12 April 2023

Finding community in employee-led networks

Our employee-led networks create supportive places for our staff to connect, find community, and collaborate across the organisation. 


For Albert, the term “network” brings to mind a specific imagery – the casting of a net.

“My definition of a network in the Pasifika context is casting the net. A fisherman casts his net wide to bring in more of a catch.

The idea that we have for our networks is expanding your perimeters, getting more people into your circle.”

Albert is a Pasifika Support Adviser, who helps to support the Pacific/Pasifika networks across the country. He works in a team led by a Regional Pacific Lead, Ana, alongside another adviser, Matthew. 

There are currently 47 Pasifika networks at Ara Poutama Aotearoa, with some based in prisons, around community corrections sites, and staff focussed.

He says that being part of one of these networks is an opportunity to understand each other’s cultures and the similarities they share, but also the differences, “as each nation in the Pacific Islands is unique in each its own way.”

“It's a platform that has a focus on wellbeing -  a safe space where we can be ourselves, encourage each other and support each other.

And I also think it's a network where we could also support our non-Pasifika staff on the floor. Because at the end of the day we are one family, and it's our duty to support our non-Pasifika staff too.”

Some of the different activities that the Pasifika networks organise include language week celebrations and supporting Pasifika awareness programmes. While the Pasifika networks are locally based to help ensure that people can connect with others in their area, Albert says that he and the other Pasifika Advisers help to facilitate connections between the networks through a monthly meeting. This helps to provide the opportunity to share ideas and inspiration for network activities, but also to simply get to know each other and connect.

“Sometimes, after the meeting you might be like ‘hey can I catch up with you after this?’. It’s that talanoa, that casting of the net.”

Albert says that the networks are open to anyone, including both Pasifika and non-Pasifika staff. He also notes that for new starters in the organisation, having the opportunity to meet others across the breadth of the organisation may be particularly beneficial.

“New recruits may not be so familiar with the workforce, so having the support of the network can help build their confidence.

“We’ve got the family dynamics of aiga in the network.”

He says that a recent highlight from being involved with the networks was seeing how staff members came together to support Ara Poutama Aotearoa’s stall at Pasifika Festival.

“We had all these different people putting their hand up, volunteering, asking ‘When do you need help? Yeah, I'll make it. I'll be there.’ That is a product of having a network.”

Other examples of the network coming together include for language weeks, and to support Pasifika initiatives.

Albert notes that people will need to consider their workload in what they can commit to as part of the network, particularly if they are considering a leadership role, as it is something that you do as a volunteer.

“I respect anyone and everyone that is driving these networks, as they do this on top of their existing work.”

While being part of a network or taking a leadership role in it may not be for everyone, Albert says for him, being part of the network helped to shape him and find his footing at Ara Poutama Aotearoa.

“I am a product of the network. Getting to be a part of the network where you speak the same lingo and values… you kind of develop yourself in there.”

Supporting neuro-inclusion in the workplace – Amber’s story

Senior Adviser Inclusion and Diversity Amber has a similar story in finding community through employee-led networks.

As the name suggests, employee-led networks are fully led and initiated by staff. After joining the Rainbow network and meeting some amazing people, Amber was inspired to start a network herself – the neurodiversity network.*

"When I asked around, I found other people felt the same way! We also really wanted to have a platform to move kōrero away from the medical deficit-focused aspects of our space and instead focus on the strengths we bring.”

Amber describes employee-led networks as “amazing places for connection, support, information, resources sharing, and a sense of belonging.”

“As a neurodiversity network member, people can join lunchtime social hours, be part of a support network, attend information webinars, share neuro-inclusive workplace behaviours and practices, join working groups, and receive monthly email updates about the neurodiversity space.

How involved someone’s membership is fully customisable to suit them and what they want from the network!”

She’s excited by the momentum that has been gained since she first started the network, noting that there is now 150 members from all over Aotearoa. The network welcomes members of the neurodivergent community, friends and whānau of those communities, as well as people just wanting to connect and learn more about neurodiversity.

“We recently enjoyed Neurodiversity Celebration Week with daily online events all through the working week - these were a mix of lunchtime social hours and information sessions. These were really well received with some amazing feedback provided.

Looking ahead we have more events planned throughout the year, we will be meeting every six weeks as an entire network, and exploring other ways we can support our neurodivergent colleagues and people in prisons and serving community sentences.”

For Amber, a highlight in leading the network has been the chance to hear everyone’s stories and how they are connected to the neurodiversity kaupapa.

“There is so much passion throughout Ara Poutama Aotearoa and it’s great to have this centralised space to share all the ideas and mahi going on out there.

We’ve received a whole heap of feedback from members saying how pivotal it is that such a network even exists. It enables us to be visible, connected, share information and resources, and support Ara Poutama Aotearoa to be a neuro-inclusive employer.”

*Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world in many different ways, with a range of differences in brain function and behaviour traits. If someone is neurodivergent, this means that they differ in mental or neurological function from what is considered typical or the norm. Examples of neurodivergent conditions include Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism, Tourette’s, Dyscalculia, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). 

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