Cultural learning at Symbiote – starting from where we are

Published Jul 27, 2021, 9:46 AM
Written by Rachel Kelly

Building empathy and understanding for other people's lived experiences is an essential part of life. Discover how our diverse views of Australia Day led us to develop a Cultural Learning Program.



What do companies do when they see global political tensions and racial injustices filling our news headlines, and knowing that Australia deals with its own set of racial injustices that take place in our own backyard every single day?

At Symbiote, we decided to start where we are. The people who work with us come from a diverse range of backgrounds, with many permanently migrating to Australia for work opportunities. While evaluating a potential client project focussed on delivering information about Australia Day, we realised that we all shared very different perspectives about the significance of that day. And while many of us felt aligned to alternative days like Survival Day and Invasion Day, we hadn't looked into why. When we dug a bit deeper, we also found that we had varying knowledge about the history of Australia’s First Nations’ people, who have the world’s oldest known civilization. 

Symbiote’s own indigenous leaders, Rachel and Kiel, proposed a Cultural Learning Program for our business, so we can learn more about each other’s backgrounds and cultures, to develop more awareness and empathy not only within our team, but with all of the people who use our software. 

“We design, develop and deliver tech with the aim to improve the lives of everybody who uses it. So, it makes sense that we should actively educate ourselves about what life is like for all Australians.” Rachel Kelly.


Program vision and goals


“We love that we’re all different at Symbiote. On a personal level, it’s fascinating that everyone brings their culture, ideas and perspectives to work. That also means we have a lot to learn about and from each other. This program aims to create a safe space for everyone to learn, listen, engage and celebrate the cultural diversity that makes our team so great.” Owen Windsor

The goals of the cultural learning program were: 

  • Build cultural awareness at Symbiote
  • Develop deeper empathy for others’ lived experiences
  • Actively create a safe learning environment where staff can engage and ask questions on the topic of cultural learning.
  • Broaden staff perspectives of the experiences of people who come from other cultures
  • Provide additional resources for staff to dive deeper into cultural learning

The first part of this program ‘A First Nations perspective’ kicked off on 21 Jan and aimed to create a safe space to learn about Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island (ATSI) people, while broadening our perspective and knowledge of what Australia Day means to them. With the Australia day narrative so often skewed towards telling and ‘celebrating’ one side of the story, we thought it was important to allow First Nations’ people to reclaim the narrative so we could understand their perspectives.


What our staff said about the program


Here’s how one of our developers found his everyday travels and regular motorcycle rides outside Melbourne much more engaging once he knew more about the First Nations' people and history of the area. Read Rob's Insight.

Another piece written by our QA Analyst, Sakina, describes how this program taught her new things about Australian history and also encouraged her to reflect on her own Indian heritage and how quickly cultural links can be lost. Read Sakina's Insight.


About the program


The first Symbiote Cultural Learning Program: A First Nations Perspective was run to coincide with Australia Day in 2021.

Two of our indigenous leaders, Rachel Kelly and Kiel Barber, proposed the Cultural Learning Program to create a safe space for cultural learning within our business. They both recognised the one sided narrative so often promoted with Australia Day that they wanted to ensure everybody at Symbiote had the opportunity to learn about First Nations perspectives as a way to build deeper empathy and understanding of others lived experiences. They also felt the program would not only broaden perspectives but could also help in the development of more user-friendly products in the future.

This first Cultural Learning program provided sessions with Uncle Bill Nicholson Jnr, a Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Corporations Principal adult cross-cultural educator, as well as a talk by Symbiote staff member and First Nations man, Kiel Barber and team discussions.

This Program applies the ‘Think global, act local mindset’. By creating a safe learning environment for staff to listen and learn, we hope to build a deeper awareness and empathy of each other’s lived experiences, while celebrating the diversity that makes Symbiote a great place to work.


Image credit Rachel Kelly.