Jasmine Nicholson from Springfield Coles wants greater understanding for the target her company has set for Indigenous employment. Picture: AAP/Richard Walker
Jasmine Nicholson from Springfield Coles wants greater understanding for the target her company has set for Indigenous employment. Picture: AAP/Richard Walker

Coles Indigenous employment target defended

Coles office manager and "proud Aboriginal woman" Jasmin Nicholson has hit back at critics of her employer's announcement this week that it will be increasing its employment of Indigenous people nationally to a new target of 5500.

The announcement by Coles, to coincide with National Reconciliation Week, brought some stinging comments on social media, accusing the company of racial discrimination.

Ms Nicholson, who works for Coles at Springfield, said the Coles target was "a drop in the ocean", representing five per cent of Coles' entire workforce.

"But it means so much to be in a workplace that supports and even celebrates your Aboriginality," she said.

"It is hard enough for any young person to find a job, but it is nevertheless very daunting for young Aboriginal people to find work and keep it.

"Australia is a country with many minorities and they should be celebrated."

Ms Nicholson said she had previously helped with a recruitment drive for Aboriginal people in which there was only "a handful" of applicants, of whom only half to a quarter ended up staying for the long haul.

"Aboriginal people are often shy, they don't manage interviews well or fit into business, and they have a cultural disadvantage that tells them they are not good enough.

"There are too few companies willing to make the difference."

Ms Nicholson said Coles didn't discriminate "in favour" of Indigenous applicants but offered understanding and, possibly, an opportunity.

"The standards are high and you still have to meet them," she said.

"They might be given an opportunity, not it's not an advantage over the next person.

"And we are talking about a target of five per cent.

"It's a business, you have to be able to do the job, but there is support here."

She said she would like to tell young Aboriginal people to: "Be the leader in the pack, be the person you want to be, be confident, be a mother, be a career-driven woman, get training."

"There is so much out there to help you if you help yourself."

Ms Nicholson, 44, grew up in a family where "not getting a job wasn't an option", so at 15 she talked her way into a casual job at Coles that she kept through university and later turned into full-time employment.

"I used to live in Brisbane as a student, but drive up to Noosa just to continue to work at my Saturday Coles job, so they could see I had a strong work ethic," she said.

Ms Nicholson said the work ethic had been strongly spelt out at home with her Aboriginal father, Bruce Boarse, and white mother, Patricia, bringing up their family to be confident.

After a 25-year-career at Coles, where she feels supported as an Indigenous employee, she says not enough companies are taking up the challenge.

In 2011, Coles set a target in line with Australian population figures to raise the number of Indigenous employees to 3000 at a time when it had 65 Indigenous employees.

But it met the target two years early and is now looking to expand its program.

Coles Head of Indigenous Affairs Russell James said the company had a focused strategy and an emphasis on providing a diverse and inclusive environment.

"Coles is seen as a safe, supportive and welcoming place for Indigenous Australians to work, a place where you can develop a career, and we've worked hard to achieve this," he said.

"Our initial ambition was to employ 3000 Indigenous team members by 2020.

"We're pleased to have exceeded this."



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