Mind the gap: How Auckland Transport plans to tackle its diversity problem

With less than 1% of Auckland Transport’s senior leaders of Pacific descent, Justin Latif asks what the council-controlled organisation is doing to turn that around.

“It’s just a battle to be heard.”

Kim* is of Pacific descent, has held a variety of roles across local government, and is very familiar with the challenges faced by Pacific staff in the public sector.

“I’ll point out things that might be against what they are thinking, but it’s put in the too hard basket. At senior leadership level it can be a very alpha-style culture. When engaging with Pacific communities they [the management] want to do a good job, but I don’t think they understand [the issues facing Pacific peoples].”

Auckland Transport (AT) has just released its Pasifika strategy, aimed at growing its Pacific workforce and improving how it engages with Pacific communities. This strategy comes a year after Auckland Council released its own Pasifika strategy, Ara Moana, aiming to improve outcomes for Pacific peoples in Auckland. 

Currently 10% of Auckland Council’s total workforce are of Pacific descent, and 4% of its senior staff and leaders are Pacific. At the council’s development arm, Panuku, 6% of staff identify as Pacific, and 3% of its senior staff and leaders are Pacific. At AT, 6% of staff and only 1% of those in senior or professional roles have Pacific heritage, with two-thirds of its Pacific staff working in customer service or service delivery roles. 

AT’s head of organisational effectiveness Antony Hall says the council-controlled organisation (CCO) has got to do more. 

“If we want to be designing transport for Auckland, we need to have people who work here, who are Auckland and represent all of Auckland.”

And Hall believes this will in turn lead to better engagement with South Auckland’s Pacific-majority communities. He uses the Te Ara Mua Future Streets project in Māngere as an example where consultation between AT and the local community could have been better.

“I do think [Future Streets] is a good example [where] I don’t think we’ve spoken the ‘language’ of [all parts of] Auckland. The questions we need to answer are, ‘how do you know what communities are saying and how do you listen genuinely as an organisation?’ I think it all starts with having a diverse organisation.”

Kim says AT’s new strategy is heading in the “right direction” but the real test will be ensuring Pacific staff are also deeply connected to the communities AT is trying to engage with. 

“It will come down to how they hire staff and whether they hire people who are brown and sound a certain way [like existing staff], or actually hire people who are more aligned to objectives they’re trying to achieve. 

“You need people who actually come from these areas, who actually know the people, so you’re not just hiring their skills, but their networks, and that’s your connection to these communities.” 

Kim says council staff need to be willing to engage with Pacific-majority communities in Māngere and Ōtara over a long period of time and even be willing to pay key leaders to “talk to the community”.

“Council consultations are very transactional, and it works for most communities. You put out a consultation asking for feedback in a place like Mt Albert and bang, you get thousands of responses, but it’s not like that for all communities.”

Auckland Transport’s Antony Hall and Lynette Reed (Photo: Justin Latif)

AT’s Lynette Reed has led the development of AT’s Pasifika strategy. She says staff within the organisation haven’t complained about being treated racistly but there is a recognition that Pacific staff are under-represented in senior management roles.

“We’ve discussed the challenges and pain points around representation and opportunities for leadership, and this is really the result of those conversations. Whether there’s an unconscious or conscious feeling … very few [of us] are in the senior leadership bracket.”

According to the Public Service Commission, the average wage for Pacific women in the public sector is $68,200 a year and $71,100 for Pacific men, while Pākehā women and men earn $84,100 and $94,700 respectively. The Human Rights Commission’s equal employment opportunities commissioner Saunoamaali’i Dr Karanina Sumeo says the wage gap between Pacific peoples and the rest of the public service workforce is “terrible”, but she commends AT for its “courageous” approach in addressing it. 

AT’s strategy sets out a number of targets, including doubling the hiring of Pacific staff, doubling the number of Pacific staff in leadership roles, creating leadership pathways for 25 up-and-coming Pacific staff as well as ensuring AT’s senior leaders attend cultural competency training. 

And council deputy chief executive Patricia Reade says, in a written statement, it is aiming to have 12% of its senior leaders to be of Pacific heritage: “Our People Workforce and Leadership Development programme requires council to look internally and ensure equitable representation of Pacific staff, particularly at senior leadership level. This is aligned to council’s goal of working to closely reflect the makeup of Auckland’s working age population in its senior leadership team,” (12% of Auckland’s working age population are Pacific).   

Sumeo says the setting of targets is the most crucial aspect of AT’s strategy.

“Why I’m excited about AT’s strategy is that it looks like it’s got the buy-in from senior managers with realistic targets. Because what gets counted counts.”

But Sumeo warns that the greatest barrier to reducing pay inequities is the “it’s who you know” culture that exists within many large organisations.

“Yes, we can educate people about their rights, yes, we can change the way people recruit, but what I’m hearing from Pacific people in different sectors is that even when they have the experience and the qualifications, they are just never good enough.

“The inequity obviously relates to subjective, discretionary decision-making from individual managers. [These managers] are basically maintaining that privilege for their own networks. So we’ve got to let go of that ring-fencing of privilege – so that everyone has equal access to opportunities.“

*Kim is not their real name.


In the latest episode of When the Facts Change, Bernard Hickey talks to Wellington city councillor Tamatha Paul and Auckland city councillor Efeso Collins about the battle for housing and climate action at local government level. Subscribe and listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.




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