Kōrero with Junelle Kunin, Founder of Mana Mahi

October 26, 2023
Always coming back to the importance of whakawhanaungatanga and manaakitanga both in her pakihi, Mana Mahi, and within the hiring process, Junelle Kunin (Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Pūkenga, Ngāti Tūwharetoa) has a wealth of experience when it comes to all things kaupapa Māori recruitment. She joins us for a kōrero to discuss flexible working arrangements, how employers can navigate the cost-of-living crisis, and she shares her advice for business owners seeking to attract top talent. Whakarongo mai.

Kia ora Junelle, thank you for taking the time to kōrero with us. Ko wai koe, nō hea koe? Can you tell us a little about who you are and where you’re from?  

Kia ora! Āe, ko Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Pūkenga me Ngāti Tūwharetoa oku iwi. I whānau ahau i Rotorua. Kei te noho au i Tāmaki Makaurau. In many respects, I was raised by Te Arawa really. My whānau moved to Tāmaki when I was an adolescent, my three sisters and I were in for a bit of a culture shock moving from Rotorua to East Auckland. Fast forward to today, I live with my husband Abraham and 5-year-old daughter Seldon on the edge of the Waitakere ranges. Alongside almost 18 years in the wider HR profession, I’m also a professional jazz singer and have been for a similar amount of time.

You’re the founder of Mana Mahi. Can you tell us about your pakihi?  

Āe, I run a kaupapa diversity employment company, specialising in kaupapa Māori recruitment. With almost two decades within human resources - and most of that specialising in recruitment, primarily internally for companies - I was always in the waka of creating opportunities for our people and equally supporting businesses to enrich their teams with diversity. It now feels like the tides have turned where that kaupapa is finally really relevant. I came out here to the agency landscape to continue that mahi, but to affect change with more than just one company. I’m very passionate about best practice, enhancing efficiency, brand awareness, and a process that is full of manaakitanga.  

Beyond recruitment, what other offerings do you provide at Mana Mahi?  

We offer market analysis, personalised mentoring, Māori culture capability training, and translation services into te reo Māori. We go beyond traditional recruitment and aim to provide comprehensive and holistic support, helping our clients with various aspects of talent management and cultural engagement.

You’re a passionate kaitiaki of kaupapa Māori spaces, ensuring a tikanga led approach that is culturally safe for all. How does this take place in the recruitment process specifically?  

Spaciously, to begin with. Whakawhanaungatanga. It’s about sustainable long-term connections. Having a very in-depth understanding of the people I’m working with, their values and aspirations so I can best tautoko them. On the client and candidate side. Holding the mana of all throughout the process. No sales. Definitely no sales. That’s not tika to me. Just authentic alignment.

Flexible working arrangements are a hot topic now. What’s your take on how employers should approach this if requested by a candidate and they have reservations?  

Honestly, if they’re not ready to be in the waka of flexibility they’re going to struggle to bring in the people they need to succeed or keep their people. It’s at the top of most candidates ‘non-negotiables’ and they’ll go to environments that have a higher trust, progressive model. If it’s a new space for a business, I would suggest exploring best practice around flexibility from pakihi doing it right, rather than making it something they may or may not do. Flexibility is also a secret weapon when it comes to talent, it’s such a great way to broaden the talent pool of candidates rather than competing in the same cities for the same people. And it’s a great opportunity for us to tautoko our regions.

Let’s touch on the cost-of-living crisis — inflation is currently sitting at 7% and it’s hitting whānau hard. What advice do you have for employers around remuneration for their staff? How can they navigate balancing business needs while being respectful and fair in terms of remuneration in the current market?  

Yeah, it’s a really important piece to get right to both retain and attract people. So, regular check-in with market rates is crucial. Measuring salaries on what’s always been done will typically result in underpaying. There’s a great free resource Hays puts out each year of current salary data for a wide range of roles which is a good place to regularly check in with. If you can’t compete salary-wise, at least go to the lower end of market rates and explore other ways of making spaces meaningful i.e., flexibility, mentoring, professional development.

It’s a tight hiring market right now. How can pakihi be competitive in their offering to prospective employees?

One of the biggest pieces people will move for is cultural safety. So that’s a tip around looking for talent; people will leave mainstream spaces - and even higher salaries - to be in an environment where they can be authentically themselves and continue to immerse in te ao Māori especially. Flexibility is also key. Otherwise, identifying someone’s non-negotiables and trying to align with that so you can have a long-term partnership with them.  

There’s a real difference between working in your pakihi versus on your pakihi. How do you balance the two?  

With this piece, I am more wairua led. I will feel when one feels out of balance and shift my focus accordingly. I could probably do with some more structure there though.

What is a challenge you are currently facing in your pakihi and how are you working through it?  

Honestly, having taonga to represent as far as candidates and finding the right spaces for them. We were, however, recently successful with a bid to recruit for all government agencies across the motu so that’s going to help remedy that challenge. We want more pakihi to know about our incredible taonga who are ready and waiting for new challenges.

Celebrating the day-to-day wins is important. What do you (and your team or whānau) do to celebrate the wins at Mana Mahi?  

Honestly? Cry with joy haha. It’s not just about that perfect alignment for a business and candidate which is super rewarding, it’s also about our overall kaupapa of lifting Māori, so it’s incredible to be able to contribute to that kaupapa. To keep effecting positive change and knowing the wider ripple effects too.  

Where can our Whāriki whānau find Mana Mahi to stay up to date with your offerings and the roles you’re looking to fill?  

The best place is LinkedIn or my website.

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