One of the great things about working at Slack is being part of the Slack for Good initiative which aims to increase the number of historically underrepresented individuals in the tech industry. Here in Australia, we’ve partnered with Indigitek, founded by Liam and his buddy Trent. As soon as I met Liam, I was humbled by his determination to build an authentic partnership and to foster a shared journey for all Australians. The voice of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was one that was sorely missing from this blog. I am so grateful to Liam for sitting with me in a cafe with no air conditioning on a sweltering hot Melbourne day to share not only his story but the story of our country’s history that is so often ignored.
“In 2007, I was the first Aboriginal Australian to work at Microsoft. My experience was frustrating, with people assuming I was disconnected from my culture because I was wearing a suit and working in the city.
The opposite is true. I am a proud descendant of the Gumbaynggirr people of Nambucca Heads in Northern New South Wales and the Wakka Wakka people of Southern Queensland.
I know my people and where they come from. I know my land, my people know and speak our language, I know our stories and I know my elders.
My friend Trent had similar experiences in the workplace. As an Aboriginal man who could physically be mistaken for an Anglo-Australian, he had many difficult conversations with people who questioned his heritage.
In 2015, Trent and I had an idea and so brought together some Aboriginal mates working in tech to share stories at a pub in Redfern. These meetups soon became more regular. Numbers grew, and we started introducing speakers. Eventually, some corporates, including Google, expressed an interest in working alongside us. It started as a passion project but soon formed to officially become Indigitek.
Indigitek’s growth over the past four years has been very organic. We work to foster pathways into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by sharing stories, offering scholarships and partnering with learning institutions and Australian corporates..
Cultural identity is extremely important to Indigitek as an organisation and to all of its members.
Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living off country are also living away from family. For them, coming to the big smoke means moving into a different world. The corporate environment can be very overwhelming and there’s often a strong sense of imposter syndrome. Many young people end up leaving their ‘dream job’ and some go back home to work for community organisations. This is great too, but what happened to that initial desire to work in the corporate space and in tech?
Our country should see Indigenous Australia as an opportunity for economic growth, productivity and participation and Indigitek will work with our community to maintain their identity in new environments.
We have seen some progress in recent years. Many organisations have a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) that sets targets around Indigenous employment and procurement. This means Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have become highly sought after, so the new challenge is how to determine what organisations are authentically participating in this journey. Who is fostering genuine conversations with the community and going above and beyond ticking boxes?
One of the key challenges, and true to my experience, is that organisations and people who are employing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people don’t understand the complexities of being an Aboriginal person – both the trauma you’re experiencing and the expectations you have upon you. When you land a good corporate job, you’re not just doing it for you, you’re also doing it for your family and community – everyone is watching that journey.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have had so much trauma, it makes it difficult to walk in a straight line. People with little exposure or connection to Aboriginal people really flippantly refer to Aboriginal people as drunks or bums. They often don’t stop to consider that the life experiences and ways of life and challenges happening today stems from a history spanning many generations – generations who have lacked the foundation to grow and normalise their presence in this country.
My grandfather fought in World War II. He was shot in the name of this country. Yet he wasn’t allowed to step foot inside an RSL because he was Aboriginal. That is his trauma.
I remember my old man talking to me about trauma when I was a teenager. He didn’t want to pass on his trauma, and the trauma of my grandparents, to me and my brother. He wanted to break the cycle. But for the first time, I realised I had my own trauma.
From the time I was 10, I have so many memories of getting pulled up by the police. When I was about 11, the police accused me of bag snatching. Another time, my brother and I were walking back from the DVD shop and got pushed up against a wall by police and questioned about stolen cars. When I was 23, I was driving down the street in my car and got pulled up by the police who assumed the car was stolen. These experiences became so normal even though I’d never stolen so much as a packet of chewing gum from the corner store. These experiences formed my own trauma.
Often Anglo Australia wants to celebrate Indigenous history from a cliche perspective. They want to celebrate the marketable aspects of 60,000 years of Indigenous culture yet don’t want to understand or deal with the challenges of this relationship. They want us to stay in our box. A perfect example of that is the backlash against Adam Goodes. How did that escalate to the point it did? How are my people becoming victims in our own country – a land we’ve been on for 60,000 years?
Aboriginal people are this country’s traditional owners. Yet, I see third or fourth generation Australians up in arms about immigration. They hold an expectation that new Australians will conform to the ‘Aussie’ way of life. Yet no one conformed to our way of life that had been practiced over 60,000 years. We had to evolve after invasion. I think Australians have to evolve to multicultural Australia.
As an Aboriginal person, I am a firm believer it’s up to me to call things out when someone says something wrong. It’s the only way things can get better and I think things can get better.
I’d love to see successful Aboriginal people inspiring their communities to believe they can be whatever they want to be.
I would love everyone in this country, Indigenous and non-Indigenous – to know of Indigitek. I want Indigenous people to engage with us, to seek out opportunities in STEM and trust that it’s a culturally sensitive pathway. I’d like to see more people taking their skills back out into community. I’d like to see an improvement in remote work opportunities so people don’t have to move to the city but can work on country, creating more thriving hubs and taking the burden off the big cities.
The journey we’re taking as Indigenous people is a shared journey for all Australians. We need to be honest with one another about this country’s history to move forward.
I want Indigitek to be one of many pathways for non-Indigenous people to connect with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to grow our shared impact in this country and shared presence in this world.
My message to non-Indigenous Australia is that we’ve been here 60,000 years, our culture will persist and isn’t going anywhere. Embrace the differences and similarities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as well as those of people from other cultures. Work with us and come on a shared and harmonious journey.”