First Nations Inclusion at Bunnings

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First Nations Inclusion @ Bunnings: from empathy to effective results

Michelle Matthews is the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Affairs Manager for one of Wesfarmers’ flagship brands, Bunnings. She is a Gangalidda, Tagalaka and Kurtijar woman from Gulf Country in far north Queensland.

She is part of a team that is working towards sustainable Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander employment opportunities and leadership pathways, alongside other key priorities for First Nations community engagement.

In this case study, Michelle highlights how Bunnings’ Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander work evolved from empathy-based acknowledgment to delivering effective solutions. She does this in the context of Wesfarmers’ wider strategy and her own professional recommendations for results-based inclusion.

One key insight shared by Michelle and discussed in this case study is that while facilitating cultural awareness training is important, alone it’s not enough to achieve meaningful inclusion and opportunities within a business.

Michelle says: “Ultimately you can give someone all the information and education in the world, but you also need to focus on what & how you need them to deliver meaningful action. Giving the context around the ‘why’ through cultural awareness training is just one piece of the broader employment and inclusion strategy.”

Read the case study or watch part of the live interview to find out more.

Wesfarmers has an overarching Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) called Elevate. Elevate is the highest level of endorsement from Reconciliation Australia.

Through this RAP, Bunnings has developed specific actions based on Elevate’s five key initiatives. They are:

A group of Bunnings employees stand together and pose and smile at the camera

One of our key programs is called Transition to Work, which offers participants three months of permanent, paid work with clear pathways to ongoing and rewarding employment. The program offers participants guaranteed hours, the same shifts each week and wrap-around support to give them the best opportunity we can.

It’s tailored towards people that have experienced several life barriers, and so it’s a way to offer them meaningful and supportive employment opportunities.

Through the program, we make our Indigenous Advisors Network available to both the team member and their store to help set everyone up for success.

Bunnings’ overall target of employment parity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is three per cent. This is on par with Wesfarmers’ wider Employment Parity Initiative, which is also three per cent of its Australian team.

While we have a goal of reaching employment parity, our Transition to Work program isn’t just about employing as many people as possible. Instead, we make sure that we’re doing it the right way, with our team being supported and offered pathways to real opportunity.

We also have an Indigenous Introduction to Leadership program that supports our Indigenous team members who are thinking about pursuing a leadership pathway. We offer them permanent work so they put down roots and grow with us, and then nurture them with a three-month course where they meet and are supported by fellow leaders in the business. They’re also assigned a mentor who shadows them on that journey.

We also offer our 12-month Indigenous Future Leaders Program that provides a direct pathway for team members into store leadership roles. Participants learn about different leadership styles and are equipped with the technical knowledge required to be an effective leader at Bunnings (e.g. leading safety, performance management, finance, merchandising, and more).

First we needed to have data on hand about the diversity of our team. So, we made it voluntary for people to self-identify as being Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander which helped us determine the number of identifying team members that we had.

We then paired that with macro data sets from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. That gave us a broader understanding of how many Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people might be in a particular region. We could see what disparities there were between the data sets, and if the opportunity to support was there.

We then formed our Indigenous Engagement Team, and in doing so were very specific. The criteria were to ensure that Engagement Team members had strong community bonds. Advisors across all our regions were essential to creating connections with local Indigenous community groups and candidates.

Two Bunnings employees having a conversation in an office

Finally, when we had clear deliverables and the support to achieve them, we held cultural awareness training to support participating stores in understanding why we’re doing what we’re doing.

The disruptions of the pandemic meant we unfortunately weren’t able to roll out in-person cultural awareness to all of our team members for some regions across the country.

Interestingly, this showed us that the training didn’t automatically equate to better reception or traction of our Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander initiatives. People can be very empathetic towards the disparities Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people face – but may not be moved to effective action.

As a result, we made efforts to ensure our team understood not just why, but also what and how we needed leaders to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander team members. This came in the form of guiding our leaders on exactly what we expected from them to help us achieve success.

What do I mean by context? Let me give you an example: my family worked on cattle stations in Queensland. They know a lot about horses and cattle, but they don’t necessarily know about retail. Who would teach that if you don’t have people in your networks who know what it’s like to apply for a job online and work in a retail operation?

And this was the big challenge. Getting across the context as to how and why Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander team members need support and how colonisation still impacts Indigenous people today. People can really struggle to make that connection.

My top pieces of advice are:

1. Be very clear and realistic about what exactly you’re going to commit to. It’s very easy to lose trust from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. So far better to under-promise and over-deliver in this space in my opinion.

2. Ensure that you have the resources and strategy, not just the intention, to deliver social and economic inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Instead of isolated cultural awareness training hoping to undo the learnings of a lifetime, really link it to the outcomes centered on what to deliver:

  • define outcomes
  • provide contextualisation
  • create cultural competency.

3. Get buy-in and support from your leaders. Our Managing Director, Mike Schneider, comes and sits in on all our Indigenous Leadership Programs – that’s our pathway into a store department manager role.

He supports it with his time and his energy. So, everyone else is then more likely to as well.

4. Make sure that you have Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people included at the very heart of the process. As an elder once said to our team, “nothing about us without us.”

  • When we developed our Indigenous Engagement team in 2019, around 1.8% of our team identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people.
  • Fast forward to today and we have approximately 1600 identifying staff, representing 3.2% of our business.
  • Regarding retention, we find that if we bring people in on a permanent basis then we have the same retention, if not slightly better, than our non-Indigenous team.
  • Regarding our leadership development programs for store leaders, we’re currently sitting at 2.8% of our total.

We’re very proud of these numbers.

Research, resources and leading practice

For more guidance and best practice, see the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples section of DCA’s website.