McCaw Lewis’ first female Māori executive director walks the talk on diversity and inclusion

Leading a firm doesn’t need “a one-size-fits-all approach,” Renika Siciliano tells NZ Lawyer

McCaw Lewis’ first female Māori executive director walks the talk on diversity and inclusion

Renika Siciliano may be the youngest current director on the McCaw Lewis board, but she’s not one to shy away from a challenge.

The 2021 Rising Star says some may describe her youth as bringing “idealist optimism”; however, she possesses the energy and drive to support McCaw Lewis’ whānau in adapting to changes “while remaining true to ourselves and our collective vision as a Māori, commercial law firm.”

Siciliano is also the firm’s first wāhine Māori at the helm, and she believes her career success is just part of a bigger picture and a positive journey within the profession. She shares her hopes that, if anything, any successes she may have will serve as an inspiration to those around her to “be what they can see.”

“As a wāhine, and as a mum, being able to walk the talk in terms of inclusion and flexibility is also a pretty big deal, so I’m proud of the achievement but certainly humbled – I don’t take the responsibility lightly.” she explains.

Siciliano adds that her appointment to an important leadership role, as executive director at McCaw Lewis, may have meaning not only for young women in the profession, but also for those the firm serves.

“For many of our clients, knowing that their lawyers care about their unique challenges and their world is critical. Not only that, but in the legal space, an understanding of tikanga and te reo Māori is so important. And I think that understanding brings a different perspective to the business of law as well,” she says.

Thus, Siciliano hopes she can encourage others to “aim high, work hard and show compassion.”

“Being a successful lawyer or leading a law firm isn’t a job that requires a one-size-fits-all approach,” she explains. “It’s about finding a role and firm that feels right, feels safe and aligns with who you are and want to be, so that you can deliver.”

For Siciliano, that role is helping lead a law firm that is “all about our whānau, and doing our job through the values of manaakitanga, kotahitanga and whāia te iti kahurangi.”

“Creating great lawyers within that framework feels good. And I think that is a powerful example to set. Kei ōu ringaringa te ao,” she says.

Moving forward, Siciliano looks to be at the fore of the firm’s drive for growth while remaining true to its values as a professional, commercial firm that is underpinned by tikanga Māori. McCaw Lewis has served the Waikato since 1919, but Siciliano describes it as a “modern law firm with quite a young workforce” that she believes “can achieve anything we put our minds to.”  Not surprising for a young leader who, when asked how her youth has been an obstacle in her career, says she doesn’t typically like to see things that way.

Over a 13-year tenure with McCaw Lewis, Siciliano says she grew up within the firm, “surrounded by some absolutely impressive legal minds” and “privileged to walk on the shoulders of giants.”  Kia whakatōmuri te haere whakamua.

“When you have that environment, then age and stage are certainly relevant and can even be an advantage or point of difference, but not an obstacle.” she tells NZ Lawyer.

Throughout that 13-year tenure with McCaw Lewis, she has witnessed some important recent developments in the firm, especially in the areas of technology, inclusion and wellbeing.

“We really just want to keep pushing ourselves to be a better version of what we were yesterday. Having been around for over 100 years, that isn’t always an easy job and there are always big shoes to fill from those who have come before us,” she says. “We want to focus on those key areas that will deliver for our clients and ensure that the McCaw Lewis whānau is contributing to the profession in a really positive and meaningful way.”

“Whāia te iti kahurangi, ki te tuohu koe, me he maunga teitei.”

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