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Māori participation in IT - research participants sought

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 07 August 2018, 9:33 am

At the recent ITx conference I was fortunate to attend a session taken by Ngāi Tahu Research Scholar at the University of Canterbury, Mark Van der klei, who spoke about his PhD thesis, which has the working title "The IT occupation's attractiveness to Māori."

I followed up with him later to learn more about the research and how ITP members might be able to assist. Van der klei is keen to interview Māori and Non-Māori working in IT occupations for his research, which he says examines IT occupations through an indigenous lens.

"This research is the first that I am aware of that combines the two perspectives and actively examines IT occupations through an indigenous critical lens. Specifically using a frame of reference that views groups with lower involvement in IT as not underachievers but as groups who do not find the occupation attractive (for whatever reasons that may be). 

"As a means of offering some form of baseline, research identified from the US places this issue in a global context. Their findings included:

  • The IT workforce are not one homogenous group but rather a diverse collection of people employed in IT occupations
  • IT personnel have a distinct occupational culture
  • Those differences are the cause of inter-organisational conflict
  • This distinct occupational culture makes it difficult for newcomers to enter the IT workforce
  • This culture makes it difficult for both women and ethnic minorities to fit in. It also influences their commitment to the occupation in terms of both longevity and progress.

"Further to this, the lens that I am using to view this situation uses a combination of 'Why' and 'How' questions: 'Why do we think that (critical thought)', and 'How do know something is true (epistemology)'?

"Critical thought is just that, thinking about things critically. In particular it is about power or authority, and responsibility. In this area, a critical question may include: "Is it reasonable for someone to be responsible for something if they have neither the power nor authority to influence change?"  

"An example of this (regarding Māori in IT) would be that although I have found examples of initiatives which seek to encourage Māori to participate and access IT or ICT (for example the Ka Hao Fund, a $30m fund set up by the National Government and tasked with 'creating high value jobs and opportunities that advance Māori in the digital technology sector'), I have not found any initiatives of the same scale which seek to make IT or ICT more attractive to Māori," he says.

"There may be initiatives on the same scale - and I would certainly appreciate it if someone could let me know - but as of yet I am not aware of any. If the Ka Hao Fund is responsible for encouraging Māori participation and usage, can they be held responsible if long term objectives are not met due to obstacles inherent in the culture of the IT industry (as international research studying minority groups in IT would suggest)?"

Van der klei says the second part of concerns epistemology, or 'how do we know what we know is true?'.

"An example of this would be the way in which the Māori ICT report (2015) was interpreted by the New Zealand Government at the time. While the report itself was neutral in its analysis and reporting of Māori involvement in ICT, the government's response points to a different interpretation. The Ka Hao Fund targets Māori and was created to increase Māori participate and usage of IT or ICT.  If the number of Māori in the IT industry is low, and the fund was created to encourage Māori to participate and advance, then the base assumption appears to be that Māori are underachieving. If research is telling us that this is an international problem and that there is very little difference between statistics in New Zealand and those found overseas, then is this a Māori problem or an industry problem?"

For his PhD thesis Van der Klei would like to talk to as many Māori IT workers as is possible. "This is because this research is exploratory and I have chosen an inductive methodology. With inductive research I have areas of interest rather than research questions."

He is also keen to speak with 2-5 non-Māori at either IT Manager or CIO levels. He says that when he worked as an IT Administrator with a Pākehā manager the culture within the team reflected to Māori workplace values he has read about in academic research.

"This includes values such as manākitanga (kindness, respect and reciprocity), whakawhanaungatanga (building relationships), auahatanga (objectively looking at things in search of new and creative solutions), and Wairuatanga (interconnectedness, life balance).  In a team of 6, this approach resulted in a group that contradicted many of the findings associated with IT teams in research coming out of the US.  Our team was diverse (two Māori males, two NZ Pākehā females, and two NZ Pākehā males); our culture resonated with many of the other business units; we worked closely with other business units resulting in organisational respect and cohesion as opposed to conflict; and we had a stable team with very little turnover," he says.

"I am not sure if these benefits are a roll-on effect from a dominant organisational culture or specific to that team (or after a few years I have firmly adorned rose-coloured glasses) but I would like to speak with non-Māori managers of diverse team to see what they have in common."

If you would like to participate in the research, please contact Mark at [email protected].

On Thursday, Techblog will continue the discussion with Mark, posing the question "Is it beneficial to Māori to participate in IT?"


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Colin Aldridge 13 August 2018, 4:50 pm

In hypothesising that certain individuals are less attracted to an IT career because they are Maori leaves the researcher open to committing the "correlation-implies-causation fallacy".

To my mind there are other possibly explanatory third variables that Mark Van der klei should be investigating, especially those based around the socio-economic circumstances of the individuals.

To focus on race as a causal variable without adequate investigation of other possible causes is to lay the researcher open to accusations of racism by the readers of his thesis.


Mark Van der klei 16 July 2020, 5:58 pm

Thank you for the comment Colin, and my apologies for taking almost 2 years to reply! Unfortunately I did not see this post at the time but saw the link in the follow-up article just published on Maori participation in IT (

You did bring up some interesting points which I feel do need to be clarified.

Your initial argument about "correlation-implies-causation" would be a genuine concern had I been engaging in positivist research. What I proposed to do (at that stage) and have done in the interim is conduct critical research and explored (not hypothesised) an alternative explanation to the existing narrative.

I make no claim at trying to establish causality. In fact, a driving force for this research is that it appears a causal fallacy already exists between the low uptake of ICT as a career choice for Māori, and the assumption that Māori are underachieving. In my research I have sought to explore the possibility that other reasons may exist i.e. IT may not be an attractive occupation for the majority of Māori. This is to highlight that it may be because of choice (as one option amongst many) as opposed to the current assumptions regarding racial deficiencies.

Let me explain. The current narrative is that Māori are underachieving (as shown by low statistics in the 2015 Māori ICT report) and therefore it can be remedied by funding initiatives that show Māori the way because they are unaware of the possibilities (the Ka Hao fund). There was no research to prove this correlation. By your argument, the current situation is a prime example of the "correlation-implies-causation fallacy" which, if I were to continue applying your argument, implies that racist decisions have already been made and are the norm. In hindsight, I suppose that argument could also be applied to variables such as socio-economic status as although that is assumed to affect uptake, a majority of the Māori IT workers I interviewed came from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Additionally, the majority never considered IT as a possible career choice before leaving school. As can be seen in these findings, I have sought to explore rather than assume anything.

I understand that this is a short article and can be read in many different ways because it cannot be too long and include all aspects of methodology. I am therefore not insulted by your warning of this research being perceived as racist as that is how you read this article. However, in this work, exploring the possibility that individual Māori are making a voluntary choice rather than the entire Māori race underachieving does not fit in with my definition of racism.

I certainly hope this will fill in any blanks which may have led to this observation.

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