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.

Pre-planning – 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.

    What is the value to the organization

  • Be aware of making assumptions - knowing enough about the Indigenous community to think you understand, but not enough to know you’re wrong. Understanding the Indigenous demographic has a host of cultural nuances will prevent trying to fit a “square into a circle.”
  • Building trust at the outset is crucial. Expect the default mindset could be one of mistrust when engaging with any new community/culture – ask from the outset what your organization can do to demonstrate trustworthiness. This is not a business to business endeavour. It is your business interacting with a specific community/culture.

    Building trust



    Business to culture

  • Seek guidance from an elder to help with your planning and strategy. Explore options to keep the elder 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 and consent. Be prepared to adapt.
  • Consider mutually beneficial partnership agreements with Indigenous community stakeholders such as 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.
  • 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.
  • Avoid having any outreach be seen as potentially negative by being proactive in using cultural awareness training and Indigenous teachings to help uncover do’s and don’ts.
  • Be careful of a one-size-fits-all approach. Every community is different. Every company is different.

    Where do we start

  • Start small (one or two new recruits) to work out any challenges and then build on your successes.

    Start small

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.
  • Indigenize content such as job descriptions, outreach and awareness to be more relevant. Get help from someone within the community.

    Indigenizing your approach

  • Contract with a recruiting organization within the Indigenous community to help identify qualified candidates as they relate to your specific organizational needs. Ask this organization to provide help and guidance, especially around cultural nuances.
  • 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 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.

    Interview Strategies

Working together – setting new employees up for success

  • Set up regular and consistent communication touchpoints so that there is ongoing discussion among all stakeholders. Ensure that after each discussion, all stakeholders share the same understanding of what was decided.
  • Include land acknowledgement in 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.

    Set clear expectations

  • 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 grooming, clothing, and use of workspace.
  • Discuss the process for discipline and how to avoid it, as well as who can support them should it happen.
  • Talk specifically about integrity. Explain how involving others in taking sides can make things much worse. 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.

    Collaborating with community

  • 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.
  • Each employee should be supported to be successful on the job in a way that works for them.

    Support success

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.

    Authentic leadership

  • Consider cultural differences that may be seen as disrespectful, such as prolonged eye contact or raising your voice.

    Be open to differences

  • 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.

    Fear of success

  • 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 auntie passes away, they may not technically be entitled to bereavement leave. But if the auntie 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. This could include field activities such as sweat lodge ceremonies, medicine walks, or Indigenous crafts or teachings.

    Adjusting to culture on both sides

  • 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.
  • Require your Employee and Family Benefit Provider to 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.

    Is your organization ready?

  • 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.”

    Avoiding tokenism

Mary Ann Baynton Director of Collaboration and Strategy, Workplace Strategies for Mental Health would like to thank E.J. Fontaine (Amik Inc.) , Eva Wilson Fontaine (Amik Inc.) , Mike Schwartz, Christie Spencer (Norway House Cree Nation Health Centre of Excellence) , Sherman Kong (Amik Inc.) , Nicole Stewart (Payworks) and Sylvie Hunt-Lesage (Canada Life) , for their contributions.