To celebrate NAIDOC week and help build understanding, we reached out to several First Nations Peoples working for Endorsed Employers across Australia. As well as sharing experiences and shining a light on the ways that organisations are getting it right, their rich responses make for must-read guidance on what more workplaces could and should be doing to attract, retain, and nurture Indigenous employees.
1. How does your company support you to bring your whole self to work?
Andrea Kean | Analytics Specialist, BHP: I’m a very proud Nyoongar Whadjuk woman. Speaking about where I come from is not hard for me. I’ve been supported in helping departments to attract and retain Indigenous Peoples. Whilst the company is very open to and supportive of building an inclusive and diverse environment, it’s with the ‘how’ that every company struggles.
There are more barriers to Indigenous engagement than there are to gender, because of Australia’s history. There’s a lot to still do, and a lot of hurt in the Indigenous background. My mum is one of seven that was institutionalised from six months old and released when she was seventeen, so there’s a lot of anger and intergenerational trauma.
To break some of those cycles and infiltrate through those family pieces is very difficult and you cannot overestimate the amount of investment you have to put in. You might invest your time in ten Indigenous Peoples and only one of them makes it through because of their circumstance. There is a lot more investment and time that has to go into getting our Indigenous diversity right.
To be honest, I think we still have a way to go in the Indigenous space. Many companies get it wrong, but BHP are very committed to getting it right. There are regular educational pieces around respectful behaviour and I would say as an Indigenous person, BHP is definitely an employer that supports Indigenous Peoples and the majority of my family in Western Australia work for BHP. We are making inroads to continue to build in that space.
Adam Fletcher | Associate Director, Indigenous Banking, Portfolio Governance, NAB: Being an off-country Aboriginal man, disconnected from my family and community I rely on additional support to make it possible for me to live and work. NAB provides generous parental leave entitlements and provides excellent child care facilities at two buildings in Melbourne. I live in an area with massively oversubscribed childcare centres, so having facilities at my workplace makes a huge difference for my family.
I have benefited from investment in leadership programs – the Emerging Indigenous Leaders program (for leaders in the early stage of their careers) and Emerging Indigenous Executive Leaders Program (for mid-level leaders who are looking to step into executive roles).
We have social media groups on Workplace by Facebook and have opportunities to meet with senior executives to share our experience and insights.
NAB has also a number of employee support materials available for all colleagues who are members of diverse communities. For Indigenous colleagues, we have developed the Cooee Yarning Circle – a forum for Indigenous colleagues to connect monthly and share their career development, local news and events with the Indigenous colleagues.
Rebecca Hyland | Reconciliation Action Plan Project Manager, Transport for NSW: I started in this role just before COVID-19 restrictions came in. I had one week in the office before moving to working from home.
The combined challenge of on-boarding through COVID-19, learning all about my new role and meeting new people were eased with daily MS Teams catch ups first thing in the morning. Just like when you first arrive in the office, you have a yarn with a work colleague and greet everyone, it enabled me to get to know my team.
Since then, I have connected and become part of the Transport Aboriginal family with regular points of connection through the Aboriginal Reference Group, Reconciliation Steering Committee and throughout a series of Reconciliation Co-Design sessions.
Transport for NSW have continued adapting support for our Aboriginal employees throughout the work from home transitions by implementing culturally appropriate yarning circles and regularly encouraging people to reach out when they need support.
Jen Beer | Head of Health - Regional and Remote, nbn™ Australia: The fact that I’m Indigenous isn’t why I’m at nbn, but it is an important part of who I am. My family is from the Western Desert region of Western Australia, and my Grandma Ivy Kilmurray, who was part of the Stolen Generation, taught me many important life lessons that have shaped who I’m today.
A big part of bringing my whole self to work is knowing that my employer appreciates that work is only one part of me.
Knowing that they respect and have a genuine interest in my cultural heritage, my family, and my commitments and interests outside of work as well as the work I do on an everyday basis is important.
I really enjoy the work-life balance I’ve been able to create. I must admit, it doesn’t come naturally, and is something that I’ve had to train myself to do, but working flexibly is something nbn really respects and encourages.
Loren Collyer | Student Advancement Officer, Executive Support Officer – Indigenous Engagement and Reconciliation, University of Newcastle: The most important aspect in feeling supported in my role is the value that the University places on my identity as an Aboriginal person. I feel as though my culture, identity and worldviews as an Aboriginal woman are supported and valued by the university.
This support is demonstrated through the Universities formal policies and strategies such as the Maligagu Employment Strategy and the commitment to Indigenous Higher Education, Innovation and Engagement in the Strategic Plan 2020-2025.
I also feel encouraged by the university’s commitment to ensuring that all staff and students undertake cultural capability training in order to increase understanding of Indigenous culture, history and contemporary issues.
Knowing that other staff in the organisation are aware of and have an understanding of these issues increases the sense of cultural safety and acceptance in the workplace for First Nations Peoples.
2. What advice would you give to organisations looking to develop their support for First Nations Peoples employees and communities?
Leah Cummins | Senior Technical Assistant Geoscience, Origin: Cultural safety is the next step to supporting First Nations people. We speak much of the cultural awareness of First Nations Peoples, but do we ever stop to think how can we make organisations more culturally safe for them?
These are the initiatives I consider important:
- Introductions of new Indigenous staff in the business
- Community workshops
- A buddy system
- Yarning sessions (hot topics, ideas, listen & learn)
- Did You Know? (regular email comms on sharing of Indigenous issues, knowledge, celebrations, among other topics)
- Surveys (Indigenous awareness gauge employees understanding of issues to help steer NAIDOC agendas, Yarning Sessions and Did You Know comms)
Andrea Kean | Analytics Specialist, BHP: To build an inclusive environment you need to have more than one Indigenous person. Additionally, in order to retain Indigenous Peoples you need to understand we’re very family and community based. Creating a safe environment around seeing, talking and being around people like you is a big part of our culture. You need to have strategies in place to create the communal feel that Indigenous Peoples need.
We have a lot of Indigenous Peoples in entry level roles. Companies often try to get a person that fits the role perfectly, but it’s like trying to put a round peg into a square hole.
You need to consider the role and the intent of the role. Does it need a bachelor’s degree, or would they benefit from the skill set a person has. Companies need to apply a broader lens, because Indigenous Peoples don’t just fit into entry level roles or sports. There are a lot more benefits they can bring, particularly around building a diverse and inclusive environment.
Once you bring Indigenous Peoples in, there are pathways for putting them through degrees. BHP are partnering with different Indigenous groups, bringing in trainees across different professional and onsite roles. We’re starting to bridge some gaps, but it’s more difficult with older age groups because the pool of talent gets smaller.
Adam Fletcher | Associate Director, Indigenous Banking, Portfolio Governance, NAB: Investing in supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues to feel safe and connected. There are programs in place that could be replicated.
NAB has been doing it for over seven years, and previously innovated an Emerging Indigenous Leaders Program for our emerging Indigenous leaders to connect, feel comfortable with and express their Indigenous culture at work.
The program provides a platform for Indigenous employees to differentiate themselves from other colleagues and creates a cohort of supporting Indigenous colleagues to connect with as we progress through our careers.
We established the Emerging Indigenous Executive Leaders Program with several Elevate RAP partners to provide executive leadership skills in a culturally informed setting. We also connect with Indigenous leaders across government and industry. These program elements have been incorporated and development for all colleagues is offered through our newly designed Distinctive Leadership & Professional Banker Programs.
Finally, managers with Indigenous trainees are provided with face-to-face cultural awareness training to equip them with the cultural and historical knowledge necessary to appropriately support them in the early stage of their career.
Rebecca Hyland | Reconciliation Action Plan Project Manager, Transport for NSW: A good start is building a strong and connected governance framework, providing everyone with the opportunity to contribute to the organisation’s commitment to reconciliation.
The first step for us was creating our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Reference Group who provide valuable expertise and guidance to the organisation on a range of matters.
Another important element is ensuring everyone has the opportunity to increase their own cultural awareness and knowledge. This is part of our standard induction as well as a number of events throughout the year with further opportunities to learn about the lands on which we live and work.
Some of these events include our ‘You can’t ask that’ session which encouraged staff to ask questions about Aboriginal culture and for their Aboriginal colleagues to respond, all in a culturally safe environment. It’s a great way to keep learning continuously about Aboriginal culture and address a few stereotypes and barriers.
Jen Beer | Head of Health - Regional and Remote, nbn™ Australia: I work closely with the Executive Manager of Indigenous Affairs Che Cockatoo-Collins in supporting many regional and remote Indigenous communities.
nbn’s purpose is ‘lifting the digital capability of Australia’, and ours as a team is how we support Indigenous communities specifically by helping them get connected, build their knowledge and confidence in going online, and work with key stakeholders to create and achieve aligned objectives.
This not only helps bridge the digital divide for Indigenous Australians, but also helps grow digital dependence to unlock social and economic benefits.
Loren Collyer | Student Advancement Officer, Executive Support Officer – Indigenous Engagement and Reconciliation, University of Newcastle: The first step for any organisation in developing support for First Nations employees and communities is to talk to the people, organisations and community groups that will be impacted.
Any initiative, policy or support needs to be guided and co-designed by the First Nations Peoples that it affects.
I think it is important for organisations to develop strategies and frameworks to formalise their support for First Nations employees and communities such as Reconciliation Action Plans. These formal frameworks however need to be more than words on a page. Real and meaningful actions and interactions need to be prioritised over tokenistic gestures that have no real impact on the lives of Aboriginal people and communities.
Thank you to all our contributors
The insights shared are sure to inspire other employers and have a positive impact on even more First Nations employees across Australia. The overall takeaway is to listen and learn, build our knowledge, and lead with kindness, actions WORK180 encourages from all the employers we work with.
Job seekers can find the Endorsed Employers with reconciliation plans in place on our WORK180 platform. So if you’re looking for a workplace with a commitment to First Nations Peoples’ careers, be sure to explore our Endorsed Employers’ current opportunities.
For those who are unfamiliar, NAIDOC week stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. NAIDOC began in the 1920s and was expanded in 1974 to be a week of celebration for the First Nations Peoples. Each year a theme is chosen that highlights important issues and events. This year's NAIDOC week theme is: ALWAYS WAS, ALWAYS BE.
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