was between the movement and the people it was affecting. “I wished my friends ‘Happy International Women’s Day’, and they were like ‘oh yeah, that’s right…’ We didn’t hear anything, we didn’t see anything. What’s happening, New Zealand? You don’t celebrate International Women’s Day? I got more celebration in Qatar than I did here…

“We were the first country to have the vote. And maybe this is naïve of me, but when I came back, I thought things would be better than this.”

So Petero got to work. The Minister of Māori Development hosted the #Rise2025 launch, through Māori Women’s Development Inc, who sponsored 16 Māori women to go through the programme first, and by the end of 2017, 100 Māori, Pacific Island and Asian women will have completed Rise.

The participants go through a combin-ation of face-to-face learning, group online training and then each complete 100 hours of their own coaching in their own community. At the end of the programme, each comes away with an internationally recognised coach certification with the International Coach Federation.

One of the key differences Petero has found is when these women take the leap to invest in their skills and come to these programmes, they don’t come alone. There is no climbing the ladder for the sake of climbing the ladder – they are there to represent their whanau, their culture, and their community. They’re serving a greater purpose.

And a lot of them are undertaking this programme to take these coaching and leadership skills back to their people and help them, in turn, rise.

“First and foremost, the transformation is for themselves but then it becomes about how does that permeate into family first, community, iwi, hapu nationwide,” Petero says. “How do we then package all of that and take it to the world? For instance, we went to Brisbane in August and met with Aboriginal women, with the goal of launching #Rise2025 there this year.”

From Australia, Petero wants to take #Rise2025 to Kenya, then Canada, then the Middle East. The world is her oyster.

This is where the ‘2025’ part of the brand comes into play: the Rise goal is to positively impact 100,000 indigenous women and girls globally by 2025. To take those cultural values of community empowerment and create a ripple effect that will spread throughout the world among women who want more for themselves, and more for the next generation.

“It’s big work and everyone says we don’t have enough time to get there. What you focus on now will make a difference; the key is to start. Because that’s how Māori have always worked – our visions are 100, 500 years. We’re not planning for 10 years. It brings a new perspective on life.”

Business and leadership are in her DNA, Petero says. Her mother, while working full-time, returned to study aged 40 to gain a Bachelor of Education, and her grand-mother was part of the historic Waikato-Tainui Raupatu treaty settlement in 1995, the only settlement to date where the Queen delivered an apology for the confiscation of Māori land. These are women who know how to get things done, and Petero believes the impact of collective leadership shouldn’t be underestimated.

“It’s all about working and leading collec-tively; this is how you create movements. And who is in the frontline of this global movement? Women!” Petero says.

“When you give from a place of aroha and good intention, what comes back – in my experience – is tenfold what you gave of yourself. I can learn from you, you can learn from me. So how can we rise together?”

Woven with tradition

Every outfit has a story. But the skirt and top set worn here by Rachel Petero is more than that – it’s the bridge between a past world and the current one. Since creating her label, Kiwi designer Kiri Nathan has been updating traditional Maori clothing for the modern generation. The woven aesthetic, for example, is created with wool in this particular outfit to create the classic business chic look.

Nathan’s aim was to design pieces that run the gamut of what is required by the modern woman, while also harking back to the high quality, handmade aesthetic of long-running fashion houses like Chanel, as well as paying tribute to the traditions of Maoridom. Yes, that’s a lot to ask from a garment – but the Kiri Nathan label is becoming world-renowned for pulling off such a bold goal, and has found fans among the likes of Beyoncé and Ed Sheeran, who have been presented with unique gifts from the fashion house. While Nathan does the clothing for the brand, her husband Jason is recognised for the pounamu – greenstone – pieces he makes.

The stone has huge significance for both Maori and the international audience too. The pounamu Petero is wearing is from the ongoing Niho collection called No Te Waha o Te Taniwha, which translates to ‘from the jaws of the monster’. Designed for those who have faced or are currently battling adversity, the pieces are cut into teeth to represent fighting and clawing your way through challenges. As with the clothing of Kiri Nathan, the pieces may be sleek, but the meanings are multiple.

Words: Emma Clifton

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