Cultural allyship of Indigenous people in an election year - and beyond

Nareen Young, Professor, Indigenous Policy (Indigenous Workforce Diversity), Jumbunna Institute, UTS Sydney
Gari Yala artwork

As the 26th of January approaches, organisations are forced again to consider their cultural allyship often as employers of Indigenous people. It is also a day of sorrow and hurt for Indigenous staff with workplace bias and a lack of knowledge leading to awkward and challenging commentary within the workplace and public domains. With a Federal election looming, it is also time to ask how best to advance a positive Indigenous employment narrative for the new year.

In 2020, the Jumbunna Institute, in partnership with the Diversity Council Australia, teamed for the novel task of asking Indigenous people about their experiences at work. The report released, known as Gari Yala 'speak the truth', spoke to the racism and cultural load unfairly placed upon Indigenous people. Specifically, the survey revealed that Indigenous employees continue to experience significant workplace racism and exclusion and that racism impacts wellbeing and job satisfaction.

In 2022, we know that these workplace conditions cannot continue.

As Australia considers a life with Covid-19 and the potential war on talent for staff, this year should mark the onset for a more aware and conscious Indigenous employment sector. This commitment means moving beyond written targets towards real action and pledges, far from entry-level roles and reporting to advancing Indigenous careers and leadership within large organisations and the boardroom.

Specifically, businesses must make efforts to focus on Indigenous career development and promotions into more senior roles, acknowledgement and action on racism and cultural load and for pay equity to span across the Indigeneity void. Efforts to ensure businesses acknowledge an Indigenous cultural licence to operate upon our lands and partnerships built beyond words to genuine commitments and relationships.

It is also the year we ask for listening and truthtelling, where the walls of businesses reach our communities' streets and lead change in partnership with Indigenous voices and priorities.

To do this, the Jumbunna Institute has been working with leading employers to take on elements of cultural load and act as a safe partner to listen to staff to take organisations on this journey of change. It is work that embraces the discomfort from all, weaving truthtelling with leadership to develop a new conversation. We also work with organisations to take a more holistic view of their employees and promote positive action towards equity and inclusion, working on the intersectionality of a person's identity.

2022 will be a challenging year as businesses continue to adapt to a rapidly changing pandemic environment. With an ever-changing landscape and uncertainty, it is now pivotal for organisations to commit to Indigenous employment towards real action.  

Gari Yala: Speak the Truth 


As a coloured, migrant, from an Island nation, I offer my suggestions:- 1) Every large scale employer must commit to internships for indigenous. 2) Indigenous communities and employment agencies too can be proactive, responsible and accountable in this venture by nominating suitable youth and otherwise experienced and educated persons to workplaces. 3) Failing targets, these large scale employers must be levied extras.
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