Promoting cultural safety when Black Lives Matter

Now’s the time to make your workplace as inclusive as possible. Luckily, Carla and Munya are here to help.  

“If I was to go and work in, say, the Australian embassy in London,” says Evolve Co-Director Carla Rogers, “I would expect to see some representation of Australia.”

The Black Lives Matter movement has provoked some deep reflection, and we’re discussing cultural safety, what that means in real terms. 

She continues.

“You know, I’d expect to see a map of Australia, and I’d expect to see maybe some Aboriginal art. But if I went into the Australian embassy and there was none of that, and it was all it was just a map of England and the British flag…” She pauses a moment, “I might think ‘wow, have I come to the right place? This is not the Australian embassy. It’s got to be something else.’”

Cultural safety is a difficult concept to pin down. But it’s crucial. 

When achieved correctly, it has the ability to make employees feel like they truly belong, and not even notice or consider it at all. Done poorly, it can make them feel invisible. 

It’s also a phrase that often comes up in conversations about Diversity and Inclusion. And with her example, Carla has just hit it on the head.

So what is a culturally safe workplace?

“I think as humans, we all have common values and needs, and one of those is to feel that you’re welcome at your workplace, that you’re valued,” says Carla. “And I remember reading once that the highest stress at work comes from when you have different values to those of your workplace. So I think it’s about everyone feeling welcome and included, which in turn creates a culturally safe working environment. And there’s a whole range of different ways of doing that.”

Thanks to COVID-19, the Australian office certainly doesn’t look the way it did six months ago. And more recently, following the global reaction to the Death of George Floyd, there have also been changes – big changes – to the way we talk about culture, and race, and oppression. Both of these things have had a knock-on effect on workplaces.

And while there are plenty of confronting, necessary conversations to be had about racism, the great thing about the world right now is that people are exploring new ways to incorporate cultural safety into a working environment.

So what are the ingredients of a culturally safe workplace? And more importantly, how might these make a First Nations person feel?

A roadmap to cultural safety

We’re looking at a cascade of colour: rich yellows, pastel blues, purples, pinks, greens. There are rust tones, sharp teal and deep brown.

Developed by David Horton, the AIATSIS Indigenous Languages map shows a breathtakingly different view of Australia. Each one of the approximately 250 coloured shapes represents a different Indigenous language, tribal or nation group. Not only is it beautiful to look at, it’s an important reminder of the incredible diversity of our First Peoples.

It does beg the question: how might Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians feel if you display it in your workplace?

Luckily, we can turn to Co-Director Aunty Munya Andrews. Munya is a Bardi Elder, originally hailing from the Kimberley Region of WA. On Horton’s map, Bardi stands proud, a deep teal triangle surrounded by sea.

“I would feel immediately at home,” muses Munya when we ask. “That’s the representation of my land and my people up there on the wall. And I know that other Aboriginal people have that same, strong reaction as well.”

Will people think it’s just an empty gesture?

If you’re a non-Indigenous person, you could be forgiven for wondering if these kinds of gestures could be interpreted as tokenism, that you’re just appearing to pay lip service to a cause. Munya clarifies.

“They think, ‘hey, these people might be culturally aware…’ – they’re not totally sure,” she adds. “But it’s just the fact that we’re being acknowledged in that way that’s really important. So I like to see that, wherever I go, and I know that it would make other Aboriginal people feel comfortable.”

It’s clear that the potential reward vastly overshadows any risk of coming off as insincere. Of course, ‘walking your talk’ will help.

So what about displaying flags at work?

“That’s really important,” says Munya, “and once again, Aboriginal people are very comfortable with that, and Torres Strait Islanders, if their flag is flying as well.”

Another practice that is emerging into workplaces is the performance of an Acknowledgement of Country – a simple gesture that can go a long way to acknowledging our First Australians. (If you’d like to include one at your next event and aren’t sure how, here’s Carla with some tips.)

We ask Munya for her thoughts. “Again, that’s a very important thing to do, because it makes our mob feel very, very comfortable.”

Though that’s not the only reason.

 “When I’m somewhere else, on someone else’s country, and I hear they’re being acknowledged, that’s very important to me too. It feels very respectful.”

To a non-Indigenous person, this statement is both simple and revelatory. Anybody who asks only to be respected, acknowledged, addressed – he or she is not asking for much. How have we ended up here? Why has something so fundamental become something that needs to be asked for?

It defies belief.

And that’s why it’s important for workplaces to do what they can.

“…in the past we’ve been invisible in a lot of situations,” says Munya sagely, “and so it’s just another visual reminder that we are here as a people – and again, it’s about respect.”

Every bit counts.

Our tips for a culturally safe workplace

  • Display the Indigenous Languages Map and if you can, learn to pronounce the names of individual nations
  • Display the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags  
  • Incorporate an Acknowledgement of Country into your next event
  • Give staff the option of incorporating an Acknowledgement of Country into their email signatures
  • Display posters of Aboriginal people or art
  • Give a special boardroom or meeting room an Aboriginal name, or name it after an Aboriginal person

If you’d like any support incorporating any of these into your workplace, we’d be delighted to help – just email

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