NAIDOC Week: how are you moving the conversation forward?

Observance, recognition and reconciliation: Why are NAIDOC Week and NRW so important?

NAIDOC stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee; this period of recognition is held annually in July and incorporating the second Friday, historically celebrated as 'National Aboriginal Day'. This week is designed to increase awareness in the wider community of the status and treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Celebrated the previous month, Reconciliation Australia’s National Reconciliation Week (NRW) is “a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures and achievements, and to contribute to building a reconciled Australia”.

According to the 2018 Australian Reconciliation Barometer, 80% of Australians also believe this is an
important step.


Some progress but a long way to go

While the recent appointment of Ken Wyatt as Minister for Indigenous Australians was described by the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples as the ‘right start’ for the new government, there is a still a long way to go.

Brooke Boney, a proud Gamilaroi woman, recently debated a related topic on Channel Nine’s The Today Show, taking the heart of this issue to Australian breakfast tables in clear, plain language:

While we continue to ignore the truth of Australia’s past and how it impacts the present,
we will continue to be divided.

So, what has this got to do with your business?

We know that striving for diversity is the right thing to do, it’s also critical to engaging and retaining your talent. Three out of four Australian workers support their organisation taking action to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace, and organisations that achieve this are rewarded with employees that are four times more likely to stay with the business.

Despite this, while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples make up 2.4% of the total Australian population (about 460,000 out of 22 million people) the workforce participation rate is around 20% lower than for non-Indigenous Australians. According to the DCA, 30% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survey respondents had personally experienced an incident of discrimination at their workplace in the prior 12 months.

Harrier works with several companies that have targets in place relating to hiring of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander candidates of around three to five per cent, which is in line with Commonwealth Public Sector targets; some aim to achieve up to 15% for certain projects and regional locations and we are pleased to see that these targets are driving accountability and success.

As we take steps to create more inclusive workplaces, what can we do to reconcile those efforts in an authentic way with the continued difficulties our country experiences in bridging the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians?

If we are to be authentic about attracting more First Peoples into the workforce, it’s time to create environments where their history and culture are respected and valued.

What steps can you take to start the reconciliation journey?

Setting targets must be part of the change, but quotas must be supported by sincere efforts to reform. A holistic approach to creating genuinely inclusive workplace cultures that invest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees and build greater understanding of their history and culture, will support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to develop and succeed, long term, in their chosen careers.

We must also be wary of hiring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander candidates into only lower skilled roles. Unless our targets recognise and measure representation and progression across the organisation, then we will see little change: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples remain disadvantaged when it comes to higher paying, leadership positions.

There are many organisations across Australia showing leadership in reconciliation, with a strong focus on building inclusive workplaces where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are respected, valued and treated equally. Harrier is proud to work with BHP; their Australia Country Program is focused on providing long term support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and organisations to achieve more effective governance and self-determination, as well as the development of young disadvantaged people. Through partnerships with organisations like CSIRO and programs like Science Pathways for Indigenous Communities and Inquiry for Indigenous Science Students, BHP has engaged with over 16,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and 680 teachers. These programs, supporting ‘On Country’ methods of inquiry-based learning, have seen increased attendance and engagement as well as improved results. This approach has also been recognised nationally with associated schools winning various educational awards. These results strengthen relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, recognise individuals for excellent results and support long term careers.

Many businesses choose to develop Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs) that outline their approach and define specific steps they are taking towards reconciliation and creating a diverse environment. Wesfarmers’ Stretch RAP, their seventh since 2009, outlines the “long yet sustainable path” that they are on to reduce cultural disparity. As one of Australia’s largest employers, one of their actionable goals is to achieve 3% Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment by 2020, but importance is also placed on ensuring that they feel welcome in their businesses as employees, customers, suppliers and visitors.

Long-term Harrier partner Coles, is now the largest national corporate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employer, with 3.6% of its workforce made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, having increased headcount from 65 to 4,200 in eight years. This was achieved by collaborating with the Aboriginal Employment Strategy, the Australian Indigenous Business Alliance Group, Wunan Foundation, and the MEEDAC Aboriginal Corporation to create a genuinely supportive environment that has “broken down the barriers” and reflects the composition of their workforce.

Other sustainable approaches include NAB’s Indigenous Employment Strategy which involves providing school-based, as well as adult traineeships for individuals interested in a career at NAB. During the traineeship, trainees complete a Certificate II or III in Business, receive on-the-job experience around the country, and receive mentoring from current employees and external partners.

The Australian Federal Police have utilised staff networks in achieving its diversity goals; the Malunggang Indigenous Officers Network (MION) has over 100 members and raises awareness and educates AFP employees. On careers days this group represent the AFP to support recruitment, retention and career development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Holding cultural awareness training is a common approach to increasing inclusivity in the workplace. There is some scepticism towards this method, that it is merely ‘box ticking’, and there are few objective studies able to ‘prove’ its effectiveness in increasing workplace diversity. However, studies have shown that training can work and is most effective when complemented by other diversity initiatives, targeted to both awareness and skills development, and conducted over a significant period of time. Even where training on its own is not enough to enact change, it may be effective in influencing individual attitudes; we challenge anyone not to be moved by the stories told by representatives of the Stolen Generations.

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According to research, workplaces often overlook cultural norms of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples. For example, Aboriginal grieving practices, or Sorry Business, differ significantly from those of non-Indigenous Australians. A single death may involve the expected attendance of 80-100 community members at funerals which may clash with workplace policies which limit timeframes and dictate the type of relationship (direct family) when granting bereavement leave.

Organisations can make adjustments to internal policies in order to prevent indirect discrimination or adopt special measures to foster greater equality. Observing the ethnic and cultural diversity of their teams, IBM has implemented a ‘floating cultural holiday’ initiative enabling employees to 'trade' official Australian public holidays for alternative culturally significant days. The ‘Change it Ourselves’ campaign encourages employers to allow their teams to work on Australia Day, which many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples view as a time for mourning, not celebration, and choose a different day to take leave and celebrate being Australian.

If your organisation is very early on the reconciliation journey, taking the step to organise an event to recognise NRW or NAIDOC week and show respect for colleagues who may themselves or have family members who may be affected by continued inequalities is a small but impactful start. Deakin University held a National Reconciliation Day morning tea, a National Sorry Day flag raising ceremony and their health department is holding a painting workshop to commemorate NAIDOC week.

These examples demonstrate that it is important for organisations to clearly understand the needs of the individuals within their workforce before implementing appropriate practices that will encourage authentic change. Blanket policies are not likely to work, but introducing evidence-based practices tailored to your goals and your employees’ characteristics can be more effective.

Like many organisations, Harrier are in the early stages of our journey towards supporting reconciliation and are looking forward to launching our first Reflect RAP this month. What are you doing this #NAIDOC2019 to move this conversation forward?


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