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Focus area 1: Workplace environment

Key points

  • Embed your IES as part of your corporate priorities, Human Capital Strategy, Reconciliation Action Plan and Workforce Diversity Plan
  • Understand and utilise the experience of Indigenous employees who are working/have worked in your agency
  • A good IES depends on
    • a strong rationale
    • workable agency-specific strategies
    • a senior leader to progress initiatives and reinforce agency expectations
    • line manager support to moderate the workplace experience
    • an active Indigenous Employment Coordinator

Planning your Indigenous Employment Strategy

Consider the following points when planning your IES:

  • Have a clear rationale—what is the IES for, and what you hope to achieve with it.
  • A business case is important for achieving Executive endorsement. It could include:
    • your agency's staffing profile and employee survey data (both current and historical trends)
    • reference to operating in a tight labour market, and needing to become an employer of choice by adopting innovative recruitment and retention strategies to attract employees from non-traditional labour pools, including Indigenous people
    • drawing attention to your business role and customers, and linking this with the unique skills and experiences of Indigenous Australians. You could also stress that Indigenous employees' varying perspectives, experience and knowledge can add substantial value to your agency's business outcomes.
  • What support tools and initiatives your agency can provide Indigenous employees within your organisation.
  • Embed an IES as part of an agency's corporate priorities, so it becomes part of the everyday 'way we do business'.
  • Make the links between the IES, existing agency plans and public sector-wide initiatives.
  • Include a commitment to meeting the 2.7% Commonwealth Indigenous employment target. What is your agency's target and what will be your agency's role in delivering meaningful employment opportunities?
  • Understand what barriers may exist in your agency which could impact on the IES' development or implementation.

These elements help map where you are and where you want to go, and they communicate that position and direction clearly to management and employees.

Engagement of key stakeholders

Key stakeholders are central to a successful IES. Knowing who they are, why they are important, and how to use them effectively, can shift a plan from ideas to actions. Key stakeholders may include:

  • Indigenous employees—A unique perspective on what issues need to be addressed and how to go about it. Engage early during development, and keep in touch during implementation.
  • Senior Management—Integral for establishing expectations and influencing the workplace culture. Find a 'champion' who can push the business case.
  • Line Managers—Integral for moderating a range of factors which impact on retention, engagement, being valued and career experiences. Engage early, maintain contact and define their contribution as part of the IES. If they are aware of the support available to them, your IES is more likely to
    be effective.
  • Agency Working Group—Include Indigenous employees, HR representatives and line managers to develop a realistic and achievable plan.
  • Agency staff—Realise the agency's culture through their actions and working relationships. Provide updates and drafts for consultation prior to implementation. Include information on the IES and agency commitment in the induction process for all new employees.

Getting started

Start by thinking about the key outcomes to be achieved through the IES. Initiatives and actions need to be realistic and achievable. Some questions to help identify where to start include:

  • What do we want to achieve through the IES?
  • What commitments have already been made?
  • What is the agreed Indigenous employment target for the agency? If the agency is already exceeds 2.7%, what is the agreed (increased) proportional target? How are we tracking?
  • What are our current Indigenous representation statistics? (including separation rates and classification profile)
  • What current programs/initiatives do we have in place? How effective have they been?
  • What are our Indigenous employees telling us we need?
  • What are our career pathways like for Indigenous employees?
  • Where could we improve?
  • Where could we link to our workforce plan?
  • Where are the opportunities to recruit more Indigenous employees? Are there business areas who aren't engaged? Do we have any regional locations? Do we need people with a particular skill set? Could we develop a program to develop these skills and qualifications for Indigenous people?
  • Develop a reporting framework (an example of what needs to be captured can be found in the Resources section in the Agency 'snapshot' report).

There are different ways to approach putting together your IES and some options may be to:

  • start identifying the key initiatives that will form the action items of your IES and then develop the business rationale behind the strategy, or
  • develop the business rationale behind the strategy and then identify the initiatives for your IES, or
  • discuss workforce planning needs with line managers and work with them to develop some tailored strategies to improve Indigenous representation and the workplace culture in their area, or
  • look at your agency workforce plan and identify where Indigenous employment fits within that and develop initiatives for your IES.

Developing your IES project plan

As part of your project plan, you could include:

  • an assessment of the agency's business needs
  • a list of the agency's stakeholders, as well as a proposed consultation plan
  • an evaluation of the costs for developing and implementing an IES, as well as what the cost could be for your agency if it did not do so
  • timelines for both the development of the IES and its implementation
  • evaluation measures, such as adding questions to staff surveys around staff knowledge of the IES and its relevancy to your agency's needs.
  • evidence of the Agency's accountability for their target through the rigorous collection of data and reporting.

Agency champion

Executive and management support is essential to the success of an IES. An agency head's message in an IES is a visible demonstration of their personal commitment to the strategy and their expectation that this commitment is carried throughout the agency. However this is only a starting point.

Manager behaviour has a significant influence on workplace culture and employee behaviour. Managers seen to be actively supporting Indigenous employment can significantly improve outcomes of an IES.

An Agency Champion is the human face of your IES—someone who reinforces the agency's commitment to support and develop its Indigenous employees.

This role can be filled by a senior executive, Deputy Secretary or by the Agency Head. It is not essential that the Agency Champion is Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, it is important that they are committed to promoting Indigenous employment.

Agency Champions:

  • promote Indigenous employment both within the agency and externally* provide strategic direction, support and encouragement for initiatives under the IES* ensure that Indigenous employment issues are on the agenda in high level planning, includingas an ongoing agenda item at Senior Executive meetings
  • work closely with the agency's Indigenous Employment Coordinator, the person responsible for the day to day coordination of the strategy.

Indigenous Employment Coordinator (IEC)

An Indigenous Employment Coordinator (IEC)27 signals to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people that an agency is serious about its commitment to the employment and development of its Indigenous employees.

In smaller agencies, the IEC's function may be a part of other responsibilities; in larger agencies, it may be a single purpose role.

The IEC's main role is keeping the IES on track.helping an agency to 'walk the talk' and refine/develop solutions as issues occur.

A key role of the IEC is to support the Agency Champion. While the Agency Champion provides strategic direction and support for the IES, the IEC ensures that initiatives are undertaken in the agency to give practical daily effect to the strategy on the ground.

IECs' activities may include:

  • contributing to the development of the agency's IES
  • evaluating the effectiveness of the IES
  • keeping the Agency Champion informed of progress of the IES as well as any other issues thamay need highlighting to the senior executive
  • working with HR staff to develop and implement effective, targeted recruitment and retentiostrategies
  • engaging team leaders and supervisors
  • working closely with other agencies to ensure that the agency's strategy and programs draw obest practice
  • contributing to the induction process of new Indigenous employees, including introducing them to other Indigenous staff and advising them about relevant networks
  • advising employees of their rights and obligations, and the relevant policies
  • helping identify Indigenous employees' learning and development needs
  • supporting Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander employees in times of need
  • raising issues of concern when needed, through appropriate channels
  • networking with other agencies' IECs.

IECs are usually located with the HR areas of agencies to ensure that the IES is an integrated component of corporate and workforce planning.

Engaging senior managers

Gaining the attention of senior managers can be challenging. The Agency Champion can fulfil part of the role of engaging senior managers. However, a targeted strategy to engage senior leaders can assist HR and/or the IEC to support the messages from the Agency Champion, and promote Indigenous employment
in the agency.

A strategy to engage senior managers needs to clearly and concisely:

  • outline the issue
  • state the goal
  • provide evidence
  • identify solutions that take into account the core business and structures of your agency.

Other options for engaging senior managers are:

  • the use of a 'snapshot' report on the progress of Indigenous employment in the agency. An example of a Business Area 'snapshot' report is provided in the Resources section. This can be multifunctional; it can assist the HR practitioner to have a conversation/s within the organisation, as well, it can
    serve as a report card for line areas to assess progress towards agreed actions.
  • through the Agency Champion, ensure discussions at executive meetings occur on progress and actions. Embed these commitments into the IES.

Engaging line managers

Managers are essential stakeholders due to the key role they play in recruitment, employee management and influencing the workplace culture. They have a significant impact on whether or not the IES will be successful. Line managers who value and support the contribution of Indigenous employees are
likely to contribute to the delivery of positive employment outcomes. Options to engage line managers could include:

  • scheduled face to face consultations to outline the agency's commitment to improving Indigenous employment, the role of the IES and developing options for managers to demonstrate their commitment to the IES
  • developing and disseminating specific advice around recruiting and managing Indigenous employees
  • assisting managers to identify possible employment opportunities and plan the recruitment process
  • linking Indigenous employment initiatives to business outcomes
  • including information on the IES and the role of the manager in the induction process.

It is important for managers to understand that while there are some specific actions they can take to improve Indigenous employment in the agency, these actions fall within the scope of good people management and workforce practices. Use the Business Area 'snapshot' report to facilitate these discussions
and identify opportunities for managers to become involved.

Supporting Indigenous employees

Most new starters tend to experience a degree of culture shock when they begin working in the public sector, and even when they move from one agency to another. Indigenous employees who may have moved from familiar communities to urban centres may undergo an even greater shock.

It is important for agencies to acknowledge that Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people's backgrounds and life experiences often differ from those of non-Indigenous employees.

The 2009 Census found that Indigenous employees in the APS often face significant work-life balance challenges due to family and community responsibilities that are unique to their cultural heritage. Findings also indicated that 72% of employees were satisfied with their supervisor's support in assisting
them to meet their cultural and community responsibilities. Seventy- eight percent were satisfied with the support made available to assist them with their caring responsibilities.28

However, lack of understanding and support in managing these commitments can lower job satisfaction, raise frustration and anxiety levels, and contribute to employees deciding to leave their agency.

Your agency can demonstrate its commitment to supporting Indigenous employees achieve work life balance in a number of ways, and making sure that all members of the agency understand the importance of Indigenous employees' needs and expectations is a good start. Providing empathetic and ongoing support
to Indigenous employees will play a key role in increasing their confidence, competence and retention. This is not a case of creating unfair advantage for Indigenous employees. Rather, it is an example of working with each employee's individual needs, and practising principles around good people management.

It may also provide an opportunity to talk clearly and openly about the expectations that your agency has of the performance, conduct and responsibilities of each of its employees. As with similar conversations with other staff, this conversation provides the opportunity to advise any personal circumstances
that may impact on their performance so that they can be effectively managed.

Like all staff members, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander employees need professional support, especially at the beginning of their careers, or when they join an agency. It's important for your agency to include in its IES initiatives the provision of a safe and appropriate environment for Indigenous
employees to communicate and share information. This may include encouraging Indigenous employees to network with other Indigenous employees in the agency, and to participate in external Indigenous APS Employee Network (IAPSEN) activities, and other events.29

Harassment, bullying and discrimination

The 2009 Census highlighted some major concerns:

  • 27% (or one quarter) of Indigenous employees reported they experienced bullying or harassment in a 12 month period30
  • Indigenous employees are more likely than all APS employees (17%) to say that they had experienced bullying and/or harassment in their workplace.31

Bullying and harassment was reported to include:

  • humiliation through sarcasm, criticism or insults (52%)
  • persistent and unjustified criticism (50%)
  • intimidating or aggressive body language (45%)
  • deliberately withholding information so that they are less able to do the job (35%).32

Bullying, harassment and discrimination have an adverse impact on retention. Indigenous employees who had experienced discrimination were almost twice as likely as those who did not experience discrimination to say they intend to leave the APS in the next three years.33

In the APS context, the APS Values and Code of Conduct outline expectations around behaviour in the workplace. However, familiarity with the Values and the Code does not necessarily mean that employees always fully understand and apply them in practice.

An overt, clear statement about what is, and is not, acceptable is essential for everyone. A minimum standard of professionalism, good work, and good behaviour should form the basis of a supportive workplace culture for everyone.34

Respecting culture

By demonstrating a respect for Indigenous cultures, your agency can raise its profile in Indigenous communities and enhance its reputation as an employer of choice for Indigenous Australians.

Your agency can demonstrate respect for Indigenous culture by:

  • Observing cultural protocols that recognise the position of Indigenous Australians as the traditional owners of the land. This might include acknowledging the traditional owners of the land at the opening of key meetings, including staff meetings.
  • Inviting a traditional elder to give a Welcome to Country at the beginning of a major function, such as a conference.
  • Recognising cultural days of significance, such as the anniversary of the Apology to the Stolen Generation, National Reconciliation and NAIDOC Weeks, and celebrate these in the workplace. In regional areas, there may be other days of cultural significance that employees can recognise and observe. It
    is recommended that responsibility for acknowledging significant days and events are shared across the agency to foster a strong culture of understanding and respect.
  • Using inclusive language and avoiding terms that are offensive to Indigenous people.
  • Encouraging respectful, voluntary, two-way discussions between Indigenous and non- Indigenous employees about their cultural backgrounds and expectations.

Indigenous culture

Indigenous cultures are not one and the same. Torres Strait Islander people are a separate group from Aboriginal people with their own distinct identity and cultural traditions.

There are hundreds of different language groups and many different cultural ways across Australia. It is important to acknowledge what customs are practiced in your local areas and respect those practises.

Indigenous cultures are not necessarily the same as they once were. They have adapted dramatically across Australian history. They are a rich and resilient culture that is a strong part of Australia's identity.

Some of the features of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people's culture are the special connection to land and sea, commitment to family and community, kinship, recognition and respect as distinctive people and preservation of customs, laws and languages.

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) is Australia's premier institution for information and research about the cultures and lifestyles of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, past and present. Visit www.aiatsis.gov.au.

Cultural awareness and cultural competency

Cultural awareness and cultural competency continue to be important in building workplaces which are respectful and understanding of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people and communities. The idea behind cultural awareness training is to provide staff with a base level understanding of Indigenous

Cultural competency on the other hand is focussed more on information and tools to work towards building mutually respectful relationships and ensure that all employees are working effectively and sensitively with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. Working with and learning about Indigenous
cultures is not a static process. Rather it is ongoing and focused on bringing about change to the way in which people, and agencies, work.

Cultural awareness, and more so cultural competency training may be a valuable component of your IES, and assist your agency to deliver better outcomes around Indigenous employment. Some agencies have incorporated training as an online tool that is easily accessible for all staff in combination with
access to face-to-face training.

Cultural competency is particularly important to those agencies that provide services and advice to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people.

27 IECs are sometimes referred to by other titles, such as Indigenous Liaison Officer or Indigenous Development Coordinator.

28 2009 Census Report: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander APS Employees, p.38–39

29 Some IAPSEN groups are open to Indigenous employees in non-APS Commonwealth agencies

30 2009 Census Report: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander APS Employees, p.40

31 2009 Census Report: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander APS Employees, p.40–41

32 2009 Census Report: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander APS Employees, p.42–43

33 2009 Census Report: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander APS Employees, p.43

34 For more information or support on this issue, refer to the Commission's publication Respect: Promoting a Culture Free from Harassment and Bullying in the APS.

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018