Maseina Koneferenisi, (Lutra Ltd.)
New Zealand was a very different place when I was growing up in the 70s. Back then we were called ‘half castes’, my siblings, and I. I felt like we weren’t really accepted by Dad’s family because we were too fair, and we weren’t accepted by Mum’s because we were too dark. The mix of my dad’s Samoan blood and my mums NZ European blood gave us priority seating in what I very quickly learnt was a minority group. At times a feeling of not being accepted, not being good enough and not being equal because I was different would bubble up to the surface, often in response to discriminatory behaviours.
This is the place where I started my career in the water industry. With the combination of being mixed race and female, I’ve experienced a wide range of both exceptional leadership and confronting workplace behaviours. Many manifested in being subject to judgment from peers, leaders and decision makers who knew nothing about my skills, talents, or me as a person. This happened in ways that are not accepted today, but likely to still be occurring but in a less overt way.
Fast forward to 2022, having now spent 24 years working in the water and wastewater industry during the time when it was heavily dominated by Caucasian men at every level, I am now the Chief Executive Officer of a successful, vibrant, and meaningful engineering, software, and solutions company, Lutra. It is unfortunate to say, but I still remain in a very small minority group within the water and wastewater industry, and this is not only at the executive level, but all levels within Industry. Where are our Pacifika, Maori, and all minority group female leaders, technical experts, industry contributors?
As an industry, we need to be far more curious about and ask ourselves how much has really changed? Not enough is the answer. We can do better. I am in a position now to take Lutra through this ongoing journey. We are far from a typical consultancy, in that we are focused on operations – where there is a huge need for industry workforce. We are building our company consciously, to support this with initiatives such as deliberately focused personal development for our people, funded memberships to institutes such as Woman in Infrastructure, internal KPIs on female/male salary ratios, scholarships for young Māori and Pasifika peoples and so on. In doing so, we hope to grow the future leaders of tomorrow, both within Lutra and in our clients’ operations teams.