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Inclusion key to heal Country for Jacobs

What does inclusion mean within the water sector, and how can it help create healthier communities and environments? With NAIDOC Week beginning 4 July, 2021, one environmental consultancy firm believes inclusion is central to achieving positive outcomes for all.

The theme of this year’s NAIDOC Week is "Heal Country, heal our nation," and Jacobs Vice President, Executive Director and First Nations Executive Sponsor Camille McGregor says it’s important to start by acknowledging the variety of different meanings this statement can take.

“There are different perspectives to the idea of healing Country. My personal perspective comes from being an environmental scientist and growing up on a farm. So, while the importance of the health of our ecosystems can be viewed scientifically, healing Country means so much more,” she said.

“Everyone will have their own view, but at Jacobs it's important for us to recognise and celebrate these different understandings, because so much of what we do is about creating positive outcomes for the communities, land and waterways that we are working within.”

Jacobs’ First Nations Participation Consultant National Lead Sally Waller said Jacobs aims to empower its staff to connect with their local First Nations communities to learn about Country and what it means through an Indigenous lens.

“It’s crucial to understand what Country is from an Indigenous perspective, why Country needs healing, and how we can all go forward together in working to achieve that healing. This understanding is the place to start in terms of doing the work required,” she said.

Inclusion first

While diversity and inclusion initiatives are becoming more prevalent throughout the water sector, McGregor said Jacobs aims to take an "inclusion first" approach to every level of the business.

“One of our core values at Jacobs is to live inclusion. We don’t talk about a diversity and inclusion agenda, we talk about an inclusion and diversity agenda. Starting with inclusion is very deliberate, because without inclusion you can’t leverage diversity — and inclusion is so central to our firm’s values. It’s led from the top” she said.

“We have put in place a number of company-wide policies and initiatives to deliver on our commitment to inclusion. Living inclusion is not just important because it’s the right thing to do. It’s actually really good business sense. It makes for a much more profitable business.”

In terms of First Nations culture and communities, and healing Country, Waller said the approach is no different — inclusion is the starting point for Jacobs’ approach to creating healthier connections and environments.

“Everyone brings different values to work. Being inclusive of the cultural knowledge and values of our First Nations peoples is paramount for a lot of reasons. At Jacobs, we endeavour to extend our hand to First Nations peoples, communities, and businesses — to give a hand up, rather than a hand-out. We want to encourage and support self-determination” she said.

“Bringing First Nations minds and values to our projects, understanding that connection between people and the environment, is immensely beneficial. This is parallel to our aims because looking after people, communities, and the environment is how our people have always worked.”

Creating inclusive opportunities

With inclusion taking the front seat in Jacobs’ company-wide strategy, Waller said procurement requires the same focus, with the company reviewing its approach to cadetships in order to be more inclusive.

“One important thing for Jacobs is to look at how we bring opportunities to our First Nations peoples. Our cadetship program helps us reach a broad spectrum of people who have missed out on education and work opportunities that many people take for granted,” Waller said.

“In refreshing our First Nations Employment Strategy, we have endeavoured to think outside the box in order to achieve genuine outcomes. We have redefined what a cadet is. A lot of the time, there’ll be internships for undergraduates gearing themselves up to move into the professional sphere.

“To a lot of people, a cadetship is for a young person who is wanting to finish high school, or is going through TAFE and wants to gain simultaneous work experience. We define cadetships to also be suitable for mature-age people who perhaps haven’t had those opportunities yet.

“It doesn’t matter what age they are or where they’ve come from; if they’re ready for the opportunity then our cadetship is for them.”

McGregor said taking this approach to procurement has demanded a new approach to how recruitment policies and procedures work within the company.

“From an organisational perspective, it's granted that recruits have a certain level of education. We have had to rethink some of those hurdles and consider the context of what we are trying to achieve,” she said.

“It’s one thing to identify what we aspire to achieve. But we have had to go back to the drawing board and work with different parts of our business to make sure it actually happens.”

Honouring genuine reconciliation

“Our approach to reconciliation across all the sectors we work within is guided by our Reconciliation Action Plan [RAP]. It provides us with the framework for action on the ground,” McGregor said.

“This occurs at two levels, which includes our own actions, how we respond as a company. But it's also about recognising the fact that we are involved in a lot of projects in local communities and environments at the project level.”

Jacobs is about to complete its Innovate RAP, which has been focusing on cultural learning, employment, and partnerships and procurement.

“We have been developing our internal cultural awareness training across our business. This is to empower Jacobs staff to be more conscious of cultural values and protocols and to better engage with First Nations peoples, communities and businesses,” Waller said.

“There’s a First Nations adage: ‘water is life’. This resonates with First Nations cultures across the continent and more broadly. In terms of our approach to reconciliation in the water sector, we really try to honour that.

“We endeavour to have great relationships with our water clients and our business partners and with the First Nations communities within our sphere of influence.

“We try to identify opportunities to work with like-minded organisations and communities in ways that are respectful and collaborative in reinforcing our reconciliation intentions. There can be tokenistic gestures, but we try to demonstrate our authenticity.”

Moving forward

McGregor said that healing Country and reconciliation is a process, one which Jacobs is committed to continuing well into the future.

“It’s an ongoing journey. While we started with finding Indigenous suppliers for events, as an example — really base-level stuff — we’re now moving beyond that and into much more meaningful engagements,” she said.

“We are continually learning, growing and developing. We are now seeking to have more meaningful connections with our staff, with First Nations businesses, with Country, and with Elders.”