By Professor Deen Sanders OAM

Through his eyes…

Professor Deen Sanders OAM is a Worimi Man and Lead Partner at Deloitte. He shares his thoughts for NAIDOC week 2021.

As an Aboriginal person, it is my deeply held belief that every person benefits from living in better relationship with their community and country. So how do we do that in the context of the present day workplace?

For the last 200 years or so we have thought that connecting with community was something you could only do after first meeting your obligations to productively engage with the workplace of labour, machine or desk. Something I hear frequently these days is how COVID lockdowns and the general arc of changing workplace practices are moving us into a new relationship with home, family and community. For many this is a revelation, but it’s of little surprise to Aboriginal Australians because work was not separated from living, it was woven into the fabric of life. Cities were never going to entirely erase the heartbeat of country or overturn hard learned, ancient lessons, about how to thrive. Country, community and family were always at the heart of it.

Both modern workplace theory and my ancient culture tells me that cities and workplaces are also living systems and like all living systems, they should be measured in the strength of their heartbeat, rather than in the mere existence of a heart. Genuinely looking for the joy in Aboriginal culture as an enhancement to your workplace is a powerful way to find that heartbeat – and NAIDOC week is a perfect way in.

You probably have a Reconciliation Action Plan initiative underway for NAIDOC and that is good – but I also encourage you to widen the lens for your workplace. As corporate tools RAP’s can narrow our focus to acts of doing good (asking how can we help our Indigenous community) or worse, become a tool for benefit extraction (what recognition/ brand/ marketing benefit can we get?). There is utility in that approach. It is a good start and Indigenous Australia will strengthen from commercial alignment – but utility is a poor measure of a heartbeat.

I want more from our workplaces than this and I want more for our workplaces than this. Not because Indigenous Australia deserves more (although it does) but because we have gifts for you that extend far beyond the metrics in a RAP, and they will change how we succeed in this country.

NAIDOC is a way into that as a celebration of the diverse cultures and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We invite you to see our history and achievements as not only measured in story, dance and art but also as a way to think about the world, a way to engage in productive relationships and leadership and to thriving in this country.

The 2021 NAIDOC theme of Heal Country, Heal Our Nation is a genuine claim. Healing our nation will come from healing our country. Creating workspaces that recognise the living relationship we have with the space around us and giving permission for people to sit, play and work in relationship to that landscape is the best measure of the strength of your heartbeat.

This article was originally published by Diversity Council Australia.

Read more DCA research on the topic:

Gari Yala (Speak the Truth): Centreing the experiences of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians at work

Gari Yala (Speak the Truth)
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