Removing the eggshells – bringing Indigenous cultural competency to corporate Australia

Removing the eggshells – bringing Indigenous cultural competency to corporate Australia

Indigenous Affairs Economic Development
Thursday, 19 July 2018

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Shelley Reys AO stands in front of a yellow sign that says Arrilla Consulting, a majority Indigenous owned organisation. Shelley is smiling and wears a red dress and black necklace.

Indigenous business leaders like Shelley Reys AO are helping organisations around the country develop successful and sustainable partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander business people through cultural competency training and Indigenous business advisory services.

‘I think most people are afraid of saying the wrong thing when it comes to the Indigenous space, or doing the wrong thing, making a mistake, sounding racist – they start to walk on eggshells. So the way that I describe my work and Arrilla’s work is we remove the eggshells,’ says Shelley. ‘We give people skills as well as confidence to be able to work in the space better.’

In a sign of the demand for Indigenous-business advisory services, Shelley joint ventured her business Arrilla with KPMG in 2016 but remains the majority shareholder. Separately to this, she also became the firm’s first Indigenous Partner.

‘When I first started the business there was no one who was Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander that was doing what I do. And only a very small handful of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were in business for themselves. So it was pretty lonely to begin with. Now there are an amazing number of businesses and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people doing incredible things. It’s fantastic,’ Shelley said.

In her time advising corporates and government organisations, Shelley has found that significant goodwill exists to bridge the cultural knowledge gap common across non-Indigenous Australia.

‘There are many people across Australia who think about employing Indigenous Australians and procuring from Indigenous businesses, but they're hamstrung by stereotypes. About who Aboriginal people are? What they're capable of? Will they deliver on time? Will they deliver to a high quality? So, it's really important for government to get involved, I think, and create the Indigenous Procurement Policy and things like that to encourage businesses to give us a go and realise that we're actually fantastic,’ says Shelley.

Since July 2015, the Australian Government has procured over a billion dollars of goods and services from businesses owned by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The private sector has also stepped up to the plate, spending over $2 billion with Indigenous suppliers since 2014. These numbers haven’t appeared out of nowhere. Instead, businesses and governments are putting in the work to improve their knowledge of Indigenous cultures and ability to engage productively with Indigenous business owners.

The Australian Government is supporting the Indigenous business sector to grow through the Indigenous Business Sector Strategy. For more information, visit the Indigenius Business Sector Strategy page.