How a Show of Hands Changed a City’s Indigenous Employment Path

Published on:
Wednesday, 5 July, 2023

During an annual staff forum in 2020, City of Wanneroo CEO Daniel Simms asked his staff to raise their hands if they identified as Indigenous.

It appeared a simple question, but when no hands were raised, Mr Simms said he felt personal responsibility for the shortcoming.

“That was confronting and challenged me in terms of what culture have we created where we are not attracting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to work for the City or what environment do we have where they don’t feel safe to say they are,” he said.

“As an organisation our hearts were in it, but we just needed to challenge ourselves.

“Our recruitment processes and our onboarding were too complicated and our follow up wasn’t there.”

A three-year Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Plan was whipped together, which included recruitment of an Aboriginal Employment Advisor.

The first phase also included building a well-communicated cultural competency plan, staff training, and researching attraction and retention methods for Indigenous employees.

Minyulo Bartlett came in as the Aboriginal Employment Advisor – it was a job she knew from the outset felt right.

“Your inner spirit tells you whether something is right or wrong, and everything about this felt good,” she said.

“I go in and look at applicants and try to recognise the surnames then go to the manager and say ‘hey you’ve got some Aboriginal applicants here’.

“If they get the job they get the job, if they don’t they don’t, but at least you’ve given them that opportunity because not everything comes out on paper.”

Recruitment is just one aspect of the role. Retention and empowerment are just as important.

With work on employment and cultural safety progressing, Ms Bartlett said people already at the City “came out of the woodwork” feeling confident to speak about their Indigeneity.

Retention efforts centred around formation of a group – Danjoo Waakininy Kaatijin (Together Sharing Knowledge) – to support Indigenous staff.

Danjoo Mob meets a few times a month to talk about everything from family and culture to career progression and cultural competence. Key organisational leaders are invited to listen and learn from the meetings.

The City is also learning from its peers – whether that be visiting the Shire of Toodyay’s award-winning Gnulla Karnany Waangkiny truth-telling centre or implementing ideas from Aboriginal forums.

“All the little steps towards cultural competence – the artwork, sharing of stories and culture, going out on Country, going to the WALGA forum to learn lots of stuff,” Ms Bartlett said.

“Everybody has opened their doors, opened their eyes and opened their thinking.

“The City of Wanneroo is an employer of choice for our mob, you will get looked after as much as our CEO and our leaders and it is fantastic we have access to our Mayor and other Councillors just to have a bit of a yarn.”

Three years on from that show of hands and all these plans, groups and yarns have spurred genuine change.

The City now counts 20 Indigenous staff on its books spanning roles everywhere from the aquatic centre to community development.

City of Wanneroo Mayor Linda Aitken said change was happened outside of the City’s offices too.
“What I find most encouraging about this is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people now come out and are proud about saying who they are, she said.

“We won high commendation for a yarning circle at Yanchep College where Victor and Derek Nannup are doing amazing work with the kids that have been disengaged.

“There’s a lot of good stuff coming out of there which is helping the community – so it is not just happening in the City.”

As for the future of the City’s Aboriginal employment efforts, Mr Simms said leadership was the next step.

“One thing we’ve talked about is how do we now look at mentoring, at succession planning, coaching and providing confidence for everybody to be able to aspire the leadership level,” he said.

“For me that is the next target to ensure good, strong representation from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in our leadership team.

“(Minyulo) has been amazing in the way she has influenced our leadership group, supported our teams, our leaders and I could not be more grateful.”

Jobs are now advertised in Indigenous media, TAFE and Job Active Services were engaged, and trainee, cadet and internships were offered.

Interviewers are encouraged to use a yarning style and allow demonstration of skills instead of the traditional question and answer practice.

Once onboard new starters are invited to a support group, flexibility is offered for cultural commitments, and culturally and gender sensitive buddies are identified.

When it boils down to numbers the City’s work has been a success. The Plan targeted an increase from 0.3 per cent to 1.4 per cent of employees identifying as Indigenous by the end of FY2022-23.

That target has been eclipsed, with 1.6 per cent of total staff, or 2.2 per cent of full time equivalent staff, identifying as Indigenous today.

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