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Greater action needed on Indigenous employment: report

30 May 2022 at 4:41 pm
Danielle Kutchel
A new report has revealed shocking facts about Indigenous employment in Australia – but it also maps the path forward.

Danielle Kutchel | 30 May 2022 at 4:41 pm


Greater action needed on Indigenous employment: report
30 May 2022 at 4:41 pm

A new report has revealed shocking facts about Indigenous employment in Australia – but it also maps the path forward.

Racism remains an all-too-common experience for the nation’s Indigenous employees with more than half reporting experiencing direct or indirect racism in the workplace, a new report has revealed.

The Woort Koorliny Australian Indigenous Employment Index, released last Monday ahead of National Reconciliation Week, showed that more than half of Indigenous employees feel that they can’t practice their cultural identity at work without facing discrimination or ridicule.

The report also found that employers were unsure of how to respond to racism within their company.

The index was commissioned and led by Minderoo Foundation’s Generation One initiative, and surveyed 42 large employers across Australia representing more than 700,000 employees, including 17,412 Indigenous Australian employees, or approximately six per cent of the nation’s Indigenous workforce. The research was conducted jointly by Indigenous-owned consultancy company Murawin and Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre.

A number of other findings were made as part of the research:

  • The average Indigenous employment rate across the surveyed employers is 2.2 per cent, compared to a parity target of 3.3 per cent.
  • Employers are failing to retain Indigenous employees at the same rate as non-Indigenous employees, and often prioritise recruitment over employee retention and development. Over a third of the 42 employers surveyed do not provide any Indigenous-specific development opportunities.
  • 76 per cent of employers have Indigenous employment targets, but only 67 per cent of those report regularly on progress towards these targets. Organisations that reported regularly on progress towards employment targets had more than double the share of Indigenous employees than those that did not. 
  • Among the 31 employers that reported the relevant data, Indigenous representation in senior leadership was just 0.7 per cent. 
  • 81 per cent of surveyed employers are involved in education-related programs or partnerships to attract and retain Indigenous employees. 

Indigenous perspectives shared

As part of the research, Indigenous employees were asked to share any particularly standout practices that they thought should be rolled out at other companies, with guidance from Indigenous employees.

A major factor raised was Indigenous leadership, with this seen as key to building cultural safety in the workplace and elevating Indigenous voices.

Indigenous employees also suggested culturally responsive HR practices like cultural leave policies, and mandatory cultural training for all employees – and especially for leaders and managers.

Indigenous employee networks were seen as highly valuable in creating opportunities for support and sharing of stories.

Indigenous employees identified a number of barriers to their participation and feelings of inclusion in the workforce. These included:

  • cultural loading, racism and a lack of cultural safety, caused by low levels of cultural awareness within the workplace;
  • low cultural understanding amongst middle management;
  • lack of leadership opportunities; and
  • historical links between the employer and trauma.

The majority of Indigenous employees interviewed felt that their organisation had “room for improvement” on its approach to and practices around Indigenous employment.

Report recommends sweeping changes

The findings of the report have been used to create a roadmap that provides a framework for creating an inclusive workplace and working towards Indigenous employment parity. The roadmap is based on an Indigenous approach and is expected to be updated over time as new best practices are identified.

As well as the roadmap, the index makes a number of calls to action to improve employment outcomes for Indigenous people.

For governments, the report recommends:

  • Regularly compiling and publishing data on the state of Indigenous employment around Australia, to help address the gap in knowledge in this area. Currently, only the Census every five years collects and reports extensively on Indigenous employment.
  • Activating industry to help close the Indigenous employment gap through legislation. As examples, the report suggests the federal government include employers as partners on Indigenous employment policies and systems design, and set guidelines and expectations for Indigenous employment outcomes. 
  • Prioritising building an Indigenous Community Controlled Indigenous employment sector. 

For employers, the report recommends:

  • Setting robust Indigenous employment targets, and reporting regularly and transparently on progress made towards them. These targets should be accompanied by an Indigenous employment strategy. 
  • Working to retain current Indigenous employees, rather than focusing only on Indigenous recruitment, for example through Indigenous-specific development opportunities and by creating a culturally safe workplace.
  • Treating racism as a workplace safety issue.

Employers could also follow the Index’s Employer Roadmap to guide them on creating employment parity, the report suggests.

It notes that investors also have a role to play in this space.

The index outlined three ways they could do this:

  • By understanding that there is risk in poor company culture and racism, with more diverse companies likely to outperform less diverse companies. 
  • By evaluating current investee companies and considering Indigenous employment performance when making investments. 
  • By engaging with investee companies and setting expectations around how they have identified risks and taken action to create an inclusive workplace for Indigenous employees.

Read the full Indigenous Employment Index on the Minderoo website.

Danielle Kutchel  |  @ProBonoNews

Danielle is a journalist specialising in disability and CALD issues, and social justice reporting.

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