Bridging Gaps: How Two-Way Learning Enhances Inclusivity


    Reporting from National Reconciliation Week live event 24 May 2024.  

    Every Australian organisation has the opportunity to make meaningful impacts by strengthening relations between First Nations and non-Indigenous people, said AICD General Manager members and clients, Kathryn Marshall GAICD, moderator of the National Reconciliation Week 2024: Bridging Perspectives — Two-way learning in governance live event held by the AICD on 24 May.

    The National Reconciliation Week 2024 theme was “Now More Than Ever” and Marshall stressed how two-way learning can pave the way for more inclusive and effective governance practices.

    Kamilaroi woman Carlyn Waters GAICD, a director at Cultivate Indigenous, said this year’s theme was a reminder of the importance of having Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in decision-making roles so their voices and lived experiences can be heard and included.

    “It’s not good enough to just hear us,” she said. “We’ve got to do something about what we’re hearing. There is a deep sense of responsibility and obligation I have as an Aboriginal person and I suspect a lot of people who are in director positions on boards also feel they have that obligation. It puts us on notice that we have the ability to do better as directors of boards, as managers of people, as leaders of industry.”

    Waters said that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people bring a raft of skills and knowledge to boards and “our perspectives and lived experience help deepen our decision-making and the information we use as directors in our decision-making”.

    Non-indigenous panellist Margot Richardson GAICD, a non-executive director at Kokatha Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC (registered native title body corporate), said building a talent pipeline to educate directors about the value of having First Nations on the board was needed.

    “Every board is working on land that First Nations consider very important,” she said. “There are so many talented First Nations out there. They should be considered and looked for. They shouldn’t have to go looking.”

    Two-way learning

    Richardson emphasised that when First Nations board members speak, they should be allowed to have a voice. “Don’t cut them off — have respect for thoughts and comments,” she said. “Don’t expect them to speak for all First Nations people. They are there with a range of skills and are the same as every other director in the room.”

    She added that the environmental, social and governance (ESG) consideration has always been there for the First Nations boards, but for non-Indigenous board members, a lot of learning still has to happen. However, all directors could learn from First Nations boards to slow things down and take more time for discussion and decision-making.

    “Assuming everyone has read the papers and moving quickly to make a decision doesn’t work so well for First Nations people and it’s important to bring it into every boardroom,” said Richardson.

    First Nations directors who sit on Western boards, can bring back learnings to their First Nations boards.

    “What we bring back from mainstream or Western boards is the focus on some of the governance issues of crisis management or cybersecurity,” said Waters. “It’s the focus on investment portfolios and finance. I want to be using that information and discussing it with talented directors and mainstream boards that are willing to share their knowledge and help grow the capability of myself, for example, as an Indigenous woman.”

    Modifying board processes

    Changing the way board papers are presented would be one of the easiest ways to ensure a more inclusive process for First Nations people, noted Waters.

    “On the template of our board papers, add a line that asks what the paper is addressing and how it’s going to impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities,” she said. “Don’t accept a ‘not applicable, nothing to see here’ response on those templates.”

    Richardson said that when working with First Nations boards, making sure that people are listened to and that the information is transparent and clearly understood was extremely important.

    “There's a way we operate that isn’t as direct as some of our non-Indigenous directors,” said Waters, adding that it was important to give space to First Nations board members to “provide our feedback in a culturally respectful and safe way”.

    This is an edited version of the discussion. The full recording can be accessed here.

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