Calling out bias on race biggest hurdle for business

2nd February 2021

A high-profile Indigenous company director says overcoming unconscious bias is the biggest challenge that lies ahead for small Aboriginal businesses, which were already facing viability concerns pre-coronavirus and are now at greater risk of being left behind.

Jahna Cedar — who oversees policy, evaluation and Indigenous affairs at IPS Management Consultants — said the pandemic had damaged traction made by Aboriginal businesses which, like many others, have been hit hard by COVID-19 shutdowns.

The 36-year-old said it’s “more important now than ever” to support Aboriginal businesses.

This is also the responsibility of the government, according to Ms Cedar, who said there should be consequences when Aboriginal procurement targets, requiring a certain percentage of work to go to Indigenous businesses, are not met.

Ms Cedar is also on the boards of IBN Corporation, the Niapaili Aboriginal Corporation, the Curtin University Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advisory committee and the Institute of Community Directors advisory committee.


Ms Cedar, a Nyiyaparli and Yindjibarndi woman from WA’s Pilbara region, and her IPS colleagues want to launch a campaign to put an end to racism and unconscious bias.

IPS is a majority-Indigenous owned organisation that provides consulting services to mainstream companies, competing with giant firms such as PWC and KPMG.

“We see unconscious bias surrounding us every single day,” Ms Cedar said.

“The fact we have Indigenous in our name sometimes has caused people to then automatically assume that we’re not offering the same services as a mainstream consultancy business.”

It comes after an Australian National University study released this week found three out of every four people hold a racial bias against Indigenous Australians, with WA and Queensland recording the highest levels of implicit bias.

Stamping out negative attitudes will be critical to helping Aboriginal businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms Cedar said.

A report by non-profit organisation Supply Nation showed that “every dollar spent with an Aboriginal business creates $4.40 worth of economic and social value for Indigenous communities”.

Ms Cedar also said Aboriginal businesses were more likely to employ and retain Aboriginal staff.

“(We should) start looking at ways that we can engage Indigenous businesses through this pandemic … it can be something as simple as changing your stationery supplier or putting a small consultancy business ahead of a big company,” she said.


Ms Cedar said she was concerned some of the bigger consulting firms were “crowding the Aboriginal space” by developing Indigenous arms of their businesses as they work towards reconciliation.

“When you’ve got those corporations trying to come in and overshadow the smaller players … it kind of really is taking the space that an Aboriginal consulting business could use,” she said.

“As a sector, Indigenous businesses really need to … start more of the collaboration in reclaiming that space because again it comes back to self-determination and building economic sustainability.”

Ms Cedar also said State and Federal governments should give the Aboriginal Procurement Policy (APP) the importance that it deserves by introducing “consequences” when targets are not met.

The WA Government’s policy aims to award 2 per cent of contracts to Aboriginal businesses by the end of June 2020, and 3 per cent the next year.

But Ms Cedar said many departments were not aware of the policy or were not using it to the best of its merit.

Aboriginal businesses were awarded more than 5 per cent of WA Government contracts from July to December 2019.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt said the Government was on track to exceed its second-year target of 2 per cent by more than 250 per cent for the 2019-20 financial year.

“Highlighting those government agencies that have not met the target is done not so we can condemn them, but so we can better support them to work with Aboriginal businesses,” he said.


Ms Cedar worked for mining giant BHP in human resources in the early 2000s, when native title was still in its infancy.

The mining giant this week halted plans to destroy up to 40 Aboriginal sites — some up to 15,000 years old — after backlash from Rio Tinto’s blasting of Pilbara rock shelters.

While the WA Government is reviewing the Aboriginal Heritage Act, Ms Cedar said further action was needed.

“There also needs to be a review on the protection of significant sites because it’s not just Aboriginal history, this is Australia’s history,” she said.

“This is something my ancestors not just fought for, but this is history I want to give to my grandchildren. If we don’t put protection mechanisms in place, unfortunately my children and grandchildren won’t be able to see similar sites like that one and the Burrup Peninsula as well.”

Ms Cedar was also the first female and the first traditional owner to be the executive officer of Gumala Corporation.

Gumala is a charitable trust that redistributes land compensation money from Rio’s Yandicoogina iron ore mine back to the Innawonga, Banyjima and Nyiyaparli peoples.