SUMMARY: Employers are beginning to hire more Indigenous employees. More Indigenous people are obtaining post-secondary education and training. This combination would suggest an expanding middle class of Indigenous people with disposable income. This fast-growing demographic presents businesses with a new market to access for growth opportunities.

Whether you are engaging the Indigenous community for purely business reasons, or if you want to be more inclusive, the following lists can help your organization learn from others who have done this successfully.

Reflection – being ready to do it right

  • Establish a concrete business case for proactively including more employees from the Indigenous community. A short-term philanthropic endeavour is less likely to be sustainable.
  • Be aware of making assumptions - knowing enough about the Indigenous community to think you understand, but not enough to know you’re wrong.
  • Expect that the default mindset could be one of mistrust when engaging with any new community – ask from the outset what your organization can do to demonstrate trustworthiness.
  • Recruit an Elder to help with your planning and strategy. Consider keeping them on as a support for other Indigenous employees going forward. They can help by being available to talk, support solutions, and bring a healthy spirit into the workplace.
  • Draw up a proposed agreement/plan/strategy and share with the Indigenous community for consultation. Be prepared to adapt.
  • Consider mutually beneficial partnership agreements with Indigenous community stakeholders, such as Indigenous-run recruitment firms or training providers. Learn what mutually beneficial means to them before offering a proposal.
  • Anticipate any systemic barriers, such as how and where you recruit, and try to remove or mitigate them in advance. See challenges as opportunities to learn.
  • Recognize that some applicants may have barriers, such as access to childcare, lack of family support, transportation challenges, no money for work clothes, no lunch money, or the experience of previous trauma. More information is available through Workplace Trauma.
  • Clearly communicate your plan to existing employees and unions in advance.
  • Including naysayers internally and externally can be difficult but rewarding. Their inclusion in consultation ensures the widest possible consensus on your strategy.
  • Before you begin, use cultural awareness training and Indigenous teachings to help uncover potential challenges and missteps.
  • Be careful of a one-size-fits-all approach. Every community is different. Every company is different.

Recruiting – attracting talent

  • Consider potential job openings and review your current hiring criteria. Determine what is absolutely necessary for the job. Specifically, look for where life experience or soft skills can be equivalent to formal education and adjust your criteria accordingly.
  • Most employers have different approaches to recruiting I.T. staff from the approach they would use for sales staff. In the same way, make content relatable to the relevant Indigenous culture of potential candidates. This can include job descriptions, outreach, and organizational promotion. Hire experts from within the Indigenous community to help ensure content is appropriate.
  • Contract with a recruiting organization within the Indigenous community to help identify qualified candidates.
  • Sponsor a pre-employment session where each potential candidate would get an understanding of the essential skills required as well as the organization’s demands, culture, and norms. This can help manage expectations and improve the fit between applicants and your organization.
  • Begin a youth internship program to help increase exposure to Indigenous community members for existing employees while helping Indigenous youth learn about the workplace.
  • Offer an interview opportunity to all Indigenous community members who attend your job fair. This could provide a valued experience for both the interviewers and interviewees.

Orientation – setting new employees up for success

Many of these suggestions would be supportive of any new employee and can be integrated into your existing orientation approach. The following list was developed specifically by and for those within Indigenous communities:

  • Include land acknowledgement in the orientation to demonstrate understanding and respect for cultural history and demonstrate an act towards reconciliation.
  • The orientation should be comprehensive, fun, and dynamic.
  • Complete the orientation promptly after hiring to support employee engagement and effectiveness.
  • Ensure the orientation helps build trust by getting to know each employee from the start.
  • Explicitly explain to each new hire why their job is important and how it contributes to the organizational goals.
  • Make sure your organization’s mission and values are clearly reflected in the orientation and in the actual work itself.
  • Provide a specific explanation of how a violation of organizational values will be addressed.
  • Be clear about what is appropriate in terms of interactions, appearance, and use of workspace.
  • Discuss the process for discipline and how to avoid it, as well as who can support them should it happen.
  • Ensure everyone knows who they should go to when they need help with resolving a work issue.
  • Explicitly share how to speak up respectfully about any issue to mitigate fear of coming forward for help or concerns.
  • Create a culture of ‘trial and learning’ rather than ‘trial and error’. Set the expectation that we can always learn to do better.
  • Teach problem solving and critical thinking to all new hires. Guide people to make sound decisions and recognize when they need to check in with others. Make this objective rather than personal.
  • Seek out experts from the Indigenous community to help your organization support and encourage employees in advance of any need to do so.
  • Check in regularly on new hires for at least 6 months as part of the orientation.
  • Match each employee with a mentor (Indigenous or not) who is sincere, respectful, and patient. Allow time for weekly touch base between mentor and employee.

Management Approaches – establishing trust and resolving issues

  • Be patient and friendly. Build trust by taking things slowly, day by day. Start with “Hi” and build to “How are you?” Keep trying and follow through.
  • Consider cultural differences that may be seen as disrespectful, such as prolonged eye contact or raising your voice.
  • Identify barriers to learning. Ask the individual how they learn best.
  • Look at accommodations related to trauma and distress. Don’t presume to know what is needed. Ask, Where do we go from here?
  • Consider the different cultural approaches to career advancement. Some may not ask for a promotion, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested.
  • Ask each employee what they see as their future role to understand what might motivate them.
  • Consider their preferred type of recognition. This can include sweet grass pins, food, or a simple thank you.
  • Consider different perspectives and demonstrate respect and acceptance. For example, if someone’s aunt passes away, they may not technically be entitled to bereavement leave. But if the aunt was integral to their life, an exception could be made. Be open to listening and understanding.

Organizational Approaches – creating an inclusive culture

  • Include cultural awareness and inclusivity training for all employees.
  • Consider offering remote training for those who live on reserves or other remote locations.
  • Ensure discipline is fair and consistent for all, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or any other characteristics.
  • Work with your Employee and Family Benefit Provider so they offer counselors who are particularly effective and sensitive for Indigenous employees.
  • Consider Indigenous strategies to help support success such as a quiet room, sharing circles, clearing the air, and smudging.
  • Review some of the Indigenous Teachings at Work.
  • Encourage mindfulness and positive intention among all employees.
  • Become familiar with the culturally sensitive supports and resources available from within your employees’ Indigenous community before they are needed. This can include Elders, counselors, and agencies.
  • Be mindful of “tokenism”, which The Free Dictionary defines as “The practice of hiring or appointing a token number of people from underrepresented groups in order to deflect criticism or comply with affirmative action rules.”