Why reconciliation makes good business sense

The spirit of reconciliation has been embraced by Australians and across every industry, but in the built environment, this journey is even more special.

For Indigenous Australians, land holds sacred value and is deeply intertwined with spirituality. In an industry that is responsible for developing new projects, commercial or residential, it’s vital that we consider Indigenous engagement in building more sustainable cities and communities.

Shelley Reys is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Arrilla, an organisation which for over 25 years has been providing cultural competency training to businesses to help sharpen their knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture and practice.

An Indigenous woman of the Djiribul people, Shelley holds a reputation known for encouraging collaboration and vision around reconciliation. 

When established, Arrilla sought to offer training for leaders across a broad range of sectors, including property.

“In the beginning, we were providing cultural competency training to high level people – the leaders and executives of organisations that wanted to know more about why Indigenous engagement matters.”

“This stemmed from the fact that without any knowledge about Indigenous Australians, people feel uncomfortable knowing how to make any level of engagement relevant to their business,” she explains.

Today, Shelley believes that in the private sector, reconciliation has been a key measure of corporate social responsibility.

“You just have to look at how many businesses now have Reconciliation Action Plans (RAP) in place.”

“Not only does this approach from a strategic position, but it opens up the conversation more broadly to entire companies, so that employees understand why this adds value to the company they work for.”

“So while in the beginning reconciliation was dealt with at a high level, it’s now everyone’s business.”

“From HR Managers engaging with Indigenous employment agencies such as CareerTrackers, to using the likes of Supply Nation to source new business contacts with First Australian companies, we’re providing cultural competency training from the top level down.”

With the introduction of RAPs into businesses, as well as training staff on the importance of inclusion and diversity, Shelley says the next steps for the property sector still need to address some challenges.
“The real roadblock is the fact that some businesses don’t know how to act on reconciliation.”

“For people who have never been around Indigenous people, there are still preconceived notions that might hinder employment opportunities; that Indigenous people aren’t educated enough, driven or have the right social skills to perform in a role. We know that’s not the case and so it’s important that we address this in a broader dialogue around reconciliation.”

Shelley points to Lendlease as a shining example of how Indigenous engagement can help businesses to prosper, as well as empower First Australians through employment opportunities.

“Lendlease were up there as an early adopter of the cultural competency training we offer here at Arrilla and they were also one of the first companies in the property sector to take on a RAP.”

“Today they’re doing amazing things with their Elevate RAP, and their leadership is commendable.”

Lendlease is just one of 31 GBCA Members that have established a RAP. 

From developers to universities and local councils to banks, reconciliation makes good business sense. 

“You’ll find that we have a lot to learn from Indigenous Australians.”

“That’s why I set out to provide training that will help people to understand our culture better; because it should never be forgotten,” Shelley says.

During National Reconciliation Week, which runs from 27 May until 3 June, take the time to reflect on how you play a role in building bridges with Indigenous Australians.

Whether you’re a CEO or a sustainability consultant, there’s room for you to open up a conversation about how our industry can better support Indigenous Australians, as we look to create sustainable cities and communities on a land that will always be Indigenous and therefore sacred.