Being more inclusive and engaging with Aboriginal communities in the workplace: Where to start?

Last modified 19 March 2024
Organisations & Culture
Being more inclusive and engaging with Aboriginal communities in the workplace: Where to start?

Observance days such as NAIDOC Week, many businesses reaffirm their commitments to First Nations people. This is a great step in the right direction, however, at the same time, it can leave many individuals wondering where to start and what actions can they take? And importantly, how to do so in a genuine, authentic way.

We spoke to one of our alumni, Birri Gubba (Juru) woman and South Sea Islander, Florence Henaway to discuss the opportunities that individuals have to help create awareness, show their support towards Aboriginal community members, and to give them a platform to shine within a workplace setting.

Now regardless of what national event is taking place, thinking about how we can make workplaces a more inclusive place to be should always be at the forefront of everything we do. And the best and most simple place to start? By giving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees a voice and showing valid interest. In collaboration with Flo, we have put together a list of 5 simple, yet very effective ways you can start doing this, along with some helpful resources to guide you.

Whilst reading these points keep in mind that at any time, simply asking your Indigenous colleagues what support looks like to them and how they would like you to get involved can go a long way. It’s also important to always be aware, that every Indigenous community and culture is different, so it is always better to have a conversation rather than assume.

  1. Actively Listen & Engage

A great place to start is engaging with aboriginal staff and co-workers by asking them where they are from and who the Traditional Owners of that area are.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia is made up of numerous different and distinct groups each with their own unique culture, customs, language, and laws. You can use an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia map to better understand the vastness of these different communities, but also utilise it as a sharing activity with your Indigenous colleague, so they can show you where they are from and assist with finding some common connection.

  1. Understanding the Traditional Owners

You can spend time researching the Traditional Owners of the land on which you live and/or work. AIATIS recommends several different resources, but to start with either your local government’s website, your state or territory government website, or your local land council representing the local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander communities. For more information, they have also put together a guide on ‘Engaging with Traditional Owners’.

  1. Acknowledging the Traditional Owners

There are many ways you can start acknowledging the Traditional Owners where you work and live, such as adding an acknowledgment to your email signature or discussing with your organisation to add it to their website if they haven’t already. The National Indigenous Australians Agency provides examples and advice on wording of how you can do this.

  1. Getting Others Involved

If you haven’t heard of cultural load, this refers to the additional workload borne by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the workplace, where they are either the only Indigenous person or one of a few. So, it’s important that everyone in your organisation is aware, that whilst efforts to bring awareness are a great place to start the responsibility cannot all fall on one person or a small group continuously. Instead, everyone can play their part in easing the cultural load, and any efforts whilst led and informed by Indigenous people, it is everyone’s responsibility to provide support and action.

Fast-Track MBA call to action

Florence has suggested there are small yet effective ways that you can start showing your support. For example, in Zoom meetings, participants can add the land that they are meeting on to their display names, i.e. Florence Henaway (Larrakia Country). As mentioned previously, every Indigenous culture is different and so are the needs of the individual. If you would like to show your support, rather than assume, start a conversation with your Indigenous colleagues and find out more about what support means to them.

A lot of efforts to elevate cultural load will also need to be actioned by management and decision-makers at your organisation. SmartCompany has created a list of 10 ways organisations and employers can improve their workplace inclusion.

  1. Seek Additional Support and Training

To further commit to developing cultural capability and ensuring First Nations people are part of your organisations vision, your organisation can seek out the support of BlackCard. BlackCard provides a range of training programs and plays a critical role in driving engagement and uplifting the foundational understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, logic, and philosophy to create an inclusive and empowering environment.

Pictured above: AIB Alumni Florence Henaway (left) and Joy Onyeledo (right) at Graduation Day, April 2022.

And finally, NAIDOC week is all about celebrating the histories, culture, and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, so we would also like to take a moment, to celebrate Florence Henaway, a recent AIB MBA graduate who helped us put together this article.

With an extensive background in the disability sector, Florence’s career started in community health, where she worked with homeless and at-risk Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander youths. Moving around a few different roles, always with the motivation to help others at her core, she worked her way into management at Life Without Barriers, a not-for-profit that delivers support services to more than 300 communities across Australia.

Florence completed her MBA at the end of 2021 and at our most recent graduation, Florence shared her MBA experience with us. Florence is currently the Commercial Operations and Development Manager at Helping People Achieve, an organisation dedicated to providing services to Territorians with physical and intellectual disabilities. We are immensely proud that Florence is a part of the AIB community and very appreciative of her support in our own mission to be a more inclusive organisation.

2023 National NAIDOC artwork by, provided under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-N4 4.0) added on 19/06/2023

Anneliese Searle
As AIB's Brand and Communications Manager, Anneliese holds a Bachelor's in marketing and psychology. With experience in B2B, recruitment, education, and residential services, she's now studying her MBA at AIB. In London, she chaired PRCA's NextGen group, backing emerging PR professionals.

*The Australian Institute of Business (AIB) is Australia’s largest provider of MBAs. Source Ready, B. (2023) Domestic Enrolments Surged During COVID After International Students Locked Out, MBA News. Available at: MBA News.

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