This research was grounded in Indigenous ways of thinking, underpinned with cultural understanding and insights. All research undertaken was delivered with principles of being, as informed by Murawin social research (see Figure 1). Respect, reciprocity, and relationships are the key principles embedded in the Research, defined by a set of common principles of a rights-based approach. The team used the common principles outlined by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), namely, to ensure everyone has the right to participation, accountability, non-discrimination and equality, empowerment, and legality.1
Figure 1: Principles of cultural understanding and insight
The broad objectives of the Indigenous Employment Index are to:
What is the intent and what are the commitments of employers regarding Indigenous employment?
What are current tools and practices used by Australian employers regarding Indigenous employment?
How does the intent and commitment regarding Indigenous employment translate into communication and culture within employers?
How aware of tools and practices relating to Indigenous employment are employees of employers, and how are they perceived?
What conditions contribute to positive or negative Indigenous employment experiences within employers?
How do voices and perceptions of Indigenous employees differ from non-Indigenous employees or across employment levels and roles within employers?
What employment conditions lead to increased Indigenous employment in employers?
What other factors or unanticipated aspects relate to the positive or negative experience of Indigenous employment within employers?
Table 1: Research questions
Around 80 employers were identified as potential participants using the following selection criteria, of which 42 agreed to participate. While we were unable to conduct a random sample of employers, we attempted to survey a representative sample of Australian employers that varied according to a number of criteria including but not limited to the size of the employer, the sector/industry, and geographical location etc. We expect that as the Index is repeated in future years that the representativeness of this sample will be strengthened.
The 42 participating employers currently employ 719,161 people in Australia, including nearly 17,500 Indigenous Australians (around 2.42 per cent). Meanwhile, the non-participating employers have nearly 500,000 employees, of which around 2.31 per cent are Indigenous people.
Initial quantitative survey (Pilot)
A comprehensive survey pilot consisting of three stages was conducted. First, a prepilot was conducted amongst the Research working group, where the survey design was explored to identify any conceptual and structural issues. Questions were (re)framed to be as user-friendly and unambiguous as possible, while minimising respondent burden.
Second, a content-focused pilot consisted of sharing the survey with human resource leaders in selected employers and members of the advisory board. The survey was further refined to avoid any repetition of questions, ensure specificity of wordings and definitions, and to cover the breadth of issues relating to Indigenous employment without being overly onerous to complete.
Third, in the data-focused pilot the researchers repeatedly tested and refined the on-line survey programming to ensure the skip patterns on Qualtrics were working as expected, the questions were displayed properly, and all domains were presented consistently. Links to the survey were then sent to three ‘test and learn’ pilot employers.
Using the Qualtrics platform, the instrument was converted into five online survey links, each of which focused on one domain. An email with the survey links, instructions, and consent forms to complete the surveys and a Word version of the survey, were sent to a nominated individual within each of the 42 employers. Each respondent was given a unique account and password to log in to the online survey.
Seventy-eight 45–60-minute online interviews (up to four interviews from each of the participating 42 employers) were conducted with participants from senior leader, line management, and Indigenous employee cohorts and formed the primary qualitative dataset.
Four online 90-minute focus groups were conducted with a total of 27 Indigenous employees. Focus group data was used as a secondary data set to validate findings from interviews.
Seven in-depth case studies were developed to illustrate leading practice, opportunities for enhancement and showcase examples of practical steps employers can take. Three case studies tell the story of individual employers. The remaining four case studies dive deeper into elements of the research. These were selected through a collaborative process where researchers identified pertinent themes from the qualitative research and were validated by the quantitative data.
Two Indigenous-founded or led businesses with expertise in Indigenous employment were engaged to enrich the research findings for a case study. Five Indigenous employees, three non-Indigenous senior leaders, two Indigenous senior leaders, and one non-Indigenous line manager participated in interviews and focus groups.
Testing and validation workshops
Murawin facilitated a half day workshop with BCEC, Generation One and the Expert Advisory Panel to test and validate findings, ensure confidence in the research responses, findings, and outcomes, as well as facilitate a co-design process to shape the draft Index. The research team facilitated a second testing and validation workshop one month later to relay back to the Expert Advisory Panel the integration and feedback into the draft report.
Table 2: Research methods
BCEC distributed communications on the quantitative surveys to employers. Employers then distributed the survey to relevant HR coordinators for data collection. 42 Australian organisations contributed to the Indigenous Employment Index, with all organisations completing a detailed survey.
Each participating employer nominated a key contact for the qualitative research component. Murawin provided a template email to each contact, designed to maintain participant confidentiality, ensure voluntary participation, ensure all eligible employees were provided an opportunity to participate, adhere to ethics committee requirements, and to facilitate randomised selection of participants.
Each employer had up to four participants from across three cohorts participate in an interview, and up to four Indigenous participants participate in focus groups. In most cases, there were only a small number of individuals expressing interest in participating from each employer and screening was not required.
Curtin University Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) has approved this study (HREC number HRE2021-0584). The Project also complies with provisions in the AIATSIS Code of Ethics for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research for data security, privacy, and access, including specific provisions related to Indigenous Cultural Intellectual Property (ICIP). Indigenous data sovereignty is embedded through collection, access, analysis, interpretation, management, dissemination, potential future use, and storage.
A variety of statistical methods have been employed in exploring the data. Cross tabulations and correlations were employed to investigate the relationships between different variables, and principal component analysis used to identify patterns among firms in terms of their practices within the elements of the research framework. This supported testing of the relationships between the resulting constructs and variables in direct tests of hypothesis aligned with the research questions.
Coding was undertaken across multiple stages, using both deductive and inductive methodologies. Each interview (single participant) and focus group (multiple participants) were coded and analysed as a unique case file (n=1). This was determined as the most appropriate method as the collective discussion that occurs in focus groups often results in emergent dialogic data. The approach to coding supported a thematic analysis, strengthened by discourse analysis, and grounded theory.
In cases where indicators are captured across both quantitative and qualitative research, the research design ensured that each quantitative finding was enriched by qualitative insights that contextualised and explained it.
Research limitations pertain to inconsistencies and shortcomings across employer recruitment, sample size, employee recruitment, industry representation, variation in reporting across employers and the impact of COVID-19.
From the inception, the Index is guided by an Expert Advisory Panel. This panel, with 50 per cent Indigenous representation, constitutes a range of senior executives, academics, and Indigenous employment specialists who are committed to creating positive change.