Striving towards Reconciliation in Corporate Australia

Jacqui Bainbridge
About the author : Jacqui Bainbridge

Head of Indigenous Affairs, Diversity and Inclusion

Published on : 8/18/21
  • Often when discussion reconciliation, corporate Australia focus’ on their recruitment of Indigenous peoples. The magic 3% (to represent the population of Indigenous peoples) is a number that gets thrown around as something to aspire to.

    And while I am not saying that recruitment isn’t important, because it damn well is, what I am saying is that if we are serious about reconciliation, there is so many other ways that we can (and should) focus to deliver real outcomes.


    Research by the Department of Industry, Science, Energy & Resources shows as little as 0.6 percent of Australia’s 2.1 million businesses are Indigenous owned. But the research also shows that for every $1 spent with Indigenous businesses, the social return on that investment is above $4! Research also shows that Indigenous businesses are more likely to employ Indigenous peoples. So it begs the question, why wouldn’t corporate Australia, if they were genuine about reconciliation, not only focus on direct employment, but also indirect through their supply chain.


    Indigenous businesses have historically been disadvantaged in Australia because of a stigma they don’t have the same capability or capacity as non-Indigenous businesses.

    To bridge a gap which has been pervasive for such a long time takes more than just one company to muck-in. Australian businesses need to understand their role in bringing Indigenous business into corporate Australia. In doing so, we’re breaking down preconceived notions about Indigenous businesses which don’t reflect their capability and reliability as strategic partners and commercially savvy organisations.

    Beyond monetary support and investment, we must invest our time and experience into Indigenous partners, suppliers and employees, looking beyond the transactional. Doing so helps young Indigenous businesses and workers to learn successful business practices, and in turn, helps deliver a strong supply chain into our own organisations.

    Sodexo’s approach to working with Indigenous business treats the relationship as a partnership. Led by our Indigenous Leadership Team and heavily supported by our Procurement Team, we always consider the cultural nuances of our Indigenous vendors, how they operate and what their needs are. For other looking to establish an Indigenous procurement strategy into their business or team, Sodexo has identified five steps for achieving positive partnerships with Indigenous business and positioning them for success:

    1. Ensure support and buy-in across all levels of management and across all divisions
    2. Build a strategy that is reflective of our organisation’s capabilities and limitations
    3. Resource the team effectively. This involves creating dedicated roles within the organisation to advocate for long-term investment in Indigenous business
    4. Partner with your partners, from clients to suppliers. By creating a dialogue around what Indigenous businesses our clients are working with, where they are having success or challenges, we can carve out the pathway towards a successful working relationship
    5. Provide sustained work. Providing this certainty allows Indigenous businesses to experience sustainable and long-term growth

    As I have previously mentioned, this successful approach saw us close to four times our RAP target last FY. But continuing to grow our Indigenous business pipeline, it helps us diversify our suppliers, it helps the community grow and develop and it helps Indigenous peoples find employment outcomes in their local regions.


    Sodexo ChefAs I mentioned, often when corporate Australia is on their reconciliation journey, the number of 3% as a target towards employment is established. At Sodexo, we have made a much higher target of 10% and while we have work to do, we are well on our way at 6.5%. Similar to how we have found engaging and working with Indigenous businesses as a successful way to deliver procurement spend, we have also consider strategies to ensure Indigenous people are able to gain meaningful employment within our organisation, and ones that I believe every business can put in place:

    1. Localise recruitment processes

      By localising recruitment processes and understanding the cultural nuances of different communities, we can embolden Indigenous applicants with the confidence to interview well and communicate with a recruiter. In some places, like in Weipa, we encourage Indigenous applicants into our office to complete their online application. That way, if they don’t understand the question, they have someone there who can help them immediately.

    2. Provide flexibility and support

      Transportation issues, as well as family, cultural and community commitments may make it difficult for new employees to keep up with work commitments. While employees are still expected to perform, we still need to position and equip them for success.
      Where operationally possible, Sodexo provides flexibility around rostering and works with new employees to create an approach which is mutually beneficial. We also provide cultural leave for employees to ensure that they can attend to family and sorry business.

    3. Simplify pre-employment processes

      Getting up to speed with a new company can be daunting, particularly when there are extensive induction processes involved. New employees from remote communities may also not have the same technological capabilities as recruits from the city. It’s important to partner with new employees during this time, providing them with the assistance they need to excel during the probationary period. Buddy’s, Indigenous mentors and having face to face inductions has been integral to our success in on-boarding Indigenous employees appropriately from the outset.

    By partnering with Indigenous businesses, employees, and communities, we can continue towards a reconciled future. I envision a future where we’re all are assessed on our skills, expertise, and work ethic, rather than our diverse backgrounds and characteristics. Yes, there’s still work to do, but it’s an achievable future if we’re all prepared to play our part.

    Since joining Sodexo 5 months ago as the Head of Indigenous Affairs, Diversity and Inclusion, I just keep commenting how thrilled I am to have joined Sodexo. As someone who has worked in this space for the better part of nearly 10 years, it's a refreshing change to be a part of company that invests time, money resources and genuine efforts into promoting diversity and inclusion and ‘walking the talk’.

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