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Human Resources

Pharma-medtech network launched to boost industry commitment to reconciliation

Health Industry Hub | November 19, 2021 |
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Human Resources: Johnson and Johnson (J&J) leaders working across the organisation’s pharma and medtech sectors joined Health Industry Hub in discussing the establishment of the RAP Health Industry Network focused on reconciliation and building a culture of inclusion.

Kris Ashpole, Global Community Impact Leader at J&J and RAP Lead and Fiona Sheppard, Co-Chair of PAIG and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leader, J&J discussed the new collaborative network of pharma and medtech companies, at various stages of the reconciliation journey, who aspire to address health inequities experienced by First Nations Peoples.

Health industry Hub: The past decade has seen a significant shift in corporate Australia’s engagement with Indigenous Australia. Why is this so critical to the nation’s success?

Kris Ashpole: It’s really critical that the corporate sector gets involved in reconciliation because that’s what this is all about. We can have a RAP but at the end of day it’s about all of us coming together to achieve reconciliation. There is that responsibility for corporates to be involved in this and to support their employees in understanding the history of colonisation in Australia and to really take their employees along that journey.

To achieve reconciliation in Australia the corporate sector has a really strong role to play in working with other parts of society. The corporate sector adds value by not only understanding our history, being open to the truth, telling and knowing the history, but it can also contribute with employment opportunities. There is also a lot we can do in the healthcare sector to contribute to closing the gap on health outcomes and each sector within the corporate area has a role to play based on their various expertise.

Fiona Sheppard: Previously the corporate sector was able to get away with either getting involved or not getting involved in reconciliation – whereas now, that’s not acceptable anymore. We do have a longer history than 1788 and so corporates need to support that and be visible in the process. Often, they have the bandwidth and the resourcing to enable that and facilitate change in areas where money and resourcing may be an issue.

Health Industry Hub: How do organisations embark on an educational journey towards greater understanding and acknowledgement of our shared history, Aboriginal culture and local community?

Kris: I’ve been speaking to a lot of the different companies who are embarking on that journey. It’s about firstly understanding why they want to do it. It is important to really understand that motivation rather than just thinking we should be doing it because everybody else is getting involved. Firstly, it’s important to feel passionate about playing a role in reconciliation. Secondly, I often say to people to start small from where you are and with what you’ve got, then you can grow from there. It is a movement. It shouldn’t be focused on the usual way we would do business which is around the fully developed strategies, the KPIs, the budget and timelines. It’s got to come from a more humanistic approach and starting small and gaining that momentum in the business over time which is how J&J started bringing people along the journey.

I mentioned to one company that they may like to start their journey with NAIDOC Week, and it was pleasing to see them acknowledging that on LinkedIn. Others are just starting with the acknowledgement of country. It’s those little gems that you can do. The cultural awareness piece is also critical. Once people start to understand the historical context and the trauma, people start to get behind it and understand how they can make a difference.

Fiona: It’s about understanding and appreciating that we need to elevate the voice of First Nations people above and beyond our own. As healthcare companies, we’re so used to solving problems and we want to get in there and fix things straight away and it’s not our problem to fix. We need to embark on that educational journey. It’s really important to make sure that your Northern Star is working with an indigenous organisation who can guide you and importantly, companies need to pay for that service.

Health Industry Hub: Australian-first research on Indigenous women’s working lives reveals most are at risk in the workplace. What is your perspective on this?

Fiona: Healthcare companies need to play a role by developing a RAP that ensures a culturally safe work environment for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and enables indigenous women to be successful in the workplace. At J&J we’re on the path of developing indigenous employment strategy and have established programs around creating awareness for unconscious bias.

Kris: I’m really interested in Reconciliation Australia’s response to the research and how they can bring that into the RAP framework. This will ensure that when companies are developing indigenous employment strategies, that piece of research and gender is called out front and centre so that we have the right support and programs in place with the lens of gender equality and support for women.

Health Industry Hub: What is the vision of RAP Health Industry Network and what does it aim to achieve across the Pharma and MedTech sectors?

Kris: In the Reconciliation Action Plan, it talks about leadership and reaching out to your sphere of influence to bring people along the reconciliation journey. At J&J, we discussed how we can work with our sphere of influence, particularly other medical device companies.

I remember being involved in a Medicines Australia meeting towards the end of 2019 looking at access to medicines for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. There were many pharmaceutical companies around the table at that session and one of the things that struck us was that there was significant willingness for people to address that particular issue and broadly be involved, yet there were only a few companies there at that time with a RAP.

So, we talked about coming together to discuss our reconciliation journeys and share best practice. COVID-19 delayed the process, but we are back on the path now.

Fiona: What happened last year with the Black Lives Matter movement really cast a light and heightened people’s lack of awareness, even though it’s not an equivalent comparison to the history of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. As a result, PAIG pivoted to engage with Reconciliation Australia, and it was probably our most popular session and more pharma companies wanted to embark on the RAP journey.

Kris: As J&J works across the scope of pharma, medtech and consumer, our broader connection with Medicines’ Australia’s PAIG and MTAA has allowed us to bring pharma and medtech companies together as the RAP Health Industry Network, with 26 companies that were involved in our most recent meeting.

The RAP Health Industry Network is not meant to be a J&J led initiative. It’s an industry network shaped by its members who have agreed to meet every two months. Different companies will host each meeting to collectively discuss the RAP journey and how to embed it in organisations, share learnings and ideas with a potential to collaborate on reconciliation activities.

Fiona: I’m excited about how we can work together to change health outcomes for First Nations Peoples, and create more awareness around employing indigenous people within the healthcare sector by taking a long term approach of improving the talent pipeline.


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