Maria (Samoan) works for Stats NZ which requires her to work in communities to assist them in understanding how data can provide an evidence base for their stories.
What do you do on an average work day? He aha tō mahi ia rā, ia rā?
It’s not average – I work remotely and plan for my day the night before. Working remotely sounds grand but actually its harder because you have to be a lot more organised, learn to take your own breaks and create a coffee moment with a team member who is on the other side of the country.
I also work within the community which is complex. Its not a one size fits all and just because I happen to be from a community – it doesn’t mean I am trusted. I have to ensure that the relationships are authentic and not transactional – and that can be hard especially if they have been hurt by other agencies.
What did you study at school? And after high school? I ako koe i te aha i te kura? I aha koe whai muri i te kura tuarua?
I was one of those students who frustrated teachers because they saw so much potential – so when I was good I was your model student but when I was bad – I was leading a revolt.
I always loved English – I loved to read and write and fortunately public speaking was something that I had developed as a skill so could write a speech, present an idea and say thank you to important people when called on. It was these soft skills that helped me develop myself into the roles I eventually did that kick started what I now know was a career.
Was your study directly related to what you do now? He ōrite tāu mahi i taua wā ki tāu mahi o ināianei?
Not at all – I dabbled in lots of different majors before finally settling on Journalism and communications. At that point I then had 3 children under 7 and was still unsure of what I wanted to do. I applied for a number of roles and failed several times all because I was underselling myself or unable to provide real experience.
I then took a risk and promoted myself as Chief Executive of a small corporation also known as mamahood. It was what won me the opportunity in my first public service role.
Before this role at Stats NZ I was actually a Career Consultant for a tertiary provider. I have a keen interest in knowing how or why people chase a dream. It was a real honour to hear people’s stories – the thing I do know is that the drive to aspire to success is something all people have in common. The point of difference is usually circumstance.
What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now? He aha āu kupu hei āwhina i ngā rangatahi wahine e whakaaro ana ki tā rātou mahi mō te wā kei mua i te aroaro?
You are growing up in a time where information is at your fingertips, there are more options and people have an opinion on everything - including those silent voices of people who don’t know you but appear to have a lot of say on your direction through the click of a ‘like’ or ‘heart.’ To stand out you need to go beyond this and be able to work on skills that are transferable.
Even the challenges you have faced have a lesson to offer and will help you build your resilience.
What are some of your career highlights so far? He aha ngā painga o te umanga e whāia ana e koe?
I’ve survived a lot before I got here – I’m at a place where I never thought I would be and I will keep going. I also need to send the elevator down to those developing their leadership.
Being able to recruit people for their unique skills and ability to engage with real people rather than through a logarithm.
Listening to people tell me the 10 reasons they can’t and then eventually realising that they can.
Watching those who I have counselled graduate and reading their names out correctly at graduation.
I failed to secure a role that I really wanted at my former work place and was not even shortlisted. My ego could have driven me to shut down and leave but I stayed, continued to do my role and was shoulder tapped for the role I am in now.
Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand? He aha a STEM (pūtaiao, hangarau, pūkaha, pāngarau) e whai take ana ki Aotearoa?
I will tell you about what I have learnt through working in this role in a STEM based environment. The thing I love about my role is that I get to see visibly witness innovation and where science meets art in communities who have the solutions to their community challenges.
I have learnt that the voices in my community can be even more powerful if they understand and are able to share an evidence-based narrative that provides an accurate snapshot of what is happening. The strongest part of this is also the ability to disempower the voices that have been making those decisions based on an assumption.
This is why I do what I do – despite the fact that I often wonder how the hell I got here. I know that there is a voice that needs to be heard from the community and innovation that needs to be acknowledged and resourced.
Why is it important to have more women working in STEM? He aha te take me whai wāhi ngā wāhine ki STEM?
I have more questions than answers for this topic. I think the real question here is 'why are there so few?'.
How do we counteract any bias that may exist that has continued to encourage particular groups into this field, and if the numbers are likely to grow in the future – what will the value be of woman in these roles, especially when it comes to pay equity and progression?
I am all for women in these roles – I just want to ensure that it isn’t just another promo opportunity to increase numbers but does not have the support to ensure that they are able to grow within the sector and be valued for the skills that they bring.
Malo le soifua maua ma le lagi e mama. Alongside her birth name, Maria was bestowed the chiefly title of Magele from her mum’s village Iva in 2015. Her father is Tauiliili Tumua Uluilelata who comes from Luatuanu’u and Afega, and her mum comes from Iva and Nofoali’i. For Maria family is everything - her foundation and biggest supporters. Maria works for Stats NZ as a Community Engagement Lead which requires her to work in communities to assist them in understanding how data can provide an evidence base for their stories.
This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.View all profiles