Coming Together: An Indigenous-owned accounting firm driven by community
Repost from Xero Australia Blog - NAIDOC Week 2020
As one of only four Aboriginal people to run their own accounting firm in Australia, Darwin-based Sarah Hyland is the Founder of Together Business. Her values-aligned practice helps small businesses, not-for-profits and social enterprises to merge passion with profit in order to bring benefits to the wider community.
Sarah Hyland didn’t study accounting to only focus on the numbers. An Anaiwan woman from New South Wales, Sarah now lives in Larrakia country (Darwin) where she runs Together Business.
“I show people how to make their idea profitable so they can do more for their community, whether that’s hiring more staff or investing back into their business to make it more sustainable,” says Sarah.
Sarah has worked in the traditional world of accounting, completing stints at a bank, government department and a Big Four firm. But she ultimately realised that the corporate environment wasn’t the right fit.
Like many new parents, she began to reassess her career after having her first child in 2018. Her aims were twofold: she wanted more flexibility, but she also yearned to work with businesses that have a positive impact on the community.
Following a search for values-based accounting practices, Sarah instead decided to found one herself. Launching Together Business in 2019, she’s since found purpose in providing socially responsible businesses (including many Indigenous-owned enterprises) with advice that will set them up for success.
Disrupting business as usual
From encouraging clients to align their business practices with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, to working with Indigenous-owned social enterprises to create business models designed to give back, Together Business subscribes to the Four Ps: Profit, Purpose, Planet and People.
Also known as the ‘quadruple bottom line’, this approach to measuring economic, environmental, social and cultural sustainability is a concept Sarah would like to see more widely embraced within her industry.
“Profitability needs to be considered in combination with environmental and social impacts,” says Sarah, who adds that Aboriginal business owners are often highly likely to have a social purpose behind their business.
A seat at the table
Sarah believes that the under-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in accounting is a complex issue that won’t be solved by diversity policies or cultural awareness training alone.
“We need more Aboriginal people in accounting, but what we really need is to be welcomed as self-determining decision-makers who are there to contribute wisdom and insight. We don’t want to be in the picture because a company is ticking a box,” Sarah explains, noting that rigid organisational hierarchies often render change impossible.
“Diversity brings a different perspective, which helps an organisation to progress and innovate.”
Instead of viewing Aboriginal people as disadvantaged and in need of help, Sarah would like to see business leaders view Indigenous people from a strength-based perspective.
“Indigenous people offer a unique value proposition. Employers and industry bodies need to put decision-making in Aboriginal people’s hands and then step away. Without that, you’re not genuinely giving Aboriginal leaders a seat at the table.”
We’re all in this together
“Whether it’s providing for their kids or contributing to something bigger, people need a purpose to come to work, and that needs to be honoured,” says Sarah.
As a holistic advisory service that recently achieved Xero Silver Partner status, Together Business always considers the purpose and vision of a business when reviewing its financials.
“I believe that most Aboriginal business owners aren’t just in it for themselves. In a way, every Aboriginal-owned business is a social enterprise,” Sarah explains.
Working with young, ambitious Indigenous leaders running social enterprises and startups is a focus for Sarah, who sees herself as “a cheerleader in their corner”.
She believes that NAIDOC Week and other First Nations events offer an important opportunity to connect with and learn from other Aboriginal people.
“The most powerful and meaningful conversations I’ve ever had are in Indigenous-specific spaces. We’re a part of the oldest living culture in the world, there’s intense wisdom and answers inside our bones that’s worth listening to.”