Reconciliation Week – Understanding organisational white privilege

Posted: 04/06/2019

On Wednesday 29 May 2019, St Luke’s Innovative Resources and the Bendigo Reconciliation Committee hosted a forum on organisational white privilege. The forum was facilitated by Andrew Shirres (Practice Development Coach, St Luke’s Innovative Resources) and John Bonnice (Co-Chair, Bendigo Reconciliation Committee).

The forum was conducted as part of the reconciliation activities in Bendigo during Reconciliation Week. Over 30 staff from 12 organisations attended the forum. A wide range of organisations participated including agencies from the health sector, community welfare, early years services, family violence, community legal services and also State Government Departments (Human Services and Education).

The aim of the forum was to enable non-Aboriginal agencies to explore the issue of organisational white privilege and their understanding of its impact on the relationship and work between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and agencies. The session took the form of a facilitated conversation using the Bendigo Reconciliation Committee’s document Identifying and Addressing Organisational White Privilege as the basis for discussion.

The session focussed on the following areas:

  • Reflection on the main tenets of white mainstream culture, the benefits received from this culture, and areas of mainstream culture that impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • Reflection on nature and benefits of white privilege with a focus on organisational white privilege
  • Reflection on how white privilege influences professional practice and the impact of organisational white privilege
  • Identifying the barriers and opportunities for change that would enable organisations to become more culturally-safe and competent
  • Future areas of action by mainstream organisations.

Discussions during the forum highlighted the following:

  • Organisational white privilege has not been on the radar of mainstream organisations
  • There is a need for greater reflection by mainstream organisations on the nature of organisational white privilege
  • Organisations are not aware of the cultural bias that they operate from, and the impact this has on the relationship and work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • Organisations need to look at their values, beliefs and attitudes
  • Organisations need to rethink their approach to reconciliation and partnership work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities. Indeed, the starting point may need to be reflection on the cultural bias and covert racism that organisations are operating from.

The discussion highlighted a range of actions that the organisations present at the forum could do in the future to address organisational white privilege. These included:

  • The need for reflection on organisational white privilege to occur across the whole of an organisation
  • The need for organisations to rethink their approach to reconciliation action plans with the need for addressing organisational white privilege as a key component of them
  • The need for organisations to highlight and name unconscious bias and covert racism
  • The need for organisations to challenge current thinking and approaches to partnership work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and agencies.

In summary, the forum highlighted how much work needs to be done by organisations in addressing organisational white privilege and the current lack of thinking on this issue.

For further information on the resource Identifying and Addressing Organisational White Privilege and how your organisation may start on the journey of reflecting on organisational white privilege please contact John Bonnice.

One response to “Reconciliation Week – Understanding organisational white privilege”

  1. Percy Robinson says:

    I believe we are so behind on this issue. We have a lot of work to do to address problems associated with this. I am elated that it has come up as an area that will be given further scrutiny and attention

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