This was originally published in LBF News in July 2012. The Australian article was written by Leo Shanahan.
WHILE making a name for herself as founder and head of indigenous recruitment and consulting firm LBF Consulting, Lani Blanco-Francis moved to Sydney to prove herself on a bigger stage.
“I come from a small community in far north Queensland,” Blanco-Francis says. “Born in Mossman, north of Port Douglas, raised in Weipa. I was the kind of girl that wanted more than just Weipa, and to get out and explore other opportunities. So I applied to study dance with the Aboriginal and Islander Skills Association in Sydney.”
Her sister, also a professional dancer, left Weipa not long after to pursue her career in New York. “I found it quite hard being in a big city,” she says.
“The first few weeks I was just crying, saying ‘I want to come back’, but I was lucky to have a good family that said ‘no, stay there’.
“I was staying at the Tony Mundine (indigenous hostel), so I would work there. I started my day at five in the morning, finish my day at six o’clock, then do a performance of an evening on the weekend.”
While a professional dance career eluded her, Blanco-Francis applied her dancer’s work ethic to a career in human resources, starting at the ABC while still studying dance.
“I was lucky enough to get a traineeship over at the ABC at Gore Hill,” she says.
“I was looking at the broader diversity banner, compliance and HR, a lot of HR. So after that I was with Qantas for seven years, and then with Insurance Australia Group.”
Blanco-Francis saw an opportunity to branch out on her own, after becoming frustrated by
a lack of access for indigenous people to the labour market.
“A lot of this was built out of frustration. I was quite naive, and perhaps if I had known what I know now maybe I wouldn’t be doing what I do,” she says.
“However, there was a gap in the market and at the time I was thinking about labour supply in the insurance industry, and I was thinking what roles I could get Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders into.
“So then I went out in a partnership with a friend of mine, and we looked at engaging with businesses and getting indigenous people job-ready.”
Blanco-Francis founded her own company, LBF Consulting, by herself in September 2008.
Subsidised by the Department of Workplace Relations, it has four full-time staff and is set to turn a profit in the coming year.
About 60 per cent of its business is devoted to recruitment, with the rest a mix of corporate consulting and strategy development on indigenous issues.
Blanco-Francis says her biggest challenge is getting corporations to understand that indigenous people will be completely out of touch with the most basic networks most employees rely on.
“A lot of Aboriginal people would not look in a newspaper or an employment agency,” she says.
“They would go to where they feel most comfortable, which is local Aboriginal organisations and specialists. So corporates need to advertise in a way that accesses that talent.
“There is not a lot of exposure to corporate opportunities, so local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders can see what’s on offer. Sometimes it can be as simple as a corporate putting on an employment fair targeted at indigenous workers.”
Blanco-Francis argues the tendency to look overseas to plug holes in the labour market ignores the demographic benefits offered by a growing indigenous population.