We believe that there is still so much more room for improvement for the technology sector to enhance its understanding and engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as consumers, influencers and allies of their respective products and services.
Interestingly, many people may read the opening point above who are critical or “sitting on the fence” in this space will say “Why do I need to enhance my understanding of Indigenous people?” The answer is actually quite simple: because most of you work in organisations and entities that have a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) and/or are influenced by the Indigenous Procurement Policy (IPP). And the result is that this benefits your business and all of the people within it, whether it is through revenue and profits or impact marketing. The history of the original people of this country is actually 60,000+ years old, so while we think it is important to teach ourselves and our kids the history of this country, it needs to be done properly. This means the actual history and not selective pieces of it.
With the ever-growing emergence of various types of technology that are increasingly impacting our lives, we are seeing a shift in the jobs of the future to be more centred around growing and servicing the evolution of technology. Combine this with:
There is a perception that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have little experience in the tech space and subsequently this is translated into the way that people are employed in this space. A perfect example is of a story of a young Sydney-based Aboriginal man. This young man is a software developer and has experience working on the tools for several years, as well as being a leader in his team at the large company that he works for. Another global tech company (a household name) approached this young Aboriginal man a few years ago to see if he might be interested in a career opportunity. This young man was elated and jumped at the opportunity. As the conversations between the man and the company proceeded it very quickly became evident that they were wanting to engage him in a sales-based role and not in a more technical capacity. Growing his career in the technical side of things is where he wanted to go. As you can predict, this opportunity did not come to fruition as it was more of an opportunity for the tech corporate giant, than for the young Aboriginal man. This is just one of many stories which exemplifies what is taking place in the tech industry (among other industries) and their engagement with Indigenous people and the Indigenous business sector.
Now, to be clear, there are individuals/champions across the tech sector and working within large corporations and the government that do care about making an impact in the Indigenous space, however, they are repeatedly brought back into the corporate machine that governs their systems, processes and presence in the market. I absolutely get it, I am the cofounder of Ngakkan Nyaagu (NGNY), a tech business, and I am driven by improving the systems and processes that my team uses in order to make their lives easier so that they don’t have to carry as much “weight”. These tools and ways of working make their working days easier and more efficient. But more needs to be done to support these individuals in exploring, experimenting and nurturing opportunities to engage, work with and hire Indigenous people.
Another example is the engagement of my business (NGNY) to bid for tech software and web development project opportunities. We always welcome these opportunities and certainly are not pushing these away. However, we will be invited to bid for a project, then spend time responding to the bid and answering the requirements and then be told that we don’t have enough experience. So, why were we invited to bid in the first place? Oh, that’s right. A lot of the organisations that approach us are in some way governed and influenced by the IPP and are rewarded for demonstrating that they have engaged an Indigenous business in their tender or project response process. To then “rub salt into the wound”, we often see the outputs and results of these projects at their conclusion and are able to define that what was delivered is exactly within our capabilities. Let me be clear here, 99% of the time we lose projects to non-Indigenous entities with the same or similar capabilities and often they are incumbent partners. Again, I get it, there is security and efficiency in going with an organisation that you are already comfortable with, but this is a complete waste of our time and also counterproductive to the existence of the IPP and RAPs.
To further extend on this, we employ a set of processes and systems in NGNY which receive comments from organisations (big and small) engaged with us along the lines of how “amazing” and “easy” our processes and systems are to work with, and that they have “never worked with an organisation like ours that is as organised and transparent in the way we get work done”. My point is that, once given the opportunity, that we have been able to deliver in line and above the expectations of most of our clients and most other Indigenous organisations are the same.
Ultimately, there is a reservation and a deficit mindset when it comes to engaging Indigenous people and businesses for new opportunities and this perception of deficit needs addressing. These are a few ways to address the deficit mindset:
Making a shift in deficit thinking when it comes to Indigenous people in the tech sector is improving, as is evidenced by the growing number of Indigenous people in the sector. However, obvious deficit thinking and related behaviours still exist across the tech sector in Australia and these are still inhibiting the growth of Indigenous people in this space and the first way that we will start to overcome this is by calling it out and taking the appropriate action (yes, “action”, not just words), to reduce deficit thinking and deficit ways of doing.
I know I say this every year – but I love this year’s NAIDOC theme!
This year’s theme – Heal Country! – provides an opportunity for all of us to seek a greater understanding of Country and how we can all better embrace and recognise First Nations’ cultural knowledge and understanding of Country and how we can better contribute to the healing that is so very much needed.
For many, this year’s theme will be the first time they consider Country as more than a place and begin to understand that it is inherent to our identity. Country sustains our lives in every aspect - spiritually, physically, emotionally, socially and culturally. We are elements of Country – part of a larger system that is built on interconnected relationships that promote sustainability for all of its elements.
Aboriginal people have for generations been calling for stronger measures to recognise, protect, and maintain all aspects of our culture and heritage. There are many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are working tirelessly to contribute the knowledge that is crucial to drive education about why this is so important and how we might go about it and I think the reason I am so excited about this year’s theme is because it provides a focus on that important role and the potential that education has when it comes to healing.
I very strongly believe that education is key to the healing that needs to happen and the sooner this education journey starts for all Australians the better. Sharing knowledge and information that develops the wider understanding of our communities and cultures is, in my opinion, the only way we can really start the type of healing our mobs need. That Australia needs. That Country needs.
Reading about the theme on the NAIDOC website, it really resonated with me and the reasons why I started Wingaru. I can see the impact that education has in the schools we work with - the confidence of teachers as they gain understanding of their role in healing and develop confidence in better ways of working; the confidence of kids as they thrive in culturally competent environments as schools tweak approaches that make the environment so much more accessible for Aboriginal kids; the understanding that is creeping, ever so slowly into mainstream Australia as people ask questions and take the time to become informed.
One thought particularly stuck with me:
‘We cannot afford to let pass the very real opportunity that now presents itself for reform based on a fundamental change in the relationship Australia has with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.’
Education is such an important part of this reform and without it change is difficult. But we need to make sure that education is strong and this means considering education at all stages of life from early childhood through to adulthood. We need education to be Aboriginal led, culturally safe and accessible for all.
I have been thinking a lot about healing Country and how Wingaru can contribute. It’s a big task but if we all do our bit, it does get easier. The daily frustration of teachers who are looking for support with Aboriginal education but are impeded by barriers around resourcing is something that I can help address. NAIDOC is something that many schools observe and this year more than ever, NAIDOC should be the start of continued action and continued learning to support healing.
To support this Wingaru is offering our Wingaru Kids package at considerably reduced prices. Wingaru Kids bundles professional development and classroom resources to support teachers to bring Aboriginal voices into the classroom as students learn information and skills that promote an understanding and life-long appreciation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
We have also teamed up with the amazing Mr J for another challenge to support you to play a role in healing Country by bringing more Aboriginal content into your classroom. The Challenge details will be announced on social media in coming weeks so make sure you are following Wingaru Education (Facebook, Instagram) and Mr J’s Learning Space (Facebook, Instagram) for all the details.
Request a trial now to access this special pricing for individual teachers or whole school subscriptions.
When I was in my first year of Uni I found myself in a conversation about Aboriginal people and all the things wrong with them. It was a conversation fuelled by misconceptions and stereotypes perpetuated by mainstream media. I wondered if anyone present had actually ever met an Aboriginal person. It was awkward. When should I speak up and tell them that the people they were talking about were my people? That I was one of these Aboriginal people they spoke so negatively about. My opportunity came when one of the group stated that he had never met “a good one”.
‘What about me?’ I said.
The group stared back at me, unsure what to say. They were quiet for a minute, clearly confused and not really sure what to think. My awkwardness became theirs as they realised that they had been caught in their racism, not that they would identify it as that. Finally, one of them spoke “Are you really Aboriginal? You don’t look it”.
Now this is a conversation I had had a thousand times, and have had a million more times since. I explained that Aboriginal people are diverse, not cookie cut outs of the stereotypical black person that mainstream media would have the world believe and it inevitably leads to the person declaring that I am somehow different, because I don’t meet their stereotype of an Aboriginal person – that somehow by doing well I have overcome the deficit that is associated with being Aboriginal. It is a conversation that most Aboriginal people are well versed in.
The deficit perception, the view that Aboriginal people are not capable, is something that still persists and Aboriginal people are still forced to prove themselves when other people don’t have to. Even when we have done something that shows we are capable, a question lingers about how we manage to achieve it. The fact that we achieved something overshadows what we have actually done and many people think we were only able to achieve because of a loop hole or handout.
As children, people often don’t expect us to achieve much. Our kids are often not pushed to their full potential because it is assumed that we are excelling just by scraping by. We go to Uni and people assume we got there on a hand-out, a mystical free pass. As adults many of us find ourselves in jobs where we are not utilised to our full potential.
I believe that the deficit perception is left over from the years when Government policy portrayed us as inferior in order to justify the way it treated us. They under-estimated our abilities and worth then and that has unfortunately continued and become part of the unconscious bias against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that permeates today’s world.
This year I would like to actively and directly start to change the deficit perception. If you are a teacher, I encourage you to get to know your Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, see their strengths and let them know you see their potential and expect them to achieve it. Encourage and support them to do this – work with them and their community to make sure they don’t get lost in the assumption that good enough is all they can achieve. Opportunity rather than ability is the barrier we face.
If you are an employer, talk to your Aboriginal staff – do they feel you are utilising their skills as well as you can be? Are there growth opportunities they would like to undertake?
This year, Wingaru will be sharing the stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who counter the deficit perception. Whose everyday life shows that our First Nations people are strong, determined and capable. That the deficit perception is the biggest myth of all.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.