Despite overcoming adversity, there are Native American professionals who have excelled in corporate professions. But there are very few Native people who are in the public eye for thriving in corporate America.
Think about it. Have you ever read about a Native person who runs a Fortune 500 company? If you have participated in DEI training, did it mention Native people? When discussing DEI efforts many companies exclude Native American people. Plus, Native lawyers say there isn’t enough Native representation in corporate America. I spoke with two Native lawyers about how to be more inclusive of Native people in the workplace.
Learn About Native Cultures
There’s a common misconception that Native American tribes are all the same, but Native people are not a monolith. And that’s important to recognize when encouraging non-Native people to learn more about Native cultures. American Bar Association president Mary Smith, who is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, believes learning about Native communities is an essential part of inclusion in the workplace. “There are 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States,” Smith said. “Each is a unique governmental entity. Each of them has their own culture and history,”
And If companies are looking to hire Native professionals, they should look beyond movies or books to learn about Native cultures. Sadly, Native American people are often stereotyped and even overlooked in conversations surrounding DEI. “Sometimes when people are citing different groups in a diversity conversation, they don’t even mention Native Americans. They get overlooked entirely. It’s important to ensure that they’re included,” she told me.
Invest In Native Communities
Hiring Native employees is not enough in terms of including Native people in the corporate sphere. “You need corporate entities who do business in and around Indian country often,” said Matt Fletcher, a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and professor of law and American culture at The University of Michigan. He believes investing in companies extends far beyond donating. “It would be helpful for corporate boards and shareholders to know what the real impacts are on Indian people,” he said. “It’s easy to see those things from a distance and disregard them.”
And Smith expressed similar sentiments. She encourages companies to “invest in Native communities” and “be present in community events.” She thinks educational institutions play a major role in efforts to invest in Native communities. “Admissions professionals should be trained on Native American history and culture and invest in financial aid policies that make schools accessible,” she said.
Hire Native People
Recruiting and hiring Native people is one of the most important parts of making the workplace more inclusive for Native people. Companies should form relationships with universities that have a lot of Native students. Schools like UCLA and Stanford have Native student groups and entire centers dedicated to Native students and their cultures.
Smith believes hiring managers can do a better job when it comes to recruiting Native American talent. “Ensure that hiring managers are employing strategies and practices designed to ensure the inclusion of Native Americans,” she said. “Invest in training Native American history and culture to support recruiters and managers in successful engagement with Native American people.”