Uncomfortable conversations start in the office

As a purpose-driven agency passionate about people and the planet, it’s fair to say we have strong feelings on certain topics. So when our principles clashed with a national holiday, we needed to have an uncomfortable conversation. I’m writing of course about Invasion (or Survival) Day. More commonly known as Australia Day.

On January 26, 1788, British settlers raised their flag and claimed the land for the first time at Warrane (Sydney Cove). The British government stated Australia was terra nullius (nobody’s land) to justify the settlement without treaty or payment legally. So the date regarded as the beginning of settler-colonialism involving violence towards, and dispossession of, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should not be a day to celebrate. For first nations peoples, it’s a day of mourning.

Aboriginal owned and operated label Clothing the Gap suggests using the day to educate yourself. Attend a march or rally. Share content to show social media solidarity. Donate to Indigenous causes and shop Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses. Learn and acknowledge what country you live and work on and start conversations. And, as Cricket Australia has done, remove any reference of Australia Day from your marketing. You’ll annoy the Prime Minister as an added bonus on that one.

Our objection to ‘Australia Day’ aside it is a public holiday and having a day off is usually a good thing. This is how our uncomfortable conversation started. Our Managing Director first raised working on the day, assuming we had all come to the same conclusion. But, as one of us said: “I’ll be supporting action on this in other ways, I’m not sure working makes a difference?” It was awkward at first. Mainly because we wanted to do the right thing but weren’t sure how. In the end, we all agreed to reschedule plans if possible and treat the day like any other Tuesday. It’s a small gesture. Actually, a minuscule one considering the impact that moment in history still has today. But, every small choice we make adds up when there are enough of us. Our decision to work has already led to other conversations with friends and family (and hairdressers). Maybe those people will now be more mindful of the day and educate others too.

Many more uncomfortable conversations like our one still need to happen in workplaces across the world about history, prosperity, privilege, equality and environmental impact (to name a few). They could lead to significant changes or tiny ones but each is worth having. Who knows, the date of your conversation could be one to look back on with pride.

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