Engaging Indigenous Australians
11 December 2013 at 10:09 am
The inaugural National Indigenous Corporate Network’s National Summit held in Sydney in November was a forum for Indigenous people working in the corporate sector to discuss challenges and opportunities they face in the workplace. Diversity Council Australia’s CEO Nareen Young writes about what corporate Australia can learn from the summit and from DCA’s research on Indigenous engagement.
Many organisations are committed to engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Australians and providing employment opportunities is a key part of this engagement. As membership of the new National Indigenous Corporate Network (NICN) attests, more and more Indigenous Australians are working in the private sector.
This is supported by a Business Council of Australia survey that reported significant growth in the collective Indigenous workforce among its member companies in 2011-2012, with more than 2,000 Indigenous employees hired and more than 700 Indigenous traineeships created.
Nevertheless, with the unemployment rate for the Indigenous population remaining stubbornly high at more than three times that for the non-Indigenous population, there is obviously a way to go before it can be said that sustainable employment outcomes for Aboriginal people have been achieved.
For those organisations thinking about what they can do in this area, take the time to understand the best way of engaging with Indigenous employees and/or communities for mutual success. Much can be learned from the experiences of Indigenous employees working in corporate Australia today, and from DCA’s research in this area.
The Closing the Work Gap in Corporate Australia report released earlier in the year showed in no uncertain terms that Indigenous peoples’ voices and knowledge are key to enabling Australian organisations build sustainable and mutually beneficial relationships and partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, communities and organisations.
Drawing on Diversity Council of Australia (DCA) research and on the feedback from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who attended the NICN summit, here are five top tips for effective Indigenous engagement:
Organisations need to take into account the perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in everything they do. Don’t assume knowledge of what Aboriginal people might want or need at work – get them involved and ask them! Too many key Indigenous engagement positions in the corporate sector are still being filled by non-Indigenous people and more needs to be done to leverage the existing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce.
There is work to do to create inclusive working environments. Racism is still a major concern with Indigenous Australians up to six times more likely to experience inappropriate workplace behaviour than non-Indigenous Australians. Many non-Aboriginal people have preconceived notions of what Aboriginal people are like and these attitudes can influence decisions. In some workplaces, there is an entrenched culture of discrimination and managers are failing to address discriminatory behaviours. It’s essential for companies to change this picture; to respect Indigenous people, culture and values through greater cultural awareness.
A greater focus on sustainable employment opportunities is needed. Targets for Indigenous employment are good for driving change – but more attention needs to be given to wider measures of progress such as long term careers versus short term appointments like traineeships. There is a lot of talent out there! Mentoring schemes, Indigenous networks like the NICN, and greater awareness of the full range of career options and positions available for Indigenous people can really help with retention and progression.
Successful engagement needs to be treated seriously. This means organisations need to have sophisticated strategic frameworks, such as Reconciliation Action Plans that outline clear goals, allocate responsibilities and hold all parties to account. Engagement must also be about a two-way exchange of knowledge and skills, which benefits community and company alike.
Engagement with Indigenous people and communities doesn’t happen overnight. Too often engagement is short term and project driven. Investing time and resources to build the relationship is a critical success factor.
About the author: Nareen Young is CEO of Diversity Council Australia, the independent, Not for Profit workplace diversity advisor in Australia. For more information, visit www.dca.org.au. The NICN was established by Diversity Council Australia and Reconciliation Australia and is a forum for Indigenous people in the corporate sector to come together and discuss challenges and opportunities in the workplace, and to build role models and mentors for Indigenous people in the sector.