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Developing cultural competency and why it’s important


“As an organisation and as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees, we felt a need to ensure all staff are in a culturally safe environment free of bias.” - Fallon Wanganeen


Louise Ellis and Fallon Wanganeen

Louise Ellis and Fallon Wanganeen


Cultural competency is the ability of an individual or organisation to interact with different cultures in a respectful and effective way.


As one of Australia’s leading companies, ANZ wanted to build Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural awareness for all teams across the bank. Everyone from frontline bankers to executives and team leaders – especially those leaders working directly with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander employees and customers.


In 2020, the Diversity Council Australia's (DCA) Gari Yala (Speak the Truth) report recognised almost one-third of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander employees did not work in culturally safe workplaces. As a committed DCA member, building cultural awareness and safety for staff and customers was critical for ANZ.


When the principals of the cultural competency training are applied correctly, the differences between cultures are used as strengths rather than weaknesses.


Research that becomes meaningful change


We’d spent the last two years developing our latest Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) but we found that only went so far. We realised big, foundational changes were needed to build awareness more broadly.


Questioning everything we’ve done in the past, making sure the intent of new the RAP was right and ensuring we report on the outcomes was all vital in the development of the plan. A program like this is not a ‘tick the box and move on’ situation. What we’re particularly interested in measuring is how what we do improves community awareness and engagement at ANZ.


We required company-wide, structured training on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, history and the impacts of racism. We wanted to create a wider culture that supported Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees, customers and the broader community. We had online training for frontline staff but we realised to create meaningful change, we needed to embed it across the entire organisation.


We developed a comprehensive three-year plan and we are part way through the implementation process. So far more than 750 staff have attended the training and we have many more booked in this year. But we know we still have a way to go.

We are really excited by what the training has already brought to our community and remain optimistic about the benefits it will bring in the future.



Sourcing the right provider


We partnered with The Black Card, an expert First Nations-led organisation whose training is developed by Aboriginal Elders and Educators.


A critical part of the process was to source the right training provider because there was a growing realisation in the bank and the wider community that many Australians went through an education system that failed to teach students our nation’s full history.

According to the recent The Black Card findings report 88 per cent of The Black Card course participants reported motivation to take action and that as result of the training they could confidently engage with First Nations peoples. An overwhelmingly majority of participants (92 per cent) felt more aware of misconceptions of the history and experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


The Black Card findings report also shows the program turns first timers into advocates and ensures employees can appropriately respond (or mitigate) conflict between First Nations and non-First Nations peoples.


We knew there was an opportunity at ANZ to educate people about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and history from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives. And, in doing so, provide a truly inclusive service to all Australians.



Why is it important for organisations to support workers’ First Nations identities?


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples make up roughly three per cent of the Australian population, with 97 per cent non-Indigenous people.


Historically this three per cent has shouldered the load of work to advance Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs, reconciliation and education. We are now at a point in time where the three per cent needs the support of the 97 per cent to continue to progress in an impactful and effective way moving forward.


This has shifted in the last few years but there is still much work to do. As an organisation and as employees we felt a need to ensure all of our people are in a culturally safe environment free of bias. We went to great lengths to make clear this was being done for and not to ANZ employees.


By educating our employees we achieve a culturally safe environment for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees and for our customers and community. We have so much to learn from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and we become a better organisation by investing in this training.


Anecdotal feedback indicates the training has changed employees' lives and helped open their eyes to the experience of others. We’re also seeing non-First Nations employees become better allies and by spreading the word about what they’ve learned, they got others excited.


Meaningful change can come from you


Many of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander trainees stay on and work with us on a permanent basis. We think that’s in part a result of them feeling they are in a culturally safe environment where there is an understanding and a deep respect for their culture.


We use our own experience as an example for others in the community who may want to join ANZ. People within ANZ are confident in saying this is a good place to work, a safe place where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is understood by your peers. The beauty of that is we can say ANZ is a place where you can implement meaningful change and help to pay it forward.


If we can do it, anyone can.


Louise Ellis is the Inclusion and Talent Manager and Fallon Wanganeen is the Inclusion Program Manager at ANZ 


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