Why Samoans held back from job promotions

Samoans in New Zealand are being held back from senior level management positions due to racism and the misinterpretation of their culture.

So says PhD researcher Betty Tuiloma Ofe-Grant. Speaking on Radio New Zealand’s Nine to Noon, Ms. Ofe-Grant revealed the results of her doctoral research, which include Samoan culture being a major barrier to success.

Ms. Ofe-Grant said the cultural value of respecting senior management and authority and not promoting one’s own achievements over those of the collective can look to others as being lazy or disengaged.

“A really good example is the performance appraisal,” she explained on RNZ. 

“So during the performance appraisal, this is the time to talk about what you’ve accomplished in the last six months or so but for Samoans, the culture teaches us to be respectful, to be humble and actually have to hold back, and often that’s misinterpreted as someone who is not interested, as lazy, or they are disengaged.” 

The Samoan, and more broadly Pacific way of thinking and operating for the collective might mean people are less likely to promote their own achievements in order to advance their careers.

“So when you advance your own career forward, it does not look like a community effort it looks like an individual effort, and therein lies the dilemma.”

The research, interviewing Samoan people across New Zealand in senior management positions about how they got there and the challenges they face, is intended to show human resource and management practitioners how to get the best out of their Samoan employees.

Human resource practitioners should be helped and supported to come up with strategies to mitigate the issues Samoan employees are facing at work, Ms Ofe-Grant said.

But Samoan people are held back by a racism that is outside their control too. Seemingly immovable stereotypes about what jobs Samoan people hold in New Zealand prevail, and they don’t stop when they reach management level.

Ms. Ofe-Grant shared two notable examples of times when an interview participant, and herself experienced the way New Zealanders see Samoan people.

“One of the regional managers I interviewed; he worked in the public sector.

“He went to visit a sub-regional branch and one of the managers brought him into an office and said there is the air conditioning unit, I’m not sure why it’s broken but it’s leaking,” she said. 

“There is a certain profile, that people think Pacific people look like cleaners, that was certainly what was brought out in my study.”

When speaking at an international conference, Ms Ofe-Grant entered the building through a side door. A host asked her to offload milk and refreshments from a truck. She obliged, helping out, but the host later apologised to her for thinking she was from the catering staff.

According to a November 2018 NZ Treasury report, there are 160,000 Pacific employees in NZ today, and just 1,500 employers and 4,100 self-employed Pacific people. The specific number of Samoan people within this figure is not reported.

 “Maybe there is a glass ceiling, barriers that stop certain groups from reaching these top positions,” said Ms Ofe-Grant.

Glass ceilings are invisible barriers that prevent people, mostly minorities from career advancement enjoyed by the majority.

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