L&D and D&I: working together toward reconciliation

Helen Essex, Marketing Manager for Europe & Australia, talks about our recent webinar on how L&D can support reconciliation in the workplace.

Written by Helen Essex
Published 19 July 2021
L&D and D&I: working together toward reconciliation

Michelle Ockers is an Organizational Learning Strategist and Founder of the Learning Uncut podcast. When I first met her to discuss teaming up for a webinar on Diversity & Inclusion (D&I), I came away sure that we would create something special. And I was right! Michelle’s passion for the L&D profession – and the power it holds in driving positive change – meant our first webinar for Australian L&D professionals was one I will never forget. 

When it comes to building more inclusive workplace cultures, many D&I issues are universal. Gender, for example, is widely discussed globally – and there are nuances region by region. But in Australia, we have a uniquely relevant D&I subject around reconciliation.  

Reconciliation Australia is an organization that helps build respect, trust and positive relationships between the wider Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Its team put us in touch with Andrew Olsen, National Indigenous Engagement Leader at GHD, an Australian-born global professional services firm.  
Andrew brings learned experience as a Dunghutti and Anaiwan man and an HR practitioner. In this webinar, he gave our audience of L&D leaders practical tips for reconciliation as well as informed and enlightening responses to Michelle’s thought-provoking questions. Here’s a recap of the webinar.

What is reconciliation? 

While some organizations have Reconciliation Action Plans or Indigenous programmes, reconciliation is often not discussed because it makes people uncomfortable. For Andrew: 

  • The movement of reconciliation represents the ongoing relationship and willingness for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to have an honest conversation. 

  • It’s about truth-telling: an increased willingness to tell the truth about Australian history.  

There’s no timeframe for when reconciliation will be reached or what it will look like. But Andrew pointed out that more conversations – positive or negative – serve as a key marker on the journey.

Reconciliation Action Plans 

GHD’s vision around reconciliation is to provide a voice for Indigenous people and help create a social context for its clients – helping them understand how their activities impact Indigenous communities. 

“It’s gone beyond doing it because it’s a “nice” thing to do. We’re trying to make [our reconciliation program] part of the fabric of our DNA.” – Andrew Olsen

Reconciliation Action Plan is an organization’s opportunity to publicly share its intention to have meaningful relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.  

GHD’s plan is made up of four stages: Reflect, Innovate, Stretch, and Elevate. Andrew spoke openly about GHD’s journey through each of these stages, and their related external partnerships. Its L&D and HR teams provide cultural awareness training and review company policies such as Cultural Leave to support the entire workforce.  

We asked Andrew if these changes delivered a cultural shift at GHD. He said the best way to judge that is by looking at two areas: how learning affects people’s day-to-day work, and how confident people feel talking about what they’ve learned away from work – with friends, family members or even strangers with different views.

Employers have a duty of care in the journey to reconciliation  

Business leaders must identify their reasons for pursuing reconciliation initiatives. They could be social, moral, economic or commercial (i.e. responding to the fact clients want to see their vendors driving reconciliation programs). To do it, Andrew recommends you: 

  • Consider putting up an Acknowledgement of Country plaque. 

  • Review procurement of goods and services via platforms such as Supply Nation. And explore what changes could better benefit Aboriginal communities. 

  • Employ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

For Andrew, the best way to bring about understanding around reconciliation is through education.  So, what responsibility do L&D leaders – the facilitators of education in the workplace – hold when it comes to reconciliation? 

GHD educates through its Cultural Awareness Training program and partnership with CareerTrackers – a program that connects Indigenous university students with organizations to create career pathways through structured internships.

A duty of care: supporting your employees to bring their whole selves to work 

“I don’t know what I don’t know”, said one of our attendees on the webinar chat. It’s often the case that rather than confront sensitive issues, people hold back to avoid causing offence or embarrassment. Andrew offered tips to get over this hurdle and tackle reconciliation: 

  • Identify someone in your organization who employees can speak to about personal or professional reconciliation.

  • Reach out to groups such as Reconciliation Australia for help finding answers to people’s questions. 

  • Feel assured that if your question is coming from a sincere place and a desire to learn, it will be welcomed.

  • Remember that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are not one homogenous group. There are over 200 language groups and 400 dialects – and countless different stories.  

These tips encouraged our attendees to open up, share L&D challenges, and reflect on their own education – including the teaching of Australian history in schools.

Cultural loading and its impact  

When trying to create psychologically safe environments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues, employers often add to their cultural load or the expectations and obligations through activities such as mentorship.  

To avoid culture load, or leading conversations towards tokenism, Andrew’s recommends you put a mechanism in place to ensure Aboriginal employees at all levels feel seen and able to voice concerns. Like GHD’s Employee Assistance Program which reviewed whether there were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals available for employees to speak to.  

Andrew also pointed out he’s unaware of any organization that has got this 100% right. It’s a journey we all share.

Bringing different learning preferences to reconciliation 

Australian Aboriginal people are the oldest-continuing culture, having inhabited the country for 65,000 years. This year’s NAIDOC week was based on the theme of Heal Country. And there is a lot we can learn from our Indigenous friends and colleagues on the issues that have physically damaged the country in recent months and years – such as bushfires, floods and droughts.  

As such, discussions with Elders could provide an opportunity to share knowledge on issues around sustainability that affect all Australians. Traditionally, Aboriginal stories are passed on through art, ceremony and the spoken word. So, to facilitate learning for these communities, L&D must be prepared to look away from ordinary written content.  

What’s more, an appreciation of the Aboriginal belief in the power of cultivating the individual can inspire learning facilitators. As Andrew put it, “it’s about uncovering gifts in people and nurturing them to be the very best they can be.”

Start a conversation today  

The Mind Tools for Business Toolkit offers resources in multiple formats for all learners. It can support workplace conversations and learning around mutual respect, cultural understanding, and other D&I issues. Book your demo today to see it for yourself. 

About the author

Helen Essex

Helen Essex

Campaign Marketing Manager
Helen has worked in B2B marketing for over eight years, and is continually looking for ways in which to bring Mind Tools for Business' story to audiences around the world. She enjoys working closely with clients and teams right across our business to understand how L&D is shifting and developing and incorporating this information into creative, dynamic campaigns.

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