Being recognised as the Registered Supplier of the Year is an incredible achievement. Tell us some of the strategies and ways you've employed to drive better outcomes for your Indigenous people.
Marawar’s strong cultural foundations allow our employees and contractors to build a vision of how they can advance their careers and grow their own small businesses essentially because they can see someone already doing it. Someone who has walked in their shoes.
The foundations of Aboriginal culture are land, family and knowledge and we can only really thrive in a workplace that is culturally safe every day.
The foundations of Marawar as an Aboriginal-led construction company provide just that. Simply hiring an Aboriginal employee and expecting them to just fit in with the existing company culture doesn’t ensure a successful outcome.
My sister Carmel works with me in the business to provide constant contact for the Aboriginal members of our team and that’s a critically important role. I spend time socially with the team every few weeks to support those bonds too. There are constant challenges to supporting Aboriginal people into regular employment. The difference with Marawar is that we have made that commitment part of the business ethos.
What were your motivations and challenges when starting Marawar?
The Marawar story started in 2017 when I went looking for stats about the distribution of Aboriginal apprentices in Western Australia. Of 33,000 apprentices in the state, 741 were Aboriginal, and there were fewer than 90 in the building trades. I already had two businesses by then (EON Protection and Gather Foods) both founded on the same idea of creating opportunities for Aboriginal people to get into great jobs, so the construction industry became my next target.
It hasn’t been easy. From the start the industry’s underlying prejudices about Aboriginal people were clear. Even today, I regularly find myself in board room conversations where I’m questioned about the reliability and work ethic of Aboriginal employees and Aboriginal businesses. I’m even questioned about my own Aboriginality.
That’s something I have built some resilience to, but it always reminds me of what Marawar’s tradies and apprentices might be dealing with out on the job.
It fires the bigger goal in me, to elevate Aboriginal businesses from just being able to get the cleaning or the kitchen-hand roles, to leading big organisations.
I’m here to change that narrative.
Can you tell us about the benefits and value of recruiting Indigenous talent to your organisation, your clients and the wider community?
An increasing number of businesses are undertaking Reconciliation Action Plans (RAP) and Aboriginal procurement targets are embedded in legislation in WA. An Aboriginal-led building services company with proven capability ticks a couple of important boxes for our clients.
The foundation of Marawar’s growth has been the investment into strong relationships that support sustainable contracts with our customers. Among these are the Departments of Finance, Health and Communities, Bunnings, Public Transport Authority, Wesfarmers, Uniting WA, KMART, Officeworks and Wirrpanda Foundation.
Marawar as an organisation would not have its unique point of difference without Aboriginal employees. Importantly, for the broader community, it normalises seeing Aboriginal people getting on with the job. That is a very powerful change in the way we are portrayed and how we see ourselves. You can’t be what you can’t see.
In what ways are Indigenous businesses unique and what opportunities do you see in the future for the continued growth of diversity within business?
A truly Aboriginal business has a lot to teach the traditional model. In an organisation where care for humans and country, and respect for knowledge are fundamental, you are going to get the best out of your employees, the best applicants and the longest serving staff members. The flow-on of that is that they will be treating clients with the same generosity of spirit.
I’m all about inclusion and diversity. A well cared for, diverse workforce is a fundamental strength that can’t be overlooked. It’s the only way to structure a healthy public-facing organisation. This aspect of employment strategy is going to grow exponentially.
What are the challenges in implementing positive and meaningful procurement policies for the betterment of Indigenous businesses?
It all comes down to what’s culturally ingrained.
This is why the narrative has to change from the ground up. We work to overcome the misconceptions about Aboriginal people being ready, willing and able for the job. Practically, this means that the expectation from organisations looking to procure services from Aboriginal businesses is that those contracts will be for the lowest paid, least-skilled work. At Marawar we are changing that perception very rapidly as we compete for work with the top tier construction companies, and I’m keen to see more and more of this across industries.
The other factor is that cultural fit again. It’s a difficult work relationship for an Aboriginal person who is employed in an organisation that is actually tone deaf culturally. The challenge for the procurer is to see the broader ways in which they can adapt to embrace their Aboriginal work force. When that happens it’s an enriching experience for everyone.