What it’s been like to co-lead NZRise

Mid 2021 my 6 (or is it 7) years as NZRise co-chair drew to a close and I handed over the reins (so to speak) to Fiona Reid from Somar Digital who joins Breccan McLeod-Lundy in the role.

To be fair 2020 and 2021 are a Covid blur, and now as we go into our 3rd pandemic year it’s hard to see a pathway back to what we called “normal”. While this is my excuse for taking so long to write this blog it’s a worthy context reminder as well.

“Contributing to NZRise has been an important element of my life for almost 10 years now.”

The relationships formed, the opportunities created, the battles won and lost have all augmented my experiences as a business owner. I think, on balance, in a positive way.

This blog is designed to give you a tiny bit of insight into what the co-chair role is all about. In writing it I was reminded of just how much a coalition of the willing can achieve when focused on a challenge.

Victoria Macennan and the NZRise Board

Future of Work Tripartite forum with NZRise members Don Christie, Paul Ramsay and Miki Szikszai.

What is the NZRise co-chair’s job?

The co-chairs of NZRise are first and foremost advocacy roles. Advocating for the digital technology industry by attending stakeholder meeting, communicating with members, forming positions on issues (based on member sentiment), writing papers and trying to persuade those in positions of power to effect change. The role also entails chairing board meetings and co-ordinating activities, playing agony Aunt for business owners, also agony Aunt for Government employees frustrated by their own systems, introducing / connecting people who should know each other, co-ordinating activities across industry groups, taking after hours calls from Ministers who just want to sound out an idea, facilitating workshops and events – it’s a long list. As NZRise co-chair I have also held a number of roles on behalf of NZRise members – Chair Digital Skills Forum, advisor new Digital Technologies Hangarau Matihiko curriculum, board member Creative Culture Recreation and Technology Workforce Development Council interim establishment board, Ministerial Advisory and reference groups (many many, many of these over the years). All of this is unpaid, all of it in my non existent “spare time”, something I couldn’t have done if I was not self employed (so to speak).

What have been the hardest parts of the role?

Three things really.

  • Always representing the membership’s collective views. It’s hard at times to understand the sentiment of a diverse group, some members have louder voices, others are quiet opting to listen vs speak up. I also need to moderate my own experiences as a business owner and personal views when assessing the memberships position on something.
    I have been really lucky to have such great support from board members like Laurence Miller, Paul Ramsay, Don Christie who are strategic thinkers able to parse the disparate views of members and help me shape up our position.
  • Imposter syndrome. It took me a while to find my voice, Don (my long term co-chair) and Paul (who I replaced) had such clear voices and considered positions. As a business owner I had a confident voice but no media experience or experience with representing such a diverse group of employers. Imposter syndrome has been a massive part of this challenge – and may sounds cliché – but I really struggled to find my feet here, questioning my own mandate and capability.
  • Time and guilt. There is always more to do than I have had capacity for. Don’s advice to me was we are volunteers so we do what we can, but there are so many battles to be fought, so many injustices facing our members to champion. I felt guilty the entire time I was co-Chair of NZRise and I was not sad to let that guilt go with the role.
Breccan McLeod-Lundy, Victoria Maclennan and Don Christie

New and outgoing Co-Chairs, NZRise AGM 2019 with Breccan McLeod-Lundy and Don Christie.

If it was that hard why did I do it?

People constantly told me the reason I did the role was for my profile. That wasn’t even close. I do however acknowledge it has created pathways for many of the strong relationships I now hold.

For me I was volunteering my time towards a cause. The cause – strengthening the NZ Owned Digital Technology sector. Helping other companies navigate the challenges of working with the context Aotearoa brings and seeing them thrive is amazing.

“People to share my own business challenges with and get genuine experienced advice from is uniquely special.”

The function of being a member of the NZRise board is also invaluable, the relationships and insights gained working with these trusted colleagues , the natural support group this forms – people to share my own business challenges with and get genuine experienced advice from is uniquely special.

What is left to be done?

I guess this falls under the existential question of does NZRise still need to exist. The answer is yes.

The digital technology industry is only just starting to hit its stride. We are a relatively young industry and lack real maturity. Equally those setting policy and making decisions that impact our industries ability to grow and thrive struggle to really grasp the rapid change and help capitalise on opportunities. NZ owned companies voices are still being drowned out by large marketing machines from offshore.

Further the government has an opportunity to really embrace us as part of their planning and decision making framework vs the current model of looking for vendors to supply pre-defined widgets. An opportunity as yet unrealised.

Covid also means we face new challenges, the primary one our members focus on is access to experienced talent. Which leads me to the main reason NZRise needs to continue – growing our own talent.
Education and pathways into employment are two areas of underinvestment and lack adequate attention from our government. Imagine the the efforts, focus and funding afforded the Construction industry (and their skill shortage) were applied to Digital Technology?

Which leads to where my passion really lies. Diversity and Maanakitanga.

I joined this fabulous industry over 30 years ago now and while I was highly paid, certified and skilled in my own area of specialisation I did not find it a welcoming environment for me as a young woman. Sadly I hear similar stories from women who try to navigate their way today.
While there are small steps to introduce true flexibility into the workforce and some targeted initiatives to create pathways for Māori and Pasifica into our industry – there is still a dominance of the “bro culture” and the hard facts that less than 25% of the workforce is made up of women and less than 8% Māori and Pasifica. Something has got to change and deliberate action is required.

As a membership organisation for employers NZRise is well positioned to lead the cultural shift required to create a diverse and welcoming industry attracting people to train, retrain and join from all backgrounds and experiences. The digital technology industry holds a role in supporting Māori aspirations and in helping our nation become a leader in sustainability, equity and providing a better future for all.

My advice to Fiona

I thought I would conclude this overview with advice for Fiona, and advice for anyone who is brave enough to step into her shoes in the future. It’s pretty simple:
– Make the role your own
– You can say no and,
– Ask the membership what they think as often as you possibly can.

There is no right or wrong in this role so this advice is easy to follow yet I know will be a challenge.

Launch of Digital Skills for a Digital Nation 2020, selfie taken by Kim Conolly-Stone from InternetNZ, with Technology leaders Paul Matthews from ITP and Graeme Muller from NZTech, also introducing Fiona as the new NZRise Co-Chair.

What’s next for me?

Since stepping down as co-chair I have been continuing to work with Government co-ordinating activity on the Digital Industry Transformation Plan procurement work stream along with a range of other engagements focused on continuous improvement and change.

But it is time for new voices in NZRise, new thinking and approaches so I am happy to step aside and make room for others. I will still be cheering from the sidelines and supporting the mahi in other ways just not in the driving seat or as the voice of our organisation.

“To everyone who has been and continues to be a member of NZRise your support and passion for the NZ owned economy is wonderful – thank you.”

To everyone who has given me time, listened and provided pathways to solutions, your bravery and commitment is invaluable.
To Breccan and Fiona your passion, time and efforts do not go unnoticed. You make a difference.

E noho rā, Vic

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