Australian-first research on Indigenous women’s working lives reveals Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mums and carers most at risk at work

A new report out today has for the first time examined the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women inside Australian workplaces, revealing that Indigenous mums and carers are the most likely group to experience discrimination.

The report is a collaboration between the UTS Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research, the Diversity Council Australia (DCA) and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA). It’s a follow-up to the ground-breaking Gari Yala (Speak the Truth) report released last year.

In 2020, the Gari Yala project documented the workplace experiences and recommendations of over 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers. This follow-up report analyses the original survey results by gender.

The findings reveal that Indigenous women who are carers are experiencing ‘triple jeopardy’ - that is, the combination of these three aspects of their identity are amplifying their experiences of discrimination and exclusion at work. These Indigenous women with caring responsibilities are:

  • more likely to feel unsafe in the workplace,
  • more likely to carry extra expectations to make their workplace culturally sensitive and engaged, and
  • less supported when they encounter racism and unfair treatment.

The 2021 gendered Gari Yala report also highlights the need for managers to create safe workplaces for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers. Leading organisations who prioritise inclusion and diversity see less staff turnover and higher rates of employee satisfaction for Indigenous staff.

On the other hand, women in culturally unsafe workplaces were over 10 times more likely to be often or very often treated unfairly at work than Indigenous women who work in culturally safe businesses; and around 20 times more likely to hear racial or ethnic slurs.

Report author, Dr Olivia Evans, explained that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are underrepresented in the Australian workforce and this new research goes some way towards explaining why that may be the case.

“This report provides a deeper understanding of the intersection of gender and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity in the Australian workplace. The results demonstrate the shared experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women in the workplace, but also highlight how these experiences diverge,” Dr Evans explained.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women had significantly less support in culturally unsafe situations and had the highest cultural load. These results suggest that trends of women’s disadvantage and marginalisation in the workplace are also present in the workplace experiences related to culture and identity.”

The report also provides a series of recommendations for employers to centre Indigenous Australians’ voices and to create workplace inclusion for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

Industry Professor, Jumbunna Institute, Nareen Young said: “The Jumbunna Institute is proud to build upon the work of Gari Yala and partner to share gendered insights into the Indigenous employment sector. This report provides insights into the barriers Indigenous women face at work and the need for better support mechanisms for Indigenous women in the workplace.”

DCA CEO, Lisa Annese, said: “DCA is really proud to be part of this important project. This report demonstrates once again that women with intersectional identities face particular barriers in the workforce, and how important it is that workplaces take the time to understand the diverse experiences of different women.”

Director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Mary Wooldridge said: “This report is an important milestone: the first in-depth research into the experiences of Indigenous women in the workplace. It helps to pave a way for employers to understand what is happening for Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander women inside businesses, and what must be done to recognise their unique experiences to ensure they are supported and enabled as valued employees”

Media contacts

Interview opportunities are available with report author, Dr Olivia Evans, or the Jumbunna, DCA or WGEA spokespersons:

DCA: Diane Falzon PR - 0430 596 699

WGEA:  Shelby Houghton, WGEA Media and Communications Manager – 0487 325 857