The Importance of Cultural Connection for First Nations People in the Workplace
Cultural connection refers to fostering a deep and meaningful relationship with one’s Indigenous heritage, which plays a pivotal role in shaping identity, values, and worldview. By recognising and nurturing this connection, employers can create inclusive working environments that promote diversity, equity, and collaboration.
According to 2016 Census data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation in the workforce remains disproportionately low; just over half (51 per cent) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged between 25 and 64 years were not employed. The unemployment rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples has remained relatively unchanged since the decade prior.
According to the atWork Australia 2021 Job Seeker Wellbeing Index, the following five needs had the strongest relationship with wellbeing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander job seekers:
- Access to the employment services needed
- Problem solving
- Affordable housing
- Job opportunities in the community
For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander job seekers, access to the right employment services and affordable housing have a much stronger association with wellbeing compared to other job seeker groups, indicating that when these needs are satisfied, wellbeing for these job seekers will likely improve.
Thus, with the right support, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander job seekers will find more meaningful employment opportunities that have a positive impact on families and the strength of communities.
Cultural connection provides many benefits
Cultural connection brings an array of benefits to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees; positively impacting their overall job satisfaction, mental wellbeing, stress levels, and productivity. When individuals feel a strong bond with their cultural heritage in the workplace, it fosters a sense of belonging, purpose, and fulfillment, leading to increased job satisfaction.
Additionally, staying connected to one’s culture provides a source of strength and resilience; promoting improved mental wellbeing and reducing stress levels. This, in turn, translates into higher levels of productivity; employees feel more supported, valued, and motivated to contribute their unique perspectives and skills.
The power of cultural connection extends far beyond personal fulfillment, creating a harmonious and thriving work environment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees.
First Nations employees find themselves taking the “cultural load”
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees frequently find themselves burdened with what is known as the “cultural load” within the workplace. This term encompasses the added responsibilities, challenges, and emotional labour that comes with being the representative of their culture and community.
Unfortunately, this can often lead to experiencing racism and discrimination; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees may encounter stereotypes or biases that undermine their sense of belonging and worth in the workplace.
Additionally, a lack of understanding from non-Indigenous colleagues can contribute to the cultural load. Many co-workers may have limited knowledge or awareness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, histories, and protocols, leading to misunderstandings and miscommunications.
This lack of understanding can create barriers to effective collaboration and hinder the full participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees.
As a result, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees may feel isolated and alienated in the workplace. The cultural load places an additional emotional and psychological burden on them, as they navigate the complexities of cultural representation while striving to excel professionally. This sense of isolation can impact their overall wellbeing, job satisfaction, and even their career progression.
To address these challenges, it is crucial for organisations to foster cultural awareness and education among all employees. Promoting a culture of respect, inclusivity, and understanding is essential in reducing the cultural load placed on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees. By actively challenging racism, creating safe spaces for dialogue, and implementing policies that support diversity and equity, workplaces can begin to alleviate the burden faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees, nurturing an environment where everyone can thrive.
Many ways for colleagues to support First Nations employees
Supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees in the workplace requires effort from all colleagues. There are several impactful ways that non-Indigenous employees can contribute to creating an inclusive and supportive environment, such as:
- Cultural learning: Taking the initiative to educate themselves about First Nations cultures, histories, and protocols. This can involve participating in cultural awareness training, reading relevant literature, or engaging in respectful conversations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues to build understanding and respect.
- Flexible work arrangements: Recognising and accommodating the unique cultural obligations and responsibilities that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees may have is crucial. Flexible work arrangements, such as allowing for cultural leave, can enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees to participate in cultural ceremonies, events, and community activities without undue stress or conflict.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employee networks: Establishing First Nations employee networks or affinity groups provides a platform for connection, support, and empowerment. These networks allow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees to share experiences, provide mentorship, and advocate for positive change within the organisation.
- Welcoming an inclusive culture: Creating a workplace culture that values diversity and actively promotes inclusion is paramount. Encouraging open dialogue, embracing different perspectives, and celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contributions and achievements can help foster a sense of belonging and respect.
Non-Indigenous colleagues can play a significant role in dismantling barriers, reducing the cultural load, and creating a workplace that truly values and supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives and experiences.
With a team behind him, Harley finds his first ever job
At 29 years old, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander client, Harley, had never held paid employment before. Harley felt his low literacy skills, his addictions and life choices meant he was not going to get anywhere when looking for work.
He started working with the team at the Workforce Australia office in Northam, WA. With the assistance of Job Coach, Carol, and Employer Engagement Consultant, Samantha, Harley started working his first ever job in night-fill at the local supermarket.
Harley was financially supported to purchase work clothes and had just mentioned his phone is broken so he couldn’t get his shifts. The team supported him with a new phone to be able to access his shifts. “Harley has flourished in his new role, and with his new employment has come new self-belief and confidence,” said Carol.
Harley is now confident and smiling when he comes in to see Carol and Samantha. He has confidence and a positive attitude. atWork Australia will continue to support Harley through In-Work Support.
Read the full story about Harley’s journey to employment here.
Hiring Indigenous talent brings numerous benefits, including diverse perspectives, cultural knowledge, innovation, and enhanced community engagement. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees contribute unique insights, foster cultural understanding, and strengthen connections with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, resulting in increased creativity, improved decision-making, and a positive impact on organisational reputation and social responsibility.
atWork Australia support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to build better lives through sustainable work, by providing holistic and practical support for individuals to prosper and grow. As work makes a difference in a person’s life, it also creates a better life for families and helps build the strength of their communities.
atWork Australia bring together Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, businesses and the community to educate, collaborate and thrive through employment. We support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to build better lives through sustainable work, by providing holistic and practical support for individuals to prosper and grow.
For more information, or to speak with an atWork Australia representative about how we can support you or your business hire a diverse and inclusive workforce, call 1300 080 856 or visit https://www.atworkaustralia.com.au/employing-indigenous-australians/