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November 10, 2020

Becoming a culturally safe organization for Indigenous Peoples

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From simple and small acts to wide impact initiatives, leading companies understand — both morally and economically — the importance of reconciliation for the First Nations Peoples, and are taking concrete actions.

In this insightful piece, Endorsed Employers across Australia have shared best practice and advice in order to help other employers understand and support the careers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This includes valuable guidance on their employment strategies and recruitment plans.


Indigenous owned businesses:

Nurturing and developing First Nations Peoples’ businesses is an important focus for all the Endorsed Employers interviewed. Welcome To Country, smoking ceremonies, catering, printing, design artwork and Indigenous newspapers are part of the services companies have as part of their supply chain, but their efforts are not limited to that.

All staff at Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology are encouraged to use Indigenous businesses to do any work, not just specific to company sponsored Indigenous events.

Mott Macdonald Australia set up measures to pay on time, offering supplier expos and marking upcoming opportunities for trade.

NAB is a corporate partner of the Meereeng50 First Nations Procurement Accelerator, a program designed specifically to assist Victorian Indigenous businesses to scale and establish greater procurement relationships. They’re also committed to the following:

  • Have dedicated procurement targets to buy goods and services from First Nations businesses
  • Maintain membership of Supply Nation, and sponsor their annual Indigenous Business Tradeshow
  • Purchase carbon credit offsets from Indigenous organizations or communities

Community relations:

Giving back to the community is fundamental for all participating employers, particularly in projects that improve the environment or promote public safety, wellbeing, health or education. Here are just some of the stand out initiatives introduced by leading organizations:

Transport for NSW: The organization run a project called ‘Second Life’, which repurposes and transforms retired transport assets such as train carriages and buses into community transport, shelters for the homeless, static art galleries, and mobile kitchens. Collaborating with agencies, Non-Governmental Organizations, peak bodies, and individuals across the state, the project has donated assets in Nambucca, Bourke, Kempsey and Queanbeyan.

They also have a Yilaami bus that takes groups of TAFE students to training and job placements around the Nambucca Valley.This recently saw one of their trade students offered a job on the spot — an opportunity that would have been otherwise inaccessible, especially in regional areas where there are few transport options.

University of Newcastle: Indigenous entrepreneurs and start-up business owners have access to resources and networking available via the University’s Integrated Innovation Network (I2N).



“The QFES workforce actively participates in learning opportunities relating to traditional burning practices. Through these learning opportunities, traditional burning practices are able to be incorporated in to hazard reduction burns methodologies that QFES conduct. Some examples of this include sending staff on traditional burning courses delivered by First Nations People and collaboratively participating in hazard reduction burns with traditional owners.”

John Cawcutt | Assistant Commissioner at Queensland Fire and Emergency Services

Unitywater: The company shares their expertise in water and sewerage services with a remote community on Mornington Island as they work to improve their water supply network.

Through this partnership, Unitywater engineers provide advice, mentoring, and technical support to help the community build capacity and resolve issues with their wastewater treatment plant and water supply dam. The partnership has evolved to include provision of technical equipment to monitor their system.

Other programs include environmental and cultural projects such as conservation of the Pandanus tree and monitoring of the vulnerable Water Mouse in culturally significant waterways.

Programmed: All of the organization’s training and employment initiatives are delivered in partnership with the local Indigenous Community who provide ongoing cultural mentoring and support for those involved.

Programmed also provides culturally appropriate Job Readiness Programs directly to Indigenous students and young people aimed at building confidence. This includes providing the right tools and training to build retention and sustainability in gaining employment in the Trade industry.

DMIRS: Their Industry Regulation and Consumer Protection group works to ensure there is a fair trading environment, and that building, plumbing, gas and electricity services are safe for Western Australian consumers, traders and the community.

A dedicated Aboriginal Community Education Officer and a team of Senior Regional Officers, work hard to provide support and build formative relationships within the regional communities to gain a better awareness and greater insight into the local issues. More recently this has involved working with Elders from the Ngaanyatjarra Lands to provide common words and phrases associated with consumer protection in two languages, Ngaanyatjarra and Wangkatja.


Indigenous staff networking:

Networking is an increasingly popular part of organizations’ programs, with many employers facilitating and supporting their implementation.

Sandvik’s network is administered by their Community Engagement Officer, with the aim of being a communication point for all First Nations staff to share ideas.

NAB has an internal Indigenous emerging leaders program and a peer-connection group.

TransGrid’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff have organically led the formation of a weekly catch up called Yarn Up (a virtual yarning circle).

“This has been a great way to stay connected through COVID-19 not only through our jobs but also providing a platform and a culturally safe space for us to support each other’s mental health.”

Sherrie Castaldini | Indigenous Engagement Team Leader at TransGrid

And at Transport for NSW, Aboriginal staff are encouraged to attend their annual cluster wide Aboriginal staff forum for career development and networking.


Indigenous employment strategy:

Organizations such as Sandvik, BAE Systems, Aurizon, Programmed, Mott MacDonald, NAB, EY, DMIRS, TransGrid, University of Newcastle and Transport for NSW are continually reviewing their recruitment and employment policies to ensure they are inclusive and free of barriers for current employees and future Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander applicants. Some of these companies have even developed tailored strategies.

BAE Systems: To close the gap on employment opportunity for First Nations Peoples, their key initiatives include comprehensive reviews of their recruitment practices and subsequent enhancements to remove any barriers (i.e. establishment of First Nations recruitment supply panel, advertising via First Nations media channels, and bespoke candidate care programs); a formal commitment to engaging apprentices, graduates and interns via CareerTrackers; enterprise-wide Cultural Awareness training; and cultural capability interview training.

DMIRS: All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees have the opportunity to participate in a structured learning and development program and corporate mentoring program.

DMIRS identified a minimum of six established positions to recruit Aboriginal employees within the department. They also participate in the Public Sector Commission’s Aboriginal School Based Traineeship Program to host and support trainees to successfully complete a Certificate II in Government (Public Administration).

Aurizon: Currently representation sits around six percent. Their 10-year partnership with Career Trackers aims to help develop the next generation of Indigenous university students.

Programmed: Their ambition is to provide no less than 5000 sustainable opportunities and employment pathways through direct employment with Programmed or employment as part of the workforces they deploy on behalf of their customers.

This includes training programs for disadvantaged youths (Youth Interchange Program), providing them with insights to trades they would not normally be exposed to. They coordinate with their vendors and identify skill gaps in the market and provide interested participants with the relevant training and certifications to walk onto a site and start an apprenticeship.

Transport for NSW: Premier’s priority is enabling Aboriginal employees to gain leadership roles and represent three percent of all staff in non-executive salary classes. The support extends to other initiatives:

  • Aboriginal staff are supported through their employment phases by the Aboriginal Employment Units
  • Entry Level Talent Programs: VET cadets/Graduates give some Aboriginal people a start in a career within transport.
  • Transport for NSW run an Aboriginal Career Development and Mentoring program. The program matches Aboriginal Mentees with senior staff from Transport, it is designed to be a reverse mentoring program where the mentees learn from their mentors about the business and career pathways and the mentors learn from their mentees about Aboriginal culture.

University of Newcastle: Their recruitment practices ensure that selection panels include Indigenous staff during the recruitment process, where candidates have identified as Indigenous. They also have specific online induction training regarding Indigenous culture.

Cultural awareness:

Almost all WORK180 Endorsed Employers across Australia promote and are actively involved in key cultural celebrations and events, including National Reconciliation Week, and NAIDOC week.

“Although some of these gestures are symbolic, they are the first steps towards a commitment to continue our cultural journey as an organization and improving our relationship with Indigenous Peoples in Australia.”

Deanella (Dee) Mack | Indigenous Cultural Capability Leader at EY

Here are just some of the most meaningful initiatives that WORK180 endorsed businesses have been actively supporting:

QSuper: To promote reconciliation and help make Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members feel more welcome, QSuper invited Aboriginal artist Sally Terare and three other Indigenous artists to produce art for each of their member offices.

Terare, born to a mother of Bundjalung and Butchulla descent, painted an image of open hands and butterflies that start as caterpillars and transform into winged creatures. She calls the artwork, which hangs in QSuper’s Eagle Street office in Brisbane, ‘The Gift of Transition.’


EY: Many of EY offices have completed room renaming projects that have seen client facing and function rooms named after local Indigenous languages. These projects assist in further strengthening relationships with local traditional custodians and Indigenous groups who were consulted in the process. It is also aimed at encouraging staff and clients to become aware of local languages in their office locations.

DMIRS: In addition to annual leave, the organization offers up to five days paid cultural leave per calendar year for employees who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander to participate in cultural and ceremonial obligations, as well as community cultural events. DMIRS also provides Aboriginal Cultural Awareness training for managers and work groups participating in their Aboriginal Employment Program.

University of Newcastle: Indigenous staff has an additional ten days paid and ten days unpaid leave for bereavement and community obligations or cultural events.

The university’s staff Enterprise Agreements recognize and promote knowledge of, and commitment to, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures. Areas such as workload, staff development, promotion and reclassification recognize Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander values and academic achievements and community achievements including the consideration of cultural standards.

Financial wellbeing:

Some companies are also contributing to sustainable First Nations Peoples development.

“We’re committed to supporting the financial wellbeing of our remote members and their communities with culturally relevant education to help them connect with their super and close the gap caused by financial exclusion.”
Michael Pennisi | CEO at QSuper

QSuper travels to remote communities to listen to residents’ needs and help connect more people with super, no matter the postcode.


NAB provide fair and affordable microfinance loans. Over 6,000 loans are accessed every year by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Also, they support projects that build the financial resilience of Indigenous Australians through the Indigenous Money Network, in partnership with Good Shepherd.

Creating a culturally safe workplace

This must-read guidance on what more workplaces could and should be doing to attract, retain, and nurture Indigenous employees would not be complete without addressing the importance of cultural safety. All interviewed Endorsed Employers have formalized their approach to creating a more culturally welcome environment in their workplaces.

The initiatives in place include promoting events and significant celebrations, displaying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags along with the Australian flag, as well as artwork, Acknowledging to Country in all internal and external meetings, and requesting a Traditional Owner to perform a Welcome To Country in official meetings and events.

For their part, next practice includes mandatory cultural safety and awareness training, among other formal and informal initiatives:

BAE System included cooking demonstrations, acknowledgments, short films, lunches and morning teas. They have also established a dedicated First Nations landing page on the BAE Systems Australia intranet to create awareness, stimulate education, and promote key reconciliation initiatives.

Sandvik’s Staff now proudly wear their Sandvik RAP Polo Shirts along with scarves, lapels and, on occasions the Sandvik RAP Ties.


Mott MacDonald Australia recently committed to 100% mandatory completion rate of Aboriginal cultural awareness training with Mirri Mirri, starting with a leadership visioning and creative storytelling workshop on a key project in NSW, Engineering Design Solutions with Sydney Metro.

NAB implemented a Visibility Acknowledging Country on all branches and Business Banking Centre locations, approved Acknowledgement of Country in brand email signature, established a Distinctive Leadership and Professional Banker Program and a Cultural Awareness Training for all Recruitment Function. This program is available for all staff, and mandated for all customer-facing staff and leaders that have First Nation employees as part of their Indigenous Employment Programs (Interns & Trainees).

EY: introduced a mandatory online cultural awareness module for all new staff during the onboarding process, providing access to extra cultural support for their Indigenous staff, including interns.

Also EY implemented the inclusion and acknowledgement of Indigenous kinship in leave, policies such as sorry business, and family and domestic violence Indigenous Governance. And importantly, an EY Indigenous Governance Council has been established which includes two of our Executive Leadership Team Partners.

Reconciliation Action Plan:

It is through this focus on addressing the multi-causal systemic issues that companies can best contribute to sustainable First Nations Peoples development.

Transport for NSW has also acknowledged the Stolen Generation through the Stolen Generation Memorial project.

“Through connection within the region and sensitive community engagement, we’ve created and installed a memorial that educates about the history that NSW railways played in transporting children of the Stolen Generations.”

Job seekers can find the Endorsed Employers with reconciliation plans in place on our WORK180 platform. So if you’re looking for a workplace with a commitment to First Nations Peoples’ careers, be sure to explore our Endorsed Employers’ current opportunities.


For those who are unfamiliar, NAIDOC week stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. NAIDOC began in the 1920s and was expanded in 1974 to be a week of celebration for the First Nations Peoples. Each year a theme is chosen that highlights important issues and events. This year’s NAIDOC week theme is: ALWAYS WAS, ALWAYS BE.

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Looking for a new opportunity?

Our transparent job board only has vacancies from employers we endorse and lets you see what benefits, policies and perks come with the job.