‘Let’s Talk About Racism’ staff workshops

Article image - ‘Let’s Talk About Racism’ staff workshops Facilitators of an innovative staff development program from the cities of Cockburn and Melville, Barbara Freeman, Marlee Kickett, Christine Young and Leanne Woods.

The word racism strikes dread into most people, but no one more sharply than those who experience it every other day, or as is common for Aboriginal people, multiple times a day.

This is partly why the title of a breakthrough pilot program involving Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal staff from the neighbouring cities of Cockburn and Melville, Western Australia, includes the confronting word.

‘Let’s Talk About Racism’ is a successful, unique and evolving program that tackles racism head on, its impacts, causes and solutions. The workshop series aligns with each city’s commitment to its Reconciliation Action Plan.

The inaugural program recruited about 30 staff in 2020/21 with many going on to act as mentors for the next group of staff members who will participate in the second round of four three-hour workshops this year.

City of Cockburn Family and Community Development Manager, Barbara Freeman said she and her fellow facilitators felt strongly about including the word racism in the program’s title.

“We wanted to name the elephant in the room, to realistically acknowledge that racism very much exists in our society today, that it causes immense damage and the only way to eliminate it is to face it head on and to do that together.”

The pilot program began to take shape in early 2020, with the series starting in July 2020.

“We decided to focus on our workplaces as a starting point, as a way to endorse the aspirations in each City’s Reconciliation Action Plan, our third since 2011, with new RAPs due to be adopted in 2021.

“We want to step up to Reconciliation Australia’s theme for 2021 ‘More than a word. Reconciliation takes action’. This urges us towards braver and more impactful action, including truth-telling about our history, and tackling racism.”

Both Cities are fortunate to have Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal employees united in a shared goal to stamp out racism. All acknowledge the need for a cohort of workplace champions to help support each other as they look for ways to address systemic racism in the workplace and wider society.

Cockburn Aboriginal Community Development Officer, Marlee Kickett said, “It’s about really listening to Aboriginal people’s experiences of racism. It’s about seeing how exhausting it is to constantly try to fix it on our own, when really, it is up to non-Aboriginal people to step up and take action to stop its perpetuation, and show compassion and understanding. 

“We know this takes courage, but it is so encouraging for us knowing we have strong, non-Aboriginal people with us as allies.”

City of Melville Director Community Development, Christine Young said participants had acknowledged an increased awareness and understanding of racism and of ways to stand as allies with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

“Non-Aboriginal people are also able to share their own experiences of witnessing racism towards Aboriginal people and building confidence to face the behaviour, call it out and help others think more deeply about its effects.”

Melville Community Development Officer – First Nations Engagement Advisor, Leanne Woods said her own knowledge and understanding of how racism worked had been taken to a whole new level and empowered her as an Aboriginal woman. 

“It certainly takes a lot out of you after each session and I have been grateful to have opportunities to share/debrief about these after each session. It’s been a great opportunity to meet new Aboriginal people who have been part of this amazing journey”.

The City of Cockburn and the City of Melville will continue to work together to deliver the workshop series as part of a strategy to build a group of champions within each organisation and to actively support each other’s reconciliation goals.

The rewarding collaboration has sparked a lot of interest across other local governments interested in delivering a similar program under the umbrella of reconciliation.