Indigenous employment: ‘When you don’t see yourself in your leaders, it’s a battle’


Indigenous employees are almost entirely absent from senior management executive leadership levels in some of the country’s biggest organisations, an Australian-first report has found.


The Indigenous Employment Index launched by Minderoo Foundation’s Generation One initiative has lifted the lid on Indigenous employment practices on 42 of the nation’s most significant employers, accounting for more than 700,000 workers. 

The research study provided a snapshot of Indigenous workplace representation, practices, and employee experiences. It found employers need to do more to attract, train, retain and promote Indigenous employees.

Extensive surveys of each employer, plus more than 100 interviewees, also found Indigenous representation at senior leadership levels was just 0.7 per cent among the employers that reported the relevant data.

“Indigenous senior leadership is critical to elevating Indigenous voices and perspectives and supporting Indigenous employees,” the report found.

Organisations with reconciliation strategies or plans led by Indigenous leaders had more than double the share of Indigenous employees. As one Indigenous employee questioned in the research said:

“When you don’t see yourself in your leaders, it’s hard, it’s a battle.”

The Index assessed employers, whose results are de-identified, on five domains: Commitment and Accountability, Workplace Culture and Inclusion, Attraction and Recruitment, Engagement and Development, Partnerships and Community. Italso found:

  • Participating employers still need to do more to create parity, with 2.2 per cent Indigenous employees on average, compared to the general population of 3.3 per cent.

  • Racism against Indigenous employees is common in the workplace, with over 50 per cent of Indigenous interviewees reporting direct or indirect racism currently and throughout their careers.
  • Employers are failing to retain Indigenous employees at the same rate as non-Indigenous employees, and often prioritise recruitment over staff retention and development.

Clayton Utz welcomes initiative to close the gap in Indigenous employment

Women on Boards corporate member Clayton Utz was one of 42 employers that participated in the research study. On 26 May Clayton Utz hosted Generation One Employment Manager Caitlin Leslie and Head of Indigenous Employment, Liz Griffin in their Sydney office to share the results of the Index and outline what workplaces can do to accelerate progress towards Indigenous employment parity.

They highlighted the importance of actions such as setting robust Indigenous employment targets and actively taking steps to retain current Indigenous employees.

Among initiatives Clayton Utz has undertaken in these areas (and as part of its Reconciliation Action Plan) the firm is partnering with CareerTrackers and universities to offer internships to Indigenous employees, and during National Reconciliation Week, launched its first CU First Nations Traineeship. 

Clayton Utz Chief Executive Partner, Bruce Cooper, said the Index was valuable in showing employers exactly what actions - as based on the perspectives and experiences of Indigenous employees - would help achieve employment parity. 

“We know from experience the power of collective action and shared experiences in making real progress towards a goal - in this case, Indigenous employment parity within a generation. There's a lot more we can, and will, do in our own firm to help and I encourage the legal profession as a whole to play its part,” he said.

‘Blind spot’ in Indigenous employment data 

Minderoo Foundation Chairman, Dr Andrew Forrest AO, and Co-Chair, Nicola Forrest AO, praised the 42 organisations involved in the Index for their courage to have their employment practices reviewed and scrutinised.

“We focus on Australia’s largest employers because only industry has the power to create the jobs and working environments necessary to drive change,” the Forrests said.

“This Index is a courageous first step by 42 of Australia’s largest employers to understand where we are now, and to collaboratively develop a set of solutions, underpinned by evidence, that accelerate Indigenous employment parity.”

Generation One Director, Shelley Cable, said while employers were making progress towards parity, there was still a long way to go before true parity is achieved and embedded as a standard way of doing business.

“Today, less than half of working age Indigenous Australians are employed — compared to three quarters of non-Indigenous Australians. At the current rate, it will take 200 years to close the gap,” Ms Cable said.

She said a major barrier to closing the Indigenous employment gap is the blind spot that exists in Indigenous employment data, research, and evidence.

“This report does not have all the answers,” she said. “The findings shared in this report are only part of the story, and help to inform employer, government and investor approaches needed to meet the needs of diverse Indigenous stakeholders.

The Indigenous Employment Index was commissioned and led by Minderoo Foundation’s Generation One initiative, which aims to end Indigenous employment disparity in one generation. The research was conducted by Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, and Murawin, an Indigenous owned consultancy, who co-authored the Index with Generation One.

Participating organisations:

  • Advanced Personnel Management
  • Ampol
  • ANZ Bank
  • Atlassian
  • Australia Post
  • Australian Red Cross
  • Australian Unity Limited
  • Clayton Utz
  • Commonwealth Bank
  • Compass Group (Australia)
  • Domino’s Pizza Enterprises
  • Downer Group EDI
  • EY
  • Fortescue Metals Group
  • GHD
  • Goodstart Early Learning
  • Healius
  • Jones Lang LaSalle – JLL
  • KPMG Australia
  • Lendlease
  • Linfox Australia
  • Minter Ellison
  • NBN
  • Northcott
  • NSW Department of Communities and Justice
  • NSW South Eastern Sydney Local Health District
  • PwC Australia
  • Rio Tinto
  • Serco Australia
  • Silver Chain Group
  • South 32
  • St John of God Health Care
  • The Star Entertainment Group
  • Toll Group
  • Transport for NSW
  • University of Melbourne
  • WA Department of Health
  • WA Police Force
  • Wesfarmers
  • Woodside
  • Woolworths Group
  • Worley

Download the Australian Indigenous Employment Index 2022 National Report HERE

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