Closing the employment gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians requires access to broad, current and quantitative data.

In the first session of CEDA’s Empowering First Nations Peoples series, panellist Shelley Cable, CEO of Generation One, Minderoo Foundation highlighted the lack of accessible data related to the Indigenous employment landscape.

“We don’t have a problem with data, we actually often have the wrong types of data,” said Cable.

Shelley Cable, CEO Generation One, Minderoo Foundation – Photo credit: Ben Horgan

“We know what the most popular baby names were for 2020, we know how many Krispy Kreme doughnuts get sold every day … We also know how many Indigenous Australians are incarcerated and in jail every night.

“I don’t understand why we don’t have Indigenous employment data as well.”

According to the Federal Government’s 2020 Closing the Gap report, the employment rate for Indigenous Australians over the last decade is approximately 50 per cent, while for non-Indigenous Australians over the same period it is close to 75 per cent. 

But we don’t know how Indigenous Australia has been affected by COVID-19, for instance. The available data in this area is not nuanced or current. In order to work towards employment parity, we first need to access information around the nuances of indigenous participation in the labour force. 

Adam Davids, Director of Learning and Innovation at CareerTrackers, cited a report by The Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR), stating that Indigenous Australians are “half as likely to work in professional jobs and managerial jobs” than non-Indigenous Australians. 

Adam Davids, Director of Learning and Innovation at CareerTrackers

“We also know that in higher education, Indigenous students are dropping out of university and statistically, approximately only four out of every ten indigenous students that start a degree will finish,” said Davids.

Organisations work to hit targets of one, two and three per cent in Indigenous workforce participation. But employers need access to a comprehensive view of Indigenous employment, if they are to understand the challenges and the opportunities.

Cable highlighted two ways to solve this data gap. The first is a top down approach, where the Federal Government and the ABS work to integrate existing data sources more comprehensively.

“It could also look like the Workplace Gender Equality Agency expanding its remit to capture not only gender data, but actual diversity and cultural diversity data as well.”

Cable’s other suggestion involves a bottom-up approach — empowering workplaces to solve the data gap themselves, by incorporating diversity and culture research into the company’s strategy “one employee at a time”.

This means providing employees with a clear understanding of why you are collecting their data and how you plan on using it. 

“The number of people who don’t feel comfortable asking their staff whether or not they’re Indigenous — that is a data gap very much so in your own organisation. And I completely understand the sensitivities around it,” said Cable.

“But for me, if we can’t actually close the employment data gap one workplace at a time, we’re not going to be able to close it at a national level either.”

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