Story by - Sonya Bloomfield
Global Tainui Ambassador - Empowering Leaders of Change in Business and Society
As Rachel begins to recount her story, she proudly states that she is a born and bred Auckland Westie (West Auckland for those non-NZers). Her parent’s decision to move from the Waikato region to the big smoke was, according to Rachel, one of the first major milestones in her life.
“My parents moved to the city for work and my sister and I grew up in the West Auckland neighborhood of Avondale. This was a thriving multi-cultural environment and our friends and neighbors were pakeha, pacific islander’s, indian it was very diverse”. Rachel’s parents made sure the ties were strong with her iwi, Tainui, and the whanau returned often to marae for celebrations, tangi and poukai. “Being able to move in both worlds easily I believe has helped me navigate my way through life from marae to corporate and setting up my own business”.
As we talk there is a distinct sense of pride in Rachel’s voice as she speaks of knowing where she comes from. “I am very grounded, that’s how I was bought up. Being Maori is one of my USP’s and I use this to my advantage in business and in life. Internationally people want to know more about New Zealand and on a personal level they then want to know more about my culture. The combination of being a New Zealand Maori is a great talking point from CEO’s to high school students”.
With strong female role models in her life Rachel tells me about the influence of her mother and both of her grandmothers, who were elegant and educated role models, and one of her biggest influencers the Maori Queen, Te Atairangikaahu. These women were leaders and collaborators who bought people together and had vision and knew where they wanted to go. She also grew up with two prime ministers who were women. Without a doubt Rachel was going to do something about women in leadership.
Looking back on it now, she says she didn’t even realise how big of an impact that was, until she herself started to leave New Zealand and reflect on her life. She speaks strongly on this subject and I can literally hear the passion seeping through in her voice.
“Women are leaders. As mothers we typically play a leadership role in raising the children and often are the home maker. On the marae we lead and call the manuhiri (visitors) onto the marae. As women in the workforce we are known as collaborators, effective communicators and team players. There are so many statistics and studies about why women aren’t in the top jobs and not breaking that “glass ceiling” or initiating that one business idea. The one word I always come back to is belief. Belief that I can do it and I am good enough. I have worked with men who have half the skills and ability as their female colleagues and they just go for it. I talk to them openly about this concept of belief whenever I have the opportunity. It’s always the same answer “Rachel, women need to believe in themselves more, take a risk, have more confidence in themselves. It’s a fascinating debate, I could talk for hours”.
Rachel’s passion on women in leadership becomes the headline in our conversation. She travelled overseas and spent 11 years in London where she had established herself within corporates and then HR. It was here that Rachel asked herself: why are there no women in any of the CV’s that I’m receiving from the agencies for the leadership and exec roles? “I really had to challenge them. They told me that there was no one in the pipeline and that they were all having babies. My response was…. Sorry, but I don’t believe you” And so she started her direct sourcing strategy for female talent, where she says that the challenge for her was having to convince them to put themselves forward. This was where the first idea came about for Genviva - Rachel’s own business, which is all about empowering leaders of change in business and society focusing on women and youth.
The work with developing Genviva continued until Rachel thought that perhaps it was time to leave London. With her partner John being an Engineer, they were both presented with the opportunity of moving to Qatar where John was offered work.
It was here that Rachel fell in love with Qatar’s national vision 2030. She read in their strategy document that they wanted to increase the percentage of women (nationals) to 30%. After she saw that she knew that was the place she was meant to be.
In 2012, Rachel started networking herself in Doha and says that she learnt very quickly what she wanted to achieve, which was developing WLC Qatar - Women Leading Change Qatar. Rachel explains that being Maori helped her connect on a cultural level. She spent much of 2012 launching “Women Leading Change” and achieved a network of 350 people who registered and attended 8 events in total, where she says the hard work came from making sure that 80% of those who attended were nationals. The key was finding the perfect Qatari Ambassador to front WLC Qatar. This was the beginning of the partnership and now friendship with prominent Qatari leader Buthaina Al-Ansari. Ranked by CEO Middle East’s regional magazine as the 4th most powerful woman in Qatar 2013.
July 2013 - Buthaina Al Ansari, Ambassador WLC Qatar (Photo credit: Jorell Legaspi)
“It was a crazy year for all of us. The pinnacle of that year was probably right at the end of the year when Helen Clark came to Doha for the Climate Change Conference. We set up a small event where she shared her story with 20 Qatari nationals, and in turn they shared their story with her. It was amazing and it was a great end to the year.”
Dec 2012 - Helen Clark UNDP Administrator & former NZ PM
Reflecting on that year Rachel admits that it really helped shape how she wanted 2013 to go. Much of the New Year was spent behind the scenes where Rachel and Buthaina worked on collaborating more on strategic initatives like Arab Women Awards Qatar, they supported this important initiative through nominations and judging. From here she began working with Qatar’s National Airline to develop leaders in Aviation focused on National talent. Her profile as the Founder of WLC Qatar led her to connect with Dr Kholode Al-Obaidli another Qatari female leader of positive change who Rachel is proud to work with. Rachel is animated over the phone as she speaks about her work in the aviation industry. “Talent management of Nationals in the Gulf region is a new challenge as an HR professional you need to take into account the economic, cultural and social challenges and in Qatar it is largely about supply and demand. The population of Nationals is only 300,000 so as the minority in their own country, with a total population of two million, it’s a candidate led market and all companies are fishing in a very small talent pool”.
Rachel’s values are aligned to her current role of empowering leaders of change in business and society as she manages the Graduate and Management programmes for Nationals. “My success in this role will be developing my successor who will be a National I look forward to this day. I’m very fortunate to have a great network of Nationals and expats who ultimately believe in making a difference by transferring our expertise and knowledge to aid the human development of Qatar”. All of the work Rachel has been doing has helped to develop her brand and business Genviva.
As we post Rachel's inspiring story she is in Washington DC receiving a World of Difference Award from The International Alliance for Women. Every year, 100 women across the world are nominated for these awards of which Rachel received the 2013 Young Women Leader Award.
That’s my work story I guess. "I still feel young at heart,” She says. We both cheer at this and agree that age is only a number. “I feel like I have more to give and that I’m building up to my prime if I’m being honest!"
With her adventurous spirit she will continue to forge her own path and with her love of travel her and her husband John will continue to see the world, enjoying the current perks of the aviation industry. Her ties to New Zealand are still very strong and she gets home to see her family whenever she can.
“One day inshallah (god willing in Arabic), I would love to bring all my experience and skills back to New Zealand to support leadership development and entrepreneurship of Maori and Pacific Island youth and women. For now I am in the right place at the right time in my life flying the flag as an Ambassador of Tainui, Maori Business Women and New Zealand. Mauri ora!
Photo 1 - March 2014 - Lisa Kaiser Hickey, President of The International Alliance for Women
Photo 2 - March 2014 - Amanda Ellis Head of Mission, Ambassador, PR to the UN & Halima Namakula from Uganda