Want to be a changemaker? Education is the key

Belinda Murdoch Head of Indigenous Affairs, Australia
5 min read

How can you be a catalyst for real and lasting change in a busy world? There are many causes to support which are driving people to march with placards, generate online outrage, and intervene in the political process.  

While there is a time and a place for all these actions, my whole career has been dedicated to activism through education. It’s an approach I am bringing to my role as Head of Indigenous Affairs at Laing O’Rourke in Australia.

With a background as a teacher, I have seen the impact education can have in changing behaviours and driving positive change.

So what? Why is this relevant to a global construction and engineering business? There are two parts to this answer.

The first is that addressing the inequality experienced by First Nations people is everyone’s business. We can all play a proactive role in supporting initiatives to challenge these inequalities. Laing O’Rourke can do that by facilitating economic participation in our sector through the creation of equitable opportunities. It demonstrates our integrity and is the right way to do business in Australia in collaboration with First Nations people, communities, and businesses.

The second part of the answer lies in commercial and competitive advantage. If Laing O’Rourke is going to be a change maker in our sector and push the boundaries of what’s possible, we need to harness the power of diverse thinking. You cannot unlock the value a diverse workforce brings unless everyone feels a sense of belonging and inclusion.

So how do we create a culture that harnesses this power? Education is the key.

I see the role of Head of Indigenous Affairs as the connector to educational opportunities at Laing O’Rourke. My purpose both at work and in my life is to tell the truth of my people’s history, sharing stories to create mutual understanding and respect that positively influences genuine change.

Challenging poor behaviours that mostly stem from a lack knowledge or understanding, is the reason why education is the key and the most important step in closing the gaps that currently exist.

While there is still work to be done, it is important to acknowledge the progress we have made. I listen to the stories of my parents and my grandparents who fought for the smallest opportunities -  they simply didn't have the opportunities my generation and younger generations have now. As we continue to learn and grow as a society, you can see the generational differences in what was available to our people compared to the children of today. It’s noticeable in  the representation of our young people completing high school and university degrees and the number who are actively employed. Our young people have aspirations and  believe in themselves and the possibilities that exist - I can especially see this in my daughter who is going into year 11 and thinking about university.

We're not fighting for the ‘why’ anymore the focus is on ‘what’. When I was young, people would judge our identity with stereotypes which would cause us to keep our identity safe within circles of people we trusted. As a proud Wiradjuri woman, I have encouraged people in my circle to be proud of who they are. Seeing my daughter proudly identify as Aboriginal Australian first and foremost shows how far we have come in our reconciliation journey. Today’s children are more accepting of diversity in all its forms because of the way they have been educated and how diversity is accepted more widely. This is really promising to see, and I think it sends a strong message to the rest of the population where bias still exists.

What’s my vision for Laing O’Rourke? I want every avenue for education to be exhausted. I want to see Aboriginal culture alive in our business. On a trip to New Zealand, I felt I was entering the Māori world, and embraced by their culture – it’s tangible. In Australia we have started to widely acknowledge our First Nations people, but we can do more – and an initial step of creating culturally safe workplaces starts with us.

When I reflect on the positive change we have made to date, it fills me with so much pride. We honestly don’t say it loud enough or proud enough, but the work we do is meaningful and is making a tangible difference to people’s lives. As we begin developing Laing O’Rourke’s fourth Reconciliation Action Plan, we will be braver and bolder with our aspirations to drive education and equity across our business, across our industry and in our society.