Successfully navigate your company’s Reconciliation Action Plans

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Be meaningful in your commitment. Indigenous businesses are around 100 times more likely to employ Indigenous people than non-Indigenous enterprises, a staggering statistic. But equality of employment is just one element – it needs to go beyond just staff, and into the heart of everything companies do and stand for, writes David Mallett, Founder & Managing Director, Yanun Project Services

Many organisations have Reconciliation Action Plans in place, a framework towards creating social and economic opportunities for First Nations Australians. But what does this mean in practice? As the Government sets out new frameworks for Closing the Gap, progressive leaders are looking at ways to act. But how do you ensure you’re rolling out a plan that will have desired impact.

I worked within a number of organisations before launching my own company, Yanun Project Services, and saw how many responsible businesses were implementing Plans. As a proud Ngarrindjeri man who mentors a number of young Indigenous people into careers, I know first-hand what is just hot air, and what actually contributes to actionable change. The main things to consider are:

  • Longevity
  • Mutual benefit
  • The bottom line
  • Enriching and empowering lives

The most important thing about developing a RAP is to do it for the right reasons. If you’re doing it just to tick a box and appear more attractive externally, it’s doomed to fail.

Here are my tips to making it work:

Ensure that your organisation has a sense for what ‘reconciliation’ means.
Reconciliation Australia refers to it as an ‘ongoing journey’ that at its heart is ‘about strengthening relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous peoples, for the benefit of all Australians’.  Brainstorm how ‘reconciliation’ can be defined in simple terms, and what will demonstrate achievement? Familiarise yourself with the Five dimensions of reconciliation to build an understanding of why all elements are essential for progress.

Consider whether you need a RAP.
In some cases other policies might be better – such as an Aboriginal Employment Strategy or Indigenous Participation Plan. Research why a RAP will make a difference, to your company and the wider community. Then identify what type of plan is most appropriate: Reflect, Innovate, Stretch and Elevate. You can read more about the different types here.

Involve.
Include influential figures from across the business. Approach Indigenous employees first, and then put a call out to the wider group. There needs to be buy-in from a diverse group, so they understand why it is important and how it benefits everyone internally, and externally.

Bear in mind however, that while you should seek input of any Indigenous employees, it is not their responsibility to develop and deliver it. The way I look at it, if somebody burnt your house down on purpose, it would not be you as the house owner responsible for putting a plan in place to reconcile the relationship.

Testing a draft plan on First Nations people inside and outside your organisation is a great idea but do not lean on them to do the legwork.

Challenge yourself to look beyond the ‘easy wins’, and where, for example, you can support Indigenous entrepreneurs by placing trust in them to deliver important business functions.

Find out what base you are coming from
Before you start making a plan to create change, establish where you currently sit. Analyse the proportion of Indigenous staff members, suppliers and contractors you have.

Consider the efforts you are currently undertaking. Running events during NAIDOC week, for example is valuable, yet it’s not just about communicating Reconciliation on awareness days, but continuously. Constantly reinforce how people can get involved. Beyond employment, look at supplier bases, history, financial backing and philanthropic efforts. Explore every facet of your business.

Develop your action plan
A RAP is not a theoretical document, it should be a detailed proposal for what you have decided to do and achieve. It can include a range of things, such as:

  • Small, local events to support local Indigenous people
  • Mentorship schemes to support First Nations people to progress in your industry
  • Contracting Indigenous companies to engage as suppliers.

Be meaningful in your commitment. Indigenous businesses are around 100 times more likely to employ Indigenous people than non-Indigenous enterprises, a staggering statistic. But equality of employment is just one element – it needs to go beyond just staff, and into the heart of everything companies do and stand for. If you outsource to an Aboriginal travel company for example, that’s good, but challenge yourself to look beyond the ‘easy wins’, and where, for example, you can support Indigenous entrepreneurs by placing trust in them to deliver important business functions.

Set SMART goals
(Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound), that aspire to demonstrate material change. Ensure accountability for achievement directly lies with strategic leaders in the business, and isn’t just delegated to someone without the authority to execute them.

Constantly reinforce how people can get involved. Beyond employment, look at supplier bases, history, financial backing and philanthropic efforts. Explore every facet of your business.

Refer to Reconciliation Australia.
Ultimately it can only be referred to as a RAP if it has been endorsed by the body. This takes time, so factor this in.

The most important thing about developing a RAP is to do it for the right reasons. If you’re doing it just to tick a box and appear more attractive externally, it’s doomed to fail. Be honest about your organisation’s track record when it comes to Indigenous engagement and realistically consider how change can occur. By reflecting on how all employees, regardless of level or responsibility can make a difference, collectively, we can move forward with meaning and impact.