Recruiting our Indigenous brothers and sisters: not just tokenism

Andrew Olsen, Indigenous Employment Consultant

When I was first asked to write an article, I must admit I was a little bit reluctant. It’s not because I didn’t want to, instead I wanted to make sure my contribution was going to be meaningful and not perceived as tokenism.

As an Indigenous person I am all too familiar with the word “Tokenism”. Often when I am introduced at both formal and informal events, I am greeted with mixed reviews. Some people think it’s wonderful that a firm such as KPMG is doing so much for Indigenous people (and it is), but then there are the doubters. The people that make remarks such as “So you only focus on Indigenous people that’s a bit unfair, what about other people that are disadvantaged groups? “. Despite these comments being extremely ignorant and having no malice, I still get a little hurt as I have worked extremely hard to get to where I am today.

I have one of the most rewarding yet challenging and complex roles here at KPMG. The reason is I not only reflect my own personal beliefs but also those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Having your actions under scrutiny by a lot of people brings some pressure; unfair, but I understand this comes with the territory.

I often wish I could drift into the background at events and just soak up the atmosphere and leave at the end without anybody noticing. I do understand that as part of my role I am somewhat the face of Indigenous Employment at KPMG. But on a few occasions I have been caught off guard and singled out my opinion because I am Indigenous and alone this makes me feel slightly embarrassed or “Shame”.

“Shame” is a word Aboriginal people often use to describe a situation which is embarrassing or socially awkward.

For most Indigenous people drawing attention to ourselves is something that we are often uncomfortable with. As Indigenous Australians we have been conditioned that being singled out is not a good thing.

But I still believe I have one of the most rewarding jobs at KPMG. The reason is that every day I am fortunate to be ‘hands on’ with all candidates for roles at KPMG who identify as Indigenous.

It is this hands on approach that gives me special insight into exactly how much we are making a difference to Indigenous peoples’ lives.

In the last just 12 months I have managed to grow the KPMG Indigenous workforce from six Indigenous people to a total of 26. At first look this doesn’t seem like much, but just think of how specialised the KPMG workforce is. Finding Indigenous people who match that exact profile is always going to be a challenging.

This year KPMG is looking at having its largest cohort of Indigenous vacationers and graduates, a total of 16 Indigenous people.

Not every Indigenous candidate that applies for a role at KPMG is going to make it through the recruitment process. That being said, I personally believe we all can do more for first nation people across the globe.

When people asked me what has been the key to our recent success in Indigenous recruitment my answer comes down to building positive relationships.

Some people believe if you throw enough money at a problem it will go away. This is not the case when it comes to Indigenous Peoples. The cycles we are trying to break are generational and that takes times and patience. When it comes to Indigenous recruitment I sell the vision of a workplace which is inclusive of any employee. A workplace which is committed to the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and business. An organisation which understands the importance of not only just talking the talk but walking the walk.

Building positive relationship has been key to success and an integral part of that process. and that’s both internal and external. It sounds like common sense but not a lot of people understand the way Indigenous people and communities do business. So it’s important that we, as Indigenous peoples, are sharing both our culture and educating people on the way we do business.

I recently read an article about how the next generation of Indigenous people live in hope. And I truly believe this.

My mother used to tell me that her sole purpose in life was to give me access to every opportunity she did not have. If my mother was still alive today to see the work I am doing, I know she would be extremely proud. Not just because I am working for a reputable firm, instead she would be proud that I am doing something that I love and being part of social change for Indigenous peoples. She would also say that despite our recent success we can do more.

For those Indigenous employees who achieve a high level of education, the level of disadvantage they will be exposed to will be lower. But this is not enough employers will need to create a culturally safe space for all Indigenous employees. An environment which is free of negative stigma and an environment where Indigenous people feel comfortable to self-identify.

 

Andrew is a proud Dunghutti and Anaiwan man from the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales.  His ancestry is also a mix of Singaporean, German and Native American.

 

 

 

 

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