“Smashing the brown glass ceiling”

Auckland University of Technology PhD researcher, Betty Tuiloma Ofe-Grant, said despite challenges and barriers to high-level management positions, there are ways Samoans can advance themselves in the New Zealand workforce.

In her newly published research, Smashing the Brown Glass Ceiling, Ms. Ofe-Grant reveals how Samoan culture and racism accidentally join forces to prevent Samoan’s from succeeding.

But coming to terms with having a complex Samoan and New Zealand identity, and using the legacy of migrant Samoan parents as ones foundation can be a way through.

Speaking with Radio New Zealand’s Nine to Noon program, Ms. Ofe-Grant said bias and racism bears down on Samoan’s, preventing them from believing they are destined for the top jobs in their careers.

“Some of the participants were quite angry in the way they were treated. Some knew there was gossip happening, they weren’t included in strategic meetings, they were shut out from emails they needed to be part of,” she shared from her research.

“That all impacts on their career trajectory, their performance, they feel upset, they feel down, and it goes on from there.”

The identity crisis some Samoan New Zealander’s face stems from their mixed experiences, she said, and how to live fully Samoan within a palagi  (non-Samoan) dominated culture.

“It becomes a challenge when they’re in that work environment and decisions crop up which may clash which their own identity. This is a struggle,” Ms Ofe-Grant said.

“One of the side effects is that some Samoans fa’afiapalagi, they act white to fit in with mainstream, and that’s exhausting, that’s a struggle to put on.”

“As one participant said, I put on my white suit so I can fit in at work but when I go home I take that off. That’s very exhausting for somebody having to change their whole persona to go into work just to feel comfortable.”

Finding a sense of place in Samoa and in ones Samoan roots can help ground people and guide them through other struggles like dealing with stereotypes and racism in the workplace.

The participants Ms Ofe-Grant interviewed were Samoans in high level management positions. Several shared how they had ventured back to Samoa to learn more about themselves and their families which helped them get to where they are today.

“The participants talked about identifying and doing the journey of the self, finding out who you are and reconnecting with your families,” she said.

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