I grew up seeing racism and prejudice all around me, faced by myself, my siblings, friends and family. But I quickly learned that as a fairer-skinned Indigenous person, I didn’t face the same level or types of prejudice that darker family members and friends did.
I’ve struggled throughout my life with what it means to be Indigenous, and I don’t always know whether to introduce myself as Aboriginal or not. It’s common for people to lump Indigenous people together, but the differences between us can be vast.
My experience as a Telstra employee has been great though. I think there’s a good balance here between supporting Indigenous employees, while also treating them to the same as other employees.
Being myself, and not “that Indigenous employee”
What being an Indigenous-friendly organisation means to me is being able to work in a place where “diverse” employees don’t have their background in the spotlight. I’ve also seen the passion of employees across the organisation when discussing issues faced by marginalised groups of people.
I believe that creating a space like this is only possible when an organisation is committed to hiring diversely, and puts it into effect, rather than just pledging to do it.
I’ve seen Telstra make a concerted effort to reach out to Indigenous employees in an effort to combat long-term discrimination. I’ve particularly appreciated that they’ve managed to do this without making Indigenous staff feel tokenised. There’s a genuine desire to instill a diverse workforce for the benefits that this brings, not just to tick the box for diversity.
Embracing Indigenous culture with compassion and energy
We have an Employee Representative Group (ERG) called Dharrang, that represents Indigenous employees and helps coordinate events like Reconciliation Week. I was relieved to find that this wasn’t token representation – the energy levels around these events are high, and both colleagues and my leaders are very supportive and eager to learn.
The general attitude of the people around me in the office is very comfortable. Recently I was talking with a group of non-indigenous friends and the topic transitioned to Indigenous communities in rural areas. It was rewarding to see the compassion they had for Indigenous people, and that they were respectful of the many challenges Indigenous people have faced throughout our recent history. The amount of intentional and unintentional discrimination we’ve experienced means that even simple compassion like this is a breath of fresh air.
My past experiences with Indigenous stereotypes
Over the years, I’ve noticed that when someone learns I’m Aboriginal, they will almost certainly ask all about my family history. I can tell that people are usually trying to figure out what ‘percentage’ Aboriginal I am.
The less compassionate people tend to lead the conversation to support services. It’s the age-old stereotype that extends into a wide misperception that Indigenous people receive a free car, house, education, everything. Because of this, I have often foregone government support like Centrelink that my friends of all races receive. It’s almost to prove a point (mostly to myself) that my successes are truly my own.
More dangerously, I’ve faced profiling by the police and other authorities. Even when I know I’ve done nothing wrong; these situations are an uneasy experience. I’ve been pulled for “random” drug tests despite being innocent and there being zero evidence. I’ve been pulled over by police when carrying Indigenous passengers and am always given a harder time than with non-Indigenous ones.
Carving a space for myself as an Indigenous employee does mean championing inclusivity as an institution – but at other times, it’s meant knowing when to pick my battles, finding a place that will recognise me without caveats, and letting me be. It’s in this way that my time with Telstra has been consistently positive.
You can learn more about Telstra’s focus on diversity and inclusion on the Telstra Careers website.