In a period where employers everywhere are talking about our skills crisis and the challenges of finding workers, how is it that there is a group of Australians that remain significantly under-employed?
Less than half of our working age Indigenous Australians have jobs, at a time when unemployment has hit its lowest point in 50 years having dropped below four per cent. This employment gap has persisted despite the progress made since Reconciliation Australia introduced the Reconciliation Action Plan Framework back in 2006. RAPs are designed to enable organisations to sustainably and strategically advance reconciliation objectives, including equality and equity in life opportunities like employment.
One of the barriers to closing this gap has been the lack of data around Indigenous employment which can be then used to inform research, policy and initiatives.
Previously the only comprehensive measure of Indigenous employment was the Census – providing a snapshot once every five years.
The Minderoo Foundation has just launched its Indigenous Employment Index. It is the first time 42 Australian organisations have provided detailed data on Indigenous workplace representation, practices, and employee experiences.
These organisations include Australia Post, PwC Australia, Wesfarmers, Lendlease, The Commonwealth Bank, KPMG and ANZ among others, and together they employ around five per cent of the Australian workforce.
What the data shows is that Indigenous people are still poorly represented within workforces and especially at senior leadership levels where Indigenous representation is at only 0.4 per cent. Organisations are also struggling to retain Indigenous employees who on average have a much shorter tenure than the total workforce. And many employers who do try to recruit Indigenous people are directing the bulk of their efforts towards filling lower-level positions and too little attention to career development and progression.
The Index shows a link between RAP adoption and better Indigenous employment outcomes. Though Employers with RAPs do not necessarily have a higher share of Indigenous employees, those with a track record of embedding RAP initiatives in their organisation were found to have better employment outcomes overall including higher retention rates of Indigenous employees, a greater share of Indigenous new hires and higher Indigenous representation at senior levels. That’s good news for the 70,000 Indigenous employees working across the 1,100 organisations with RAPs.
The Indigenous Employment Index aims to provide a roadmap for organisations to implement change. We know RAPs are most effective when there is a genuine commitment from an organisation’s leaders. And so there must also be a genuine commitment from leaders across business governments and investors to create better and more employment opportunities that are genuinely attractive to Indigenous employees.
For investors this may be through highlighting the investment risks caused by poor company culture and racism and the fact that more diverse companies are likely to outperform across financial and non-financial metrics. For governments this may be through compiling national data on the state of Indigenous employment and of course improving their own approach to employment.
For organisations it is about recognising that Indigenous employment success is not just about hiring Indigenous people into your organisation but building genuinely respectful and inclusive workplaces that support engagement, career progression, and fundamentally respecting and celebrating all of the dimensions of reconciliation.
This year’s National Reconciliation Week theme is ‘Be brave, make change’. The challenge to all Australians is to tackle the unfinished business of reconciliation. Understanding what you can do to achieve better Indigenous employment outcomes is one important place to start.