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Eight Ways to Support Indigenous People, Part 2: Recruit, Retain, and Engage Native Employees

Eight Ways to Support Indigenous People, Part 2: Recruit, Retain, and Engage Native Employees

Yesterday was Indigenous People’s Day, and I shared eight tips to support Indigenous people. That article is Support Indigenous People 101, and the best place to start. Today we’re taking it a step further and focusing on the workplace!

American Indian and Alaska Natives constitute only 1% of the workforce, so they are often neglected in recruiting and representation.

They also have higher unemployment rates than other demographics.

So what can we do to switch this narrative?

Recruiting and Hiring

How can your workplace recruit and hire more Native employees?

1. Recognize cultural differences

Communications in Native cultures are much slower and more respectful than many fast-paced, competitive corporate cultures. For example, silence and patience are prized above speaking quickly and at length.

It is appropriate to take your time before responding to a question or to announce you are finished speaking.

Everyone involved in hiring should take time to learn about differences in cultures and communication approaches. Practice inclusivity and embrace your cultural differences.

person wearing a t-shirt that says "NATIVE"
2. Go where the people are

Engage Tribal stakeholders in your recruitment efforts. For example:

  • Reach out to the 35 accredited Tribal colleges and vocational schools

  • Participate in Indigenous hiring events and conferences

  • Place ads in Tribal newsletters or radio stations, because access to high-speed Internet may be limited on reservations

  • Look into the Indian and Native American Employment Rights Program recruitment services and tribal employment rights organizations

  • Contact urban Indian centers (75% of Native Americans live off reservations)

  • Consider recruiting through the military (Native Americans serve at higher rates than others)

3. Adapt your hiring process

Consider blind hiring. Blind hiring involves stripping away identifying information on a resume or cover letter that could result in bias. Of course, once you get past the screening process, you need to make sure your interview team will not display any bias in the next hiring phases.

Consider dropping your college degree requirement if they are not necessary for the position.

The cost of college in the United States can make it difficult for Native Americans to attend, so only 16% of American Indians have a bachelor’s degree, compared with 32.1% of the total population.

If you require employee tests, consider dropping those too. Native Americans have a history of being denied access to education and employments, so tests are offputting and triggering.

Photo of a Native American woman
4. Develop relationships

The best way to recruit Native employees is to develop relationships with local Tribes in your area and organizations that support Native people.

Consider developing a scholarship or internship program that targets Indigenous people.

Work collaboratively with local Tribal people on projects. Hire Native firms as subconsultants.

Reach out and connect to Native colleagues on LinkedIn. Develop trust.


Indigenous employees feel the lowest levels of belonging in the workplace of all demographic communities.

This statistic is sobering. What can we do about it?

5. Educate your workforce about creating welcoming spaces and level playing fields

Absolutely most important: implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion is impossible without creating welcoming workplaces with a level playing field for all.

It does no good to hire diverse staff if you do not have equitable and inclusive workplaces. Educate, educate, educate. And then hold your executives, team leaders, and employees accountable to uphold your values and create welcoming environments.

Consider hiring a local Tribal representative to educate your workforce and conduct sensitivity training.

Photo of a Native American woman
6. Include Native people in representation and communication

Make sure your website and other materials are inclusive and represent Indigenous and other marginalized communities in a culturally respectful way (not tokenizing). Include a land acknowledgement on your website. Pay a Tribal member to give land acknowledgements at conferences and other events.

Recognize holidays such as Indigenous People’s Day and Native American Heritage Month, but don’t confine communicating about your Native employees to that day or month!

Make sure to include Indigenous people in your demographic hiring data. When each potential or existing employee fills out paperwork, offer an “Indigenous” option so they can get counted too.

Many people from historically excluded populations feel invisible when they do not know which box to check.

7. Create employee network groups

If you have more than one Native employee, ask them if they would be interested in an employee network group to promote a sense of belonging and enable advocacy and advancement. Make it virtual if your Native employees work in more than one office.

If you have only one Native employee, ask them how they would like to be supported…perhaps an executive sponsor or peer mentor?

Photo of Indigenous people at a rally, with one holding a sign that says "My mom, sisters, aunties, and grandmas are sacred"
8. Sustain long-term relationships

Back to #4. Don’t just use Tribal organizations to hire Native employees. Continue to sustain those relationships.

Tribes value trust and patience when fostering relationships.

You’ll be far more successful in engaging and retaining your Native employees if you sustain long-term relationships with local Tribes and Tribal organizations.

Let me know if you could use help with inclusive communications and leadership.

I help professional services firms avoid BORING and boost employee engagement, productivity, and readership. I translate technical, complex, and lackluster language into accessible, dynamic, story-driven text. Get known in your industry through outstanding thought leadership content. Walk your talk through outstanding, effective communications with your employees and clients.

Fertile Ground Communications LLC is a certified women-owned business enterprise, disadvantaged business enterprise, and emerging small business.


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