Employers need to help anchor diversity

It costs tribute

The additional cultural workload increases the risk of inducing vicarious trauma. The constant revival of intergenerational trauma is taking its toll on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers already working between two worlds.

It can also be difficult to switch off from education mode or First Nations advocacy. This added cultural burden and the cumulative effects of treating non-Indigenous employees and managers with empathy can lead to burnout or compassion fatigue.

Culturally unsafe environments (that discriminate against, diminish, or disempower a person’s cultural identity), work stress, and physiological stress are all workplace hazards. Employers have a duty of care to eliminate or minimize any hazards that may adversely affect a worker’s health and safety.

So what can employers do?

To ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers are not overburdened, employers can take practical steps to reduce their cultural burden.

Research shows that an organization’s culture can thrive when it adopts a management framework for continuous assessment and improvement. Companies can appoint diversity leaders to drive accountability and acceptance at all levels of leadership and to ensure their initiatives are supported by HR departments.

Organizations can also hire diversity officers to assist employees in supporting inclusion efforts and anti-racism.

Implementing a corporate reconciliation action plan is another way to raise awareness of cultural burdens among employers and employees. The plans implemented by Reconciliation Australia are a framework for organizations to be inclusive and contribute to national reconciliation.

Since 2006, more than 2,000 organizations have formalized their commitment to reconciliation with a Reconciliation Action Plan, including at Flinders University, where we work.


The Flinders University Reconciliation Action Plan has several smaller working groups. Our working group has the following goals:

    • Ensure that all work related to Aboriginal people is Aboriginal directed and informed
    • Recognize identity strains and educate non-Indigenous workers on how to interact with First Nations colleagues to reduce it
    • Recognize and reward cultural load as part of an employee’s workload
    • Providing support and workload management to reduce cultural strain (by encouraging management to give additional workload “points” to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues so that this work is no longer “invisible”)
    • Recognize the importance of celebrating cultural identities and supporting First Nations staff and students to participate in meaningful community events.

Our working groups include both First Nations and non-Indigenous members and are guided by two-eye vision. This means bringing together both indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, ways of life, knowledge and action to achieve collaboration and partnership.

Since ratifying our first plan in 2020, we’ve worked to increase:

    • Commitment to students, staff and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community
    • Respect for First Nations knowledge systems and perspectives
    • Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in education, research, employment and well-being.

Sometimes reconciliation action plans are not taken seriously because they lack accountability. Although there is not much evidence that they bring about change, proponents of reconciliation emphasize their ability to create shared values ​​in the workplace.

Non-Indigenous workers have a duty to ensure their work does not continue trauma from centuries of colonization. Anyone can be a cultural ally and advocate for change.

Acknowledgments: Thanks to our Aboriginal colleagues who generously share their time and cultural knowledge, particularly Kristal Matthews, Larissa Taylor, Sharon Watts and David Copley.

https://www.smh.com.au/business/workplace/indigenous-people-must-not-carry-the-load-of-diversity-20230208-p5ciwk.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_business Employers need to help anchor diversity

Brian Lowry

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