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NAIDOC 2021: On ancient cultures, and modern workplaces

By Professor Deen Sanders OAM

Through his eyes…

Professor Deen Sanders OAM is a Worimi Man and Lead Partner at Deloitte. He shares his thoughts for NAIDOC week 2021.

As an Aboriginal person, it is my deeply held belief that every person benefits from living in better relationship with their community and country. So how do we do that in the context of the present day workplace?

For the last 200 years or so we have thought that connecting with community was something you could only do after first meeting your obligations to productively engage with the workplace of labour, machine or desk. Something I hear frequently these days is how COVID lockdowns and the general arc of changing workplace practices are moving us into a new relationship with home, family and community. For many this is a revelation, but it’s of little surprise to Aboriginal Australians because work was not separated from living, it was woven into the fabric of life. Cities were never going to entirely erase the heartbeat of country or overturn hard learned, ancient lessons, about how to thrive. Country, community and family were always at the heart of it.

Both modern workplace theory and my ancient culture tells me that cities and workplaces are also living systems and like all living systems, they should be measured in the strength of their heartbeat, rather than in the mere existence of a heart. Genuinely looking for the joy in Aboriginal culture as an enhancement to your workplace is a powerful way to find that heartbeat – and NAIDOC week is a perfect way in.

You probably have a Reconciliation Action Plan initiative underway for NAIDOC and that is good – but I also encourage you to widen the lens for your workplace. As corporate tools RAP’s can narrow our focus to acts of doing good (asking how can we help our Indigenous community) or worse, become a tool for benefit extraction (what recognition/ brand/ marketing benefit can we get?). There is utility in that approach. It is a good start and Indigenous Australia will strengthen from commercial alignment – but utility is a poor measure of a heartbeat.

I want more from our workplaces than this and I want more for our workplaces than this. Not because Indigenous Australia deserves more (although it does) but because we have gifts for you that extend far beyond the metrics in a RAP, and they will change how we succeed in this country.

NAIDOC is a way into that as a celebration of the diverse cultures and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We invite you to see our history and achievements as not only measured in story, dance and art but also as a way to think about the world, a way to engage in productive relationships and leadership and to thriving in this country.

The 2021 NAIDOC theme of Heal Country, Heal Our Nation is a genuine claim. Healing our nation will come from healing our country. Creating workspaces that recognise the living relationship we have with the space around us and giving permission for people to sit, play and work in relationship to that landscape is the best measure of the strength of your heartbeat.

This article was originally published by Diversity Council Australia.

Read more DCA research on the topic:

Gari Yala (Speak the Truth): Centreing the experiences of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians at work

Gari Yala (Speak the Truth)
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NAIDOC 2021: From standing alone to standing together

By John Paul Janke

I’ve always had a special connection to NAIDOC Week; it holds such special memories for me.

In the 1970s, I remember gatherings and street marches in Cairns with my family and when we moved to Canberra in the late 1970s – attending many community and public events across National Capital.

Back then, NAIDOC had just expanded from one day called ‘National Aborigines Day’ to a week of celebrations. National Aborigines Day was the second Friday in July. Nationally that was the one significant day for events, marches and celebrations.

My dad worked in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and he organised many of the public events here in Canberra. I recall handing out posters and stickers with him at the local shopping malls, meeting iconic Aboriginal identities like David Gulpilil, Lionel Rose, Evonne Cawley, Charles Perkins and seeing how traditional performances of songs, culture and dancing captivated a wider non-Indigenous public.

Sadly, I also recall the taunts of kids at school on National Aborigines Day saying to me that it was ‘National Boong Day’, ‘Abo Day’ or even ‘my birthday.’

We’ve worked hard to move past that kind of school yard ignorance.

More than ever before, our nation is embarking on conversations about its history – our real history – and about the ‘unfinished business’ of this country – its relationship with its First Nations people.

For me, NAIDOC Week plays such a vital part in these discussions through the hundreds of events each year organised by our communities, government agencies, corporates companies, local councils, universities, schools, and workplaces.

We all know it is beyond time for these conversations.

NAIDOC Week each July unfurls such an enormous sense of pride for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the Country.

All Australians should share that pride – celebrating and acknowledging with pride that this continent is home to the oldest living continuous culture of the planet.

Is that not something that all Australians should celebrate?

As the Co-Chair of the National NAIDOC Committee, it gives me enormous satisfaction to witness the growing enthusiasm and interest for NAIDOC Week each year and the sheer diversity and breadth of celebrations across the nation.

I sometimes smirk when I think back to those school kids who taunted me decades ago in that their children or grandchildren are now learning more about Indigenous history, culture and achievement than ever before.

As Co-Chair of the National NAIDOC Committee it is my role to help facilitate their understanding and awareness.

Image: National NAIDOC committee

Image: National NAIDOC Committee. John Paul Janke, centre.

That awareness can be as easy as learning whose traditional country you live on, learning the names of other Indigenous clans or nations, learning some local language, or knowing of the sacred places in the country that surrounds you.

It is language and knowledge spanning the rise and fall of every other great civilisation on the planet.

Take this challenge: Ask yourself how many First Nations of North America can you name? Maybe like me you can name a few: the Cherokee, Apache, Navajo, Sioux, Cheyenne, Iroquois, or Lakota nations.

Can you recall the same amount for this continent’s Aboriginal nations?

For me, it also time to start engaging in conversations about sovereignty, of Frontier Conflict, of Invasion, of theft of land, of massacres and of the fiction of terra nullius. They are the stories of our shared history – our nation’s story.

Without learning of them – we have been robbed of the history of this country.

I love the opening line in the 2020 Midnight Oil single Terror Australia (written by Peter Garrett & and the late Bones Hillman and sung by Naarm (Melbourne) based Wergaia/Wemba Wemba woman Alice Skye):

“You can’t think about the future still running from the past.”

We must never forget that NAIDOC Week is a week borne from a day of protest, a movement towards justice, equality, and freedom and basic human rights.

It’s a week that celebrates and acknowledges our history, our present and looks with hope towards the future.

There is no other week quite like NAIDOC Week. Join Us.

Happy NAIDOC Week 2021.

This article was originally published by Diversity Council Australia.

Read more DCA research on the topic:

Gari Yala (Speak the Truth): Centreing the experiences of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians at work

Gari Yala (Speak the Truth)
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Wear It Purple: We are the change

The theme for this year’s Wear It Purple Day, to be held on 28th August is: ‘We are the Change’.  Beginning in 2010 as a youth response to global stories of bullying, harassment and suicides of rainbow young people, Wear It Purple Day has since transformed into an international movement celebrating rainbow young people and a mainstay in the D&I calendars of leading practice employers.

With 2020 marking ten years of Wear It Purple, co-founder Katherine Hudson shared with DCA her perspectives on achievements to date, current and future priorities and how organisations can play a leading role in creating LGBTIQ+ inclusive workplaces.

While no longer involved in the day to day work, with Wear it Purple Day now run by the next generation, Katherine remains passionate about the importance of visually showing solidarity on this day: “If you come from a family, area or school, which is not accepting, but you know that other people in your environment think you’re okay – that can make so much of a difference to young people feeling accepted.”

Despite great shifts in community attitudes in recent years, Katherine explains that LGBTIQ+ young people remain at increased risk of mental illness and suicidal ideation, particularly under current pandemic conditions that create distress through directives to stay home in an environment that might not feel safe.

“I’ve heard many stories of particularly trans and non-binary members of the rainbow alphabet who are back home and those daily microaggressions like not being called by the pronouns that they use, by the name that they’ve adopted that represents their gender identity more correctly.”

Organisations can make a significant difference to rainbow youth mental health and wellbeing through creating inclusive and accepting workplace cultures. Says Katherine, “If we’re talking about gender and sexuality, it’s about how do we make an environment so that it doesn’t matter what gender you are, but at the same time we celebrate and accept your gender.”

But for genuine inclusion to occur, Katherine believes a whole organisation focus that avoids, in her words, ‘the liquorice all sorts’ effect – separate layers of diversity that are not cohesive or co-operative, is key.

Some positive actions she advocates include hiring practices that reduce biases, LGBTIQ+ awareness training, educating on respectful and appropriate language, and enabling all employees to share their perspectives, rather than just providing opportunities that privilege the dominant group.

In terms of overall progress on rainbow youth inclusion, Katherine credits Gen Z with lighting the way: “I was in a suburban Coles and I heard this girl who would have been about 15 years old. And it became very clear from overhearing that she’s out at school and dating and she’s loudly discussing what flowers to get her girlfriend. The only attitude from others I noticed was, ‘Oh, typical teenager – so loud!’.”

Ultimately, it’s the everyday acceptance of Wear it Purple Day that Katherine is most proud of: “I can walk down the street on Wear it Purple Day and see teenagers in purple and they have no idea who I am, and I’ll say ‘Happy Wear it Purple Day’ to them, and they say it back. And I just keep walking. No one’s threatening you. Everyone’s embracing you. That’s what I’m proud of from this movement.”

Support Wear it Purple Day this 28th August and celebrate the inclusion of LGBTIQ+ diversity within your workplace and community.

Resources

For more information on LGBTIQ+ inclusion in the workplace check out the following DCA resources:

  • Out At Work: From Prejudice to Pride: This report presents evidence about what it means to be out at work, and what organisations can do to make everyone feel included
  • Intersections At Work: Research into the workplace inclusion experiences of culturally diverse LGBTQ workers
  • The Art of Inclusion: DCA’s podcast episodes, ‘When Love Hurts’ on domestic violence through the lens of LGBTIQ+ relationships and ‘Out in the Open’ with a transgender executive on the business of transitioning
  • Events: recordings of past events on LGBTIQ+ topics
  • Website: the full range of LGBTIQ+ insights and resources.

If you or someone you know is struggling or having a hard time please reach out to the following organisations for help:

  • Lifeline Australia: Free 24-hour telephone crisis support such as suicide prevention, mental health support and emotional assistance.
  • QLife: Free Australia-wide anonymous, LGBTI peer support and referral for people wanting to talk about a range of issues including sexuality, identity, gender, bodies, feelings or relationships.
  • Beyond Blue: Mental health and wellbeing support to address issues related to depression, suicide, anxiety disorders and other related mental illnesses.
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Myriad differences, multiple benefits: Embracing multiculturalism in the workplace

What an eye opening experience moving from Albania – an Eastern European country where 97% of the population were native born Albanians, to Toronto – one of the most multicultural cities in the world, where over 180 languages are spoken…

It was a move that exposed me to people of myriad different cultural backgrounds, which is how I came to understand the importance of multiculturalism in school, work and the wider community.

Bringing together a diverse group of people who may have different values, beliefs, traditions and family backgrounds can be challenging. However, there are many, often reported, positive benefits to multiculturalism in the world @work. Respected advisor to the Australian Government Josef Assaf AO says, “Cultural diversity confers social and economic dividends; it creates jobs and generates profits and, equally importantly, it promotes artistic exchange and connects us with the rest of the world.”[1]

Here are five reasons why I think multiculturalism is important in the workplace:

  1. Multiculturalism expands your cultural awareness
    Working alongside people from a variety of cultural backgrounds can expand your cultural awareness. Once you expand your horizon, you will improve your knowledge about the world beyond your own borders. You’ll no longer think that all of Eastern Europe is the same, or that everyone there eats potatoes! Your desire to learn and expand your knowledge about different cultures will not be solely restricted to traveling with Lonely Planet; it can be satisfied with daily chats with your colleague from Slovenia or Singapore at lunch time.
  2. Multiculturalism builds respect and better understanding of cultural differences
    Diversity in the work environment can contribute to development and positive experiences as it can lead to increased conversations. Communications and conversations that emerge throughout the organisation lead to respect among employees who have a better understanding and appreciation of their co-workers, the viewpoints they bring to the team, and appropriate interactions.
  3. Multiculturalism improves customer service
    In recruitment, our clients and candidates come from all walks of life. I am a strong believer that having a multicultural workforce shows an inclusive face to the public. Clients and candidates have confidence in someone who ‘speaks their language’. Whether that is a native speaker or simply an understanding that specific holidays, customs or familial commitments impact us at work, even a small business can demonstrate its ability to engage with global talent in the market.
  4. Multiculturalism improves your problem solving skills
    Different cultures have different ways of approaching problems. In a workplace with a diverse cultural backgrounds, people approach situations with their own unique perspectives. A variety of viewpoints brings together a wide array of ideas that enhance the capability of the team.
  5. Did someone say food?
    Last but not least, when working in a multicultural workplace, you’re likely to see a variety of edible treats, which hopefully your colleagues are willing to share. Speaking from experience, I can say that I didn’t mind all the compliments I received about my Russian salad.

What are some of the benefits you have seen from embracing multiculturalism in your workplace?

 

[1] Diversity in the Workplace, Joseph Assaf, Department of Social Services, 16 May 2018

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Why corporates should take leadership on social issues

One of the top international accounting firms hosts a networking event to facilitate a graduate mentoring program that supports aspiring LGBTI business professionals. The world’s strongest global law firm brand facilitates a panel discussion on how to progress marriage equality in Australia. A big four bank runs a major advertising campaign to address the gender salary gap and advocates equal pay for women. A major telco (along with another two major banks) introduces a hijab in company colours as part of their corporate uniform.

Why should the likes of EY, Baker & McKenzie, ANZ and Optus care about social issues? Plenty has been written about why a social conscience makes good business sense. You only have to look at the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or Diversity and Inclusion policies of any these leading organisations to see they’ve taken a strong proactive stance. EY, for example, says, “Our focus on diversity and inclusiveness is integral to how we serve our clients, develop our people and play a leadership role in our communities. When we act on our commitment to diversity and inclusiveness, we maximise the power of our differences to achieve better business results, for ourselves and for our clients.”

It’s not just clever marketing. While there’s some risk for brands associating with politically sensitive subjects, the risk is far greater for organisations who shy away from taking the initiative on important issues. It is proven that organisations who show leadership on social issues:

  • Improve their public perception and increase their public profile
  • Attract, engage and retain the best employees
  • Appeal to a wider customer base and enjoy better relationships with customers

Professionals in private employment make up a significant proportion of the workforce. Our products and services have the potential to reach customers across the entire population. While arguably our views are represented at various levels of government by those representatives we’ve elected, I firmly believe there is an onus in the corporate sector to lead conversations that will shape the kind of world we’d like to work in, and live in.

What evidence have you seen of the commercial and social benefits of your organisation’s approach to corporate social responsibility? How has your organisation demonstrated leadership on a social issue or positively represented your Point of View?

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C’mon folks

When a Southern Belle interviewed for a Financial Planner’s role in Dallas, Texas, and addressed the interview panel with ‘Y’awl’, no one raised an eyebrow. But when one of our candidates in Sydney was on final interview with a new employer, and dropped the ‘Y bomb’ (Youse), she was shown the door within 10 minutes. We were forced to find a palatable excuse for why she wasn’t successful, when we knew that she was simply ‘not one of their tribe’.

Consequently it was with great interest that we were interviewed by Fiona Smith for an article in The Guardian about Blind Recruitment: Blind recruitment aims to stamp out bias, but can it prevent discrimination? This is a growing trend amongst sophisticated employers who want to bring in capable people based on merit – not by where they went to school, which university they attended, or by gender or whether their name is pronounceable by mono-linguists.

We wave the flag for anti-discrimination every day of the year. When we did pure phone screening interviews for one role, we were delighted to hear that the candidate who was successful was in a wheelchair – we had no idea and it made not an iota of difference to his ability to perform in the role. We were aghast when one of our own beautifully spoken consultants, an Indian by birth, was told by a client ‘don’t send me any Indians’. We continue to push back when briefed by certain employers (particularly for entry level to mid-career roles) that a particular birthright will mean a good culture fit.

On the other hand, we are completely onside with employers who want good written and spoken English as part of the selection criteria. So much in life comes down to good communications, but we don’t buy into accent free or the ‘tribal’ norms as our Financial Planner experienced. Instead, when faced with real or perceived discrimination, we encourage the delicate conversations: For example, someone could have generously told that high performing candidate ‘Our business has a slightly different client base than your previous company. Would you mind not saying ‘Youse’, as we don’t want our clients making the wrong assumptions about you, when we know you’re very good at your job?’

Too easy.

What’s your experience of ‘blind recruitment’ in your world @work?

Featured image: See Beyond Race was a VicHealth community-based social marketing campaign that tackled race-based discrimination by featuring local people from diverse cultural backgrounds and their real-life interests.

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Breaking good with RJ Mitte, Alan Joyce and Andrew Parker

RJ Mitte and I have a few things in common, but I think he’d say we’re both genetically blessed. While I’m certainly not bold enough to compare looks with someone who has modelled for Vivienne Westwood, like many otherwise ordinary people, we both fit into groups characterised by our diversity. The most obvious one is like RJ, I haven’t seen many episodes of Breaking Bad, the drama series he’s best known for as an actor.

When RJ Mitte shared his experience of Overcoming Adversity for the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas in Melbourne late last year, he credited living with cerebral palsy as a catalyst for his successful career. Speaking confidently about yourself in front of an unknown audience, unscripted, for close to an hour is an achievement for anyone. For someone with mobility and language difficulties, it’s a major accomplishment.

Growing up, RJ had to learn to walk, endure years of physiotherapy, deal with bullying and discrimination, and fight to live independently. He channeled the energy required to do the things most of us take for granted, to do more. While a successful acting career is a pipe dream for many able bodied people, being pigeonholed amongst a minority group of disabled actors only made him more determined. RJ says, “A disability is knowledge and power. It’s an opportunity to see things through a different light.”

Now a powerful voice for equality and diversity in the workplace and broader community, RJ seeks to empower others through his involvement as a union advocate for actors with disabilities in Hollywood and as a celebrity ambassador for United Cerebral Palsy. RJ is also is passionate about raising awareness about bullying and victimisation in schools, a subject close to heart. “You never get out of high school,” he says, “people are always trying to push you in another direction.”

Locally it’s encouraging to see high profile organisations showing leadership on diversity and inclusion. Speaking at a CEO breakfast on marriage equality last year, QANTAS CEO Alan Joyce summed up The Spirit of Australia: “We see ourselves as representing the Australian community. We have over 250 different nationalities working for us, 50 languages spoken. We’ve got a huge, diverse workplace of 28,000 people and we have a huge gay community in our workforce. We want all of our people who come to work every day to feel equal, to feel like they can contribute equally in the organisation and in the country.”

In an article by Human Capital, MI5 head Andrew Parker recently agreed: “Diversity is vital… not just because it’s right that we represent the communities we serve, but because we rely on the skills of the most talented people whoever they are, and wherever they may be.” In the 2015 Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI), published by Pride in Diversity, sponsor Goldman Sachs states: “Our greatest asset is what makes us different.” For those of us involved in making hiring decisions that will affect future wins for our businesses or recruiting for others, it should be a core value to strive for.

If you’re wondering what you can do to make your workplace a better place, here are 5 tips based on RJ Mitte’s talk that you can apply within a professional context.

  • Language matters – think about the words you use to describe people, especially those that you may perceive as different, and consider how you would like to be referred to by others
  • Listen to and share the experiences of others – sharing stories with colleagues, rather talking about them, helps break down communication barriers
  • Promote networking opportunities that support diversity – RJ laments few disabled actors have the opportunity to play disabled characters, but workplaces (particularly large organisations) have scope to support employee diversity though professional networks
  • People from diverse groups make up a significant part of the workforce – We did a team building exercise on diversity in our office and there wasn’t one person who didn’t identify with at least one diversity demographic
  • Challenge your perception – Instead of approaching diversity as something other, take the initiative to get involved and be inclusive by showing leadership
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