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  • Writer's pictureGregory Andrews

Why Cultural Safety is crucial for Indigenous employment

As an Aboriginal Australian, I know intuitively that cultural safety is crucial for the well-being and success of First Australians in the workplace. But importantly, facts and data also back this up. The evidence shows cultural safety is essential for success in Indigenous employee recruitment, development, and retention.

First Australians face numerous challenges when it comes to entering, thriving, contributing and advancing in the workforce. These include but are not limited to the impacts of historical and ongoing discrimination, lack of access to education and training, and cultural bias in hiring and human resource allocation practices. Creating a culturally safe workplace can address these challenges and support First Australian staff to achieve their full potential.

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, Indigenous Australians are significantly underrepresented in the workforce, particularly in higher-skilled occupations. In 2020 when I went to Ghana to represent Australia for example, I was only the third Aboriginal person to have been posted by the Australian Government as an Ambassador of Australia. That's despite Australia having had over a century of independent representation and a network of over 100 overseas missions. The Human Rights Commission identified cultural safety as a critical factor in addressing this underrepresentation. It highlighted the need for workplaces to create environments that value and respect Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing.

Another study by the University of Sydney found that cultural safety is linked to higher job satisfaction and retention rates among First Australians. The study identified several key elements of cultural safety, including recognition and acceptance of Indigenous knowledge, development of meaningful relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, and implementation of policies and practices that promote equity and inclusion.

Evidence also indicates that cultural safety can help address the systemic barriers First Australians face in the workforce. The Australian Human Resources Institute found that workplaces that prioritise cultural safety are more likely to have diverse and inclusive workforces, which in turn lead to greater innovation, higher productivity and better business outcomes. As Aboriginal people, we are more likely to admit that we are homesick and need time back 'on country' if we know we won't be judged for doing so.

So the evidence is clear. Cultural safety is essential for Indigenous employee employment. By creating workplaces that value and respect Indigenous knowledge, build meaningful relationships, and addresses systemic barriers, employers can support First Australians to achieve their full potential in the workforce. And they can benefit from the knowledge and experience that we First Australians bring. Furthermore, cultural safety benefits the whole workplace by setting an example on the promotion of diversity and inclusion more broadly.

When I worked as the Threatened Species Commissioner in the Environment Department, we often invited mobs like the Wiradjuri Echos to come in and dance. Events like this build cultural safety by sending a message to everyone that the employer takes Indigenous recognition and inclusion seriously.

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