Our staff came together at our Dandenong office on Bunurong Country and online for a dialogue on what we can all do to be proactively anti-racist and achieve racial equality.
We acknowledge that being anti-racist means taking an active stance to address racism’s structural and systemic causes. This requires us to be better informed by data about how our clients and staff of different intersecting identities experience discrimination and to commit to continuous improvement.
At the event, our Director, Client Services and Sector Engagement, Zione Walker-Nthenda, shared her reflections on actions that allies could take to make a difference.
She stressed the importance of ‘reading widely to understand the context of other people’ and that ‘self-reflection and self-interrogation are absolutely critical’.
‘[Have] the courage to act by making suggestions to people who can make decisions, or if you’re a decision-maker, actually making those decisions yourself,’ she added.
Associate Director, Diversity and Inclusion, Natalie Sum, said that promoting cultural diversity and being anti-racist are core responsibilities for all organisations and their staff.
‘The session was a valuable conversation, but it doesn’t end today,’ she said.
‘Carry on the conversation in your teams – what does being anti-racist mean and look like to your team, where can we be allies, advocates and activists?’
Chief Operating Officer, Cameron Hume, reiterated our commitment to anti-racism.
‘Contributing towards building a legal system that’s fair and just for everyone is key to our work,’ he said.
‘That’s why we’re committed to actively combatting racial discrimination in all its forms, whether it’s experienced by our clients or our own staff.
‘It is vital we continue to improve the diversity of our workforce, especially at our leadership level. I’m keen to be driving an organisation and a culture that is more data led and centred on the lived experience of our staff and clients.
‘This will inform the uncomfortable conversations we need to have, help chart our progress and identify our shortcomings.’
Our commitments are outlined in our Cultural Diversity and Inclusion and Cultural Diversity and Anti-Racism Action , which set out the work we do to achieve racial equality.
Advocating for change
Advocating for fairer laws and systems is an important way that we work to address structural and systemic racism in the justice system.
We’re strengthening and prioritising relationships with organisations that advocate for racial justice and learning from their expertise and leadership.
This includes our work with the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and Aboriginal community-controlled organisations to advocate for change in the criminal justice and child protection systems, which cause disproportionate and intergenerational harm to First Nations people.
Reflecting our diverse community
We know it’s important for our workforce to reflect the diversity of the clients we serve and the wider Victorian community.
Last financial year, seven per cent of our clients identified as being First Nations people, and 18 per cent as being from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
In our workforce, 3.2 per cent of staff identified as being First Nations people, and 38 per cent as culturally and linguistically diverse.
While we are increasing our diversity, we know we need to increase our employment of First Nations people and improve our recruitment, retention and career pathways to enable diverse representation at all levels of the organisation.
Safe and respectful workplaces
We’re determined to ensure our workplaces are safe and inclusive for everyone and know that many incidents of racism go unreported.
That’s why we’ve put systems in place to enable staff to speak up anonymously and seek support. We know though that this is the first step, and we must build trust and safety in reporting processes to stop discriminatory behaviours.
All our staff undergo respectful workplace behaviour training, and our Board and senior leadership team have been trained on diversity and inclusion leadership. Our challenge is to find ways to measure behaviour change to ensure this training drives meaningful change.
We also encourage staff to consider how the history of 26 January impacts on First Nations people and to approach the day respectfully.
Our journey to become an anti-racist organisation is ongoing. We’re striving to shape a culture at Victoria Legal Aid where each of us proactively plays a role in ending racism and promoting diversity. While we’re making progress, there’s always more to be done.
Reviewed 22 March 2023