I hear the following statement a lot: “We would really love to have some Indigenous people in our IT/technology/engineering teams but we just can’t find them!”
My response is always the same. You have to engage, you have to support and listen. You have to make your work a place where blackfullas will feel valued and safe to work at.
Blackfullas make up approximately 3% of the population, and barely above 0% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) careers. The percentage of women in Stem careers is still appallingly low at less than 36% – and that is before Indigeneity is factored in. The statistics are even more grim for senior roles and executive positions.
The problem is not that we don’t exist in the industry – there are incredible blackfulla leaders in all fields of Stem. However, when we are “discovered”, we are often not valued or given the opportunities to reach our full potential. Often our employment is to satisfy a token checkbox for HR, or we are paraded out as examples of the organisation’s “diversity”.
Of course, these are the better scenarios where we actually got the job, or were allowed to keep it. That is a privilege some of us are not even afforded.
Some more statistics:
It is estimated that Stem professionals will constitute approximately 75% of the local workforce by 2025.
It is also expected that over the next 10 years there will be a shortage of skills in key technology fields.
Stem industries are some of the fastest growing and innovative in the world.
The infosec/cybersec industry is estimated to have a local shortage of around 11,000 technical skill roles, not including roles in other areas of that field of expertise.
The revenue in infosec/cybersec could be upwards of $6bn in the next six years.
Considering that Indigenous people are among the highest adopters of technology, all of this data presents a huge positive opportunity for mob and any organisation that values diversity – and frankly, revenue as well.
In my experience, the organisations with the most success in achieving diversity are those that listen. These are the organisations that have actual core values that align with mob. While there are a few leaders in the technology space, there is still a long way to go.
If your diverse workforce consists of one trainee, one intern, or one junior blackfulla, you need to do better.
When it comes to discussion points about blackfullas, we often hear the words wellbeing, empowerment, self-determination and financial security being used (often by non-Indigenous folks). Yet, there is very little momentum on including mob in discussions around growing Stem skills to achieve this.
I believe that addressing this we need to have community-based Stem solutions, by mob for mob.
Indigitek is an Indigenous-run organisation that aims to increase the participation and success of Indigenous people in the tech industry. I am on the board of Indigitek, along with founder Liam Ridgeway and Kieran Satour. Celeste Carnegie is Indigitek’s program director.
We provide a platform to engage with our community who have successfully embarked upon learning and career pathways in Stem. We look at these pathways as a way toward economic independence and self-determination for Indigenous people.
Since 2017, Indigitek has grown to a diverse and strong community of over 100 Indigenous people in Stem careers, with over 1,000 attendees at our recent events. Indigitek has facilitated technology scholarships, careers in robotics and software development, and opportunities for growth that were previously hard to find or non-existent.
As mob know all too well, if you cannot see others succeeding in these roles then it’s harder to see yourself doing so.
Our continuing goal is to change the view that “there just aren’t any Indigenous people in Stem” or that “they just can’t be found”, and continue to drive positive impact towards self-determination and financial security for our wellbeing.
By mob, for mob.
• Ben Armstrong is a Wiradjuri man based in Sydney. He is a manager of global services at Hitachi Vantara and director on the board of Indigitek
• Guardian Australia is proud to partner with IndigenousX to showcase the diversity of Indigenous peoples and opinions from around the country
• Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure discussion remains on topics raised by the writer. Please be aware there may be a short delay in comments appearing