An education in diversity

03 Aug, 2016

Sini Tagiloa was toiling on the factory floor, working hard and wondering why he was going nowhere. Wishing he knew what his manager was looking for. And, contemplating what he might do differently if their roles were reversed. He decided to study HR.

Six years on, he has graduated from AUT with a Bachelor of Business in Human Resource Management, Employment Relations and Marketing. His passion is people; helping to bring out the best in others by cultivating diversity in the workplace. And, he’s on the fast-track to leadership at Westpac.

Tagiloa attended Auckland’s De La Salle College in Mangere East. As he reminisces about those days, the picture that emerges is one of the class clown; an infinitely curious youngster, full of potential, who struggled to apply himself at the critical junctures.

While others headed to university, he took a gap year. He enjoyed working and the sense of freedom that came with it.

In 2010, life changed. Tagiloa had a wife and new-born child at home. He was struggling, employed part-time and earning minimum wage. So, he applied to study at AUT. The same day he was accepted, he received a full-time job offer.

“My wife said: ‘do what you think is right’. There was no money in the bank. And, I had nothing for my daughter. But, she’s the reason I decided to go to university. I wanted her to grow up knowing that I tried my best for her,” he says.

Tagiloa began studying full-time at AUT South Campus. What ensued was hard graft. The threefold demands of education, employment and family were unrelenting. It would have been easy to abandon his studies. So, what stopped him?

“Agnes and Janet,” he says.

Programme Director Equity, Agnes Naera, says AUT has a strong infrastructure to support Maori and Pacific students; one that underlines continuous improvement and leadership.

“As a university, we pride ourselves on being agile and able to respond in a meaningful way to our communities,” she says.

Naera, together with former Maori and Pacific Student Coordinator, Janet Akeripa, encouraged Tagiloa to apply for a cadetship. In 2013, he was accepted to Westpac’s Leadership and Diversity Programme. He also welcomed his second child; a boy.

It took three years for Tagiloa to complete the cadetship in tandem with the remainder of his degree. Having started as a retail cadet, he’s now a customer banking consultant with his sights set on becoming a bank manager.

When it comes to cultivating diversity in the workplace, Tagiloa maintains that it’s all about common sense and respect.

“Take the time to get to know people and understand what motivates them. A ‘one size fits all’ approach won’t work with a diverse group,” he says.

“I want to use my knowledge to help others. And, if I do become a manager, I intend to pay it forward.”