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Shared connections create cultural understanding

Increasing Indigenous knowledge-sharing through 2-way Mentoring program



In 2020, we launched the Two-way Mentoring program, a new initiative to build cultural awareness in our leadership team while supporting our Indigenous employees to grow and be their very best.

The program pairs Indigenous employees with a senior leader, with both participants sharing their knowledge and perspectives on a range of issues.

To date, more than 240 people have participated, resulting in increased confidence, awareness and development. Senior leaders have reflected on how they’ve gained a deeper cultural understanding to help inform their broader awareness and decision-making.   

Many Indigenous employees have been inspired to explore career opportunities they’d never previously considered, as a direct result of the encouragement and insight they gained.

As we field growing interest from potential participants and momentum to expand in 2023, two of our recent participants reflected on this years' experience.

Owen, Senior Advisor Transmission, Energy Development


Senior Advisor Transmission, Energy Development at Rio Tinto

Without a doubt the 2-way Mentoring program was the challenge I had been looking for.

Before participating I wasn’t particularly confident or comfortable with my leadership capabilities. I had a relatively fixed mindset and at times I wasn’t sure of myself, worrying about asking questions for fear of not having the answers. I can still hear my mentor assuring me; we all put pants on the same way, Owen!

My mentors’ experience, relatability and genuine care helped me to become comfortable with the uncomfortable and put me in the best possible position to define my career pathways and have the confidence to go after my vision for success – and trust my decision-making process while I was at it.

Since participating in the program I have been able to secure a promotion and I am now in a leadership position. My career has more momentum than ever before and for the first time in my life I thoroughly enjoy studying. To be honest, I kick myself for not doing something like this sooner.

Beyond the promotion, the authentic connection with my leader has been life changing and has afforded me the chance to teach him about my heritage and family history. My family is part of the stolen generation, so those conversations aren’t always easy, but they are necessary if we want to create a greater understanding and provide the platform for a more culturally sensitive and informed workplace.

When I think about the future of Indigenous leadership at Rio Tinto, I hope as many Indigenous employees get the same experience as I did with my leader. If they do and they give it a really good crack, we will see more Indigenous leaders at the top and this can only mean incredible things for our company going forward.

Alison, Managing Director, Studies


Managing Director, Studies at Rio Tinto

I know the business has not always got things right when it comes to Indigenous relationships, but this program provides the perfect opportunity for me to be part of the solution and work towards driving real change within this organisation.

I have been a mentor for 10 years and the Two-way Mentoring program has been one of the most enriching and connected experiences I've ever had.

It has forced me to evaluate my own thinking and helped me to better understand not only our Indigenous employees' challenges, but also gain an insight into the ways in which their heritage and decades long experiences can offer extremely valuable insights into scientific business challenges.

You can do all the classroom training you like to learn more about Indigenous culture and heritage, but I truly believe that developing even one genuine connection with an Indigenous person is irreplaceable. It is in this process of deep listening, care and connection that you can get a true sense of what the other person values and how things make them feel.

The relationships I've built with the employees I’ve been paired with and the feeling of belonging that I've now got with them, along with what they've taught me about their Country, their family and their culture has been truly life changing. This stays with you forever and has been even more rewarding than seeing how my insights and experience has supported their professional growth.

When I think about the future of Indigenous leadership at this company, I am proud we are on our way. We still have work to do, but having diversity at the most senior levels would be a brilliant outcome for Rio Tinto and I would love to see an Indigenous employee end up on the Board, or even become CEO. This would make us a truly great company.

Our senior leaders and Indigenous employees share their reflections on reciprocal learning through 2-way mentoring

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