Empowering Pacific women into positions of leadership

Pasifika Medical Association (PMA) Group CEO, Debbie Sorensen is a proud Pacific woman who is leading by example and providing opportunities to empower and enable other Pacific women into pathways to leadership positions.

As a guest speaker at an online forum today, focused on the role of Pacific women and gender equality in health, Mrs Sorensen described the ways she is implementing positive changes for women in her leadership role including appointing more Pacific women on the various PMA Group boards, which increased from 14 percent to 66 percent in the last 12 months.

“I’ve made changes within the organisation to ensure that families come first. That our women who have children no longer need to feel guilty about needing to come in late if they drop their kids off or go home early to pick them up from pre-school or take their parents and sisters to medical appointments,” she said during the forum.

“We can work and have a life as well. We need to be consistent with our values and the way that we operate.”

The online forum was hosted by the Awesome Women Network, an organisation aiming to build and strengthen women working in all sectors to fulfil their full potential. Other speakers included Gerardine Clifford-Lidstone – Director of Pacific Health for the Ministry of Health, Anjana Naidu – Associate Director of Nursing for Capital and Coast District Health Board and Tania Mullane – Head of Pacific Nursing at Whitireia.

Mrs Sorensen spoke about her 40 years working in the health sector and the experiences she had when she began her career as a psychiatric nurse. She described having to confront overt sexism and racism and recalled a male boss giving her praise in a performance review because he liked the way that she walked.

“I worked with one other Pacific nurse. We never discussed being Pacific women or referred to our ethnicity and background because we wanted to blend in and be like everyone else.

I heard managers, clinical leaders, health sector bosses, talk about Pacific doctors, nurses, health workers as being second class, not being good enough and who didn’t deserve to be in the workforce.

It was many years later that I become brave enough to stand up and face where I came from and to hold that proudly.”

Mrs Sorensen shared with the forum her journey of advocacy throughout her career to fight against disparities and prejudices towards Pacific health workers. This experience highlighted for her the qualities of leadership she developed which included both courage and kindness to make a difference.

“Those battles take a toll. It’s taken a toll on my personal life and on my family. But I am pleased to have fought that battle.”

She says the struggle for equality for Pacific women continues, especially when Pacific women are paid 26 percent less than their male counterparts.

“In order for that to change we need to have people in our workforce who are able to articulate the context of which we live. 

We need to be fearless. We need to lead by example and we need to take every opportunity to work alongside other Pacific women and raise them up. It’s about what we can do for our sisters.”


Date: Thursday 01  July 2021