Tackling the Indigenous Employment Gap
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up 3.3% of Australia’s population. However, attempts to achieve proportional representation in the workplace are consistently falling short.
As of 2018, only 49% of Indigenous Australians had some form of employment, compared to 76% of non-Indigenous Australians. This is known as the Indigenous Employment Gap, and despite good intentions in the decade to 2018 this gap had only closed by 1.3%.
Australians and their employers want to do better. Recent LinkedIn research found 7 in 10 Australian workers want to learn more about Indigenous culture, however more than half are worried they’d ask the wrong questions.
LinkedIn believes the fear of tough conversations shouldn’t be a barrier to collaboration and ultimately progress. So we asked Sara Stuart, Indigenous Employment Partners Founding Partner to lead a conversation with some of the nation's top HR and talent professionals about understanding the Indigenous Employment Gap, creating a platform to share learnings, insights and thinking on Indigenous employment strategies.
Here we reveal the high level insights shared during the workshop, which included some of Australia's best Indigenous employers, those who are striving to do better, and those who are beginning stages of this important journey.
"If something seriously doesn't change to close the gap now it will take another 200 years. So, let's talk about the elephant in the room, what's not working and why might it not be working." Sara Stuart
START THE CONVERSATION WITH LOCAL COMMUNITY
The 2022 Indigenous Employment Index revealed that across surveyed companies average Indigenous employment was at 2.2%. For workplaces to better reflect the population, the parity target is 3.3%.
For organisations committed to achieving parity, the first step is acknowledging this gap exists because of discrimination. Tackling historical and existing prejudices and racism doesn't happen overnight, but it doesn't happen at all if you don't recognise its ongoing impact on Aboriginal people. Sara recommended organisations consider their own historical impact their sector may have had on people, whether through exclusion or exploitation.
While these conversations can be uncomfortable, organisations don’t need to navigate them alone. As a first principle, conversations about Aboriginal people won’t result in meaningful change without their involvement and input, so establishing connections with the local community is important.
The group shared some first principles for meaningful engagement with the local community.
● Do the research about whose land your organisation works on and connect with the elders of that country. Vitally this can’t be a token or one-off conversation instead make it an ongoing dialogue by listening to their stories and identifying new opportunities to work together. Developing these relationships will give tangible meaning to closing the Indigenous Employment Gap
● Recognise the role your organisation can have in the community beyond employment - a job is about more than just the individual, but is significant to their families, neighbourhood, and broader community
● Preference using Aboriginal social enterprises for procurement, art, and throughout your supply chain or business network
● Prioritise how your organisation could donate its services or product back into the community
PRACTISE CULTURAL SAFETY
"If Aboriginal people are not working for you already, why? Are you not a safe employer? Do we not know who you are?" Indigenous participant
As the workshop reflected, often turning these conversations into meaningful change within the workplace is where momentum falters. So, beyond the why, how does an organisation make itself a safe place for everybody to work?
Cultural awareness is something all talent wants more of. LinkedIn found 86% of workers surveyed are interested in participating in cultural sensitivity training, with 91% from companies over 1000+ people interested.
There is no one single Aboriginal opinion, preference, or culture. Across Australia there are more than 500 clan groups, each with their own language and rules. Before focusing on how to employ Indigenous and Torres Strait People, consider is your organisation a safe place to welcome them?
The group reflected on some of the key insights into creating culturally safe workplaces.
● Cultural safety is not the responsibility of the marginalised group, it requires company-wide education, engagement, and commitment
● Every staff member should write their own Welcome to Country or Acknowledgement of Country, know the land they live and work on, and be educated on the different responsibilities people carry in their lives
● Cultural loading is real and harmful. Assuming Aboriginal staff will be responsible for holding a NAIDOC event, resolving disputes, or are subject matter experts on all things Indigenous is not only unfair and tokenistic engagement, but it also doesn't foster broader workplace change. Ask people if they want to be involved and to what extent
● Consultation with Aboriginal staff should be resourced and ongoing - cultural safety and education isn’t a one off measure, it should be evolving and developing
● Job design matters. Be aware of someone’s responsibilities and obligations outside of work and demonstrate this by making sure flexibility and extra support is there if needed
● A person’s commitment to the community goes two ways - they may help foster excellent relationships, but they also have to manage expectations about opportunities. Check in regularly about this
LANGUAGE MATTERS - FOCUS ON BELONGING
Recruitment for many organisations remains a key barrier. Often Sara said organisations want to hire Aboriginal people but aren’t aware the language they’re using can be a real barrier to people applying.
There are some key ways to make your job ad more attractive:
● For many Aboriginal people seeing prerequisites listed on a job description can be a barrier to applying. Describe what the job actually is, rather than a description of the person who was last in the role
● Consider whether job titles, desired qualifications, and the corporate language is needed because it can be intimidating. Use relevant and belonging language that is culturally appropriate in branding and job advertising to target specific and different communities
● Identified and designated roles are a major green flag for Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander applicants. This means that the organisation is specifically hiring for their valuable skills and life experience. These roles can take longer to fill but if an organisation is committed to Aboriginal employment then this should feature in all workforce planning
WHAT GETS MEASURED, GETS DONE
Setting targets and incorporating them into workforce planning works. But hiring Aboriginal people is about more than having a percentage of your total employment footprint - be holistic in your approach.
Survey results from the Indigenous Employment Index found a lower retention rate of Indigenous employees compared to non-Indigenous employees. Creating pathways that invest in people will not only support people to grow and develop in your organisation, it will also make you an attractive employer.
● Nothing spreads faster than the Koori grapevine. If you establish a reputation as an employer that provides opportunities for career progression that will be recognised and recruitment will become easier
● Set realistic targets. If your organisation currently has no Aboriginal people employed, setting a goal of 10% by 2023 isn't necessarily achievable and may even disincentivize hiring teams from trying
● Take a long term view, many organisations said connections with schools and universities were creating a talent funnel for them
● Don’t see someone moving on from your organisation as a loss. Maintain the connection and view their success as a reflection of your organisation’s commitment to closing the gap
"There is no excuse for not finding indigenous talent today. There are a lot of talented, skilled Indigenous peoples - you're not doing enough - maybe you're brand isn't attractive enough. We are all fishing in the same pond for the same talent - what is your organisation doing that makes me want to come and work for you?" Indigenous participant