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Microsoft Australia: driving Indigenous cultural competency in the workplace

Indigenous cultural competency in the workplace

An Indigenous cultural competency session delivered by Arrilla inspired Microsoft Australia’s Managing Director Steven Worrall to share the workplace lessons he learned with Microsoft’s Australian workforce, through the Arrilla Digital product. In a time where Microsoft Australia has undergone significant change, Steven Worrall has cited the roll-out of the Arrilla Digital training product across its workforce as being the “single most positive piece of feedback” he has received.

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KPMG Australia

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Colourful Australian indigenous didgeridoo

In 2016, KPMG’s ongoing dedication to reconciliation and contribution to the Indigenous social and economic landscape, resulted in an investment into Arrilla – a majority Indigenous-owned organisation. Celebrating over 25 years of operation, Arrilla is a leader in providing Indigenous cultural competency training (digital and face-to-face) for the Australian workforce. Arrilla also provides a range of consulting services to government and the private sector.

Led by Djiribul woman and KPMG’s first Indigenous Partner, Shelley Reys AO, Arrilla was engaged by Microsoft Australia to provide its digital product, Arrilla Digital to the tech giant’s staff across Australia.

A key objective was to provide Microsoft Australia’s workforce with a common set of tools and techniques to engage confidently with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues, suppliers, stakeholders and businesses. In order to achieve this, Microsoft Australia required a flexible solution that could be accessed by its workforce (including those with sight or hearing impairments), conveniently and on any device. Moreover, the organisation sought to be able to run analysis on the uptake of the training across its organisation at any time.

The Arrilla Digital product provided the perfect solution, being implemented within Microsoft Australia’s learning management system (LMS) to maximise reach across the organisation.

Addressing the business case

Like many organisations, Microsoft Australia undertook the initiative as an important step in its reconciliation journey, however was impacted significantly by the product’s ability to clearly outline the business case for raising the cultural confidence of its workforce.

Unlike counterparts, Arrilla’s Indigenous cultural competency training offerings are specifically designed for the workplace, recognising the commercial imperative for increasing the cultural knowledge and confidence of workforces. This commercial imperative has resulted in the inclusion of ‘the Business Case’ as a key module of Arrilla Digital.

'Removing the eggshells'

Arrilla has worked with some of the most recognisable organisations across Australia. In Arrilla’s experience, a common organisational challenge, stems from people being afraid to initiate dialogue about Indigenous culture, for fear of getting it 'wrong'. As Reys puts it: "People can be afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing, or using the wrong terms. They don’t want to embarrass themselves or others and so they start walking on eggshells. Our work is to remove the eggshells."

As such, Arrilla seeks to support clients like Microsoft to engage in the dialogue in a safe-to-fail way.

Arrilla Digital rollout

Given the size and location of the Microsoft Australia workforce, Arrilla supplemented its face-to-face Indigenous cultural competency training with its Arrilla Digital product, housed on Microsoft Australia’s LMS. Arrilla uses this approach for many of its clients that are seeking to raise the cultural competence of its workforce. Applying the digital product, enables a consistent message to be disseminated across entire organisations, thereby developing a baseline level of knowledge that will form the basis of cultural change.

Arrilla Digital includes six modules, designed to give users the skills to better engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the workplace. This includes increased knowledge of Indigenous culture when interacting with colleagues, stakeholders or suppliers.

Since launching Arrilla Digital in November 2017, over 85 per cent of Microsoft Australia’s employees have completed the training, with employee feedback indicating its profound personal and professional impact.

Personally for Steven Worrall, the training has fostered an understanding of Indigenous culture, a sensitivity to diversity, and a greater sense of inclusiveness, as well as decreasing unconscious bias.

Commercially, by breaking down stereotypes about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and businesses, it has enabled Microsoft Australia’s staff to more readily engage with Indigenous companies and suppliers. The flow on benefits of this increased economic engagement (e.g. including increased economic activity of Indigenous businesses), will continue to generate positive results across the communities Microsoft works with.

Another key differentiator of the Arrilla Digital product is the inclusion of an Impact Measurement Tool, developed in collaboration with KPMG. This tool enables clients like Microsoft Australia to generate real insights into what their workforces are thinking. The tool further enables the identification of areas in need of particular attention. This data is fundamental for organisations seeking to report on their progress in relation to specific outcomes, or gain investment for future initiatives. For Microsoft Australia, the impact measurement tool has provided them with a tangible point of reference as they continue on their reconciliation journey.

A journey to reconciliation

For Arrilla, the success of the project was further proof of the business case for stronger understanding and empathy towards Indigenous Australians as a core step towards reconciliation, as well as commercial outcomes.

It also highlighted the impact key executives have in driving cultural shifts within organisations. In this case, Microsoft Australia’s Managing Director Steven Worrall was so inspired by Arrilla’s face-to-face training session that he personally committed to the program, and was a key driver and advocate among staff. The Microsoft Australia story is further evidence of the importance for the entire organisation, not just the executive team, to take part.

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