Debate finds racism is holding Australia back

by Stephanie Zillman15 Nov 2012

Not enough is being done to address racism in Australian workplaces, according to a panel of Australian thought leaders.

That was the upshot of the Diversity Council Australia’s annual diversity debate, which was held in Sydney this week.

A final vote of the audience of business and HR executives found that racism is holding Australia back, and moderator Tony Jones, from ABC’s Q&A program, awarded the debate to the affirmative by 71% to 29%, despite a swing of 9% to the negative team during the debate.

A clear consensus emerged amongst panellists that more needs to be done to address racism, DCA’s CEO Nareen Young, commented. “All panellists agreed that racism is a problem that exists and must be tackled, although they disagreed on the extent to which it affects Australian workplaces and the wider community,” Young said.

The arguments supporting the case that racism is holding Australia back centred on the harmful impacts of racism – not only on the individual but on business, communities, social cohesion and Aboriginal Australians in particular.

Leading the affirmative team, Race Discrimination Commissioner, Helen Szoke said racism is a major roadblock. “This is evident on a number of counts. Structural or systemic racism not only has costs to businesses and communities but also is lost opportunity costs in an economic and social sense,” Szoke said.

In contrast, the negative side argued that Australia compares favourably with other countries in terms of the relative harmony between diverse cultures and communities, and if racism was really holding the country back there would be much more conflict evident.

Leading the negative team, Past President of the Federation of Australian Indian Associations, Vish Viswanathan, said Australia is not a racist country at all, and that the business community is performing well. “In contrast to many countries where racial strife affects even the normal day-to-day life, the diverse and multicultural community in Australia is enjoying the spirit of ‘mateship’, cultural harmony and a sense of inclusiveness, thus making Australia a great place to live in the world,” Viswanathan said.

Yet the debate confirmed there is a need for a greater understanding of race issues in workplaces, and it is time to focus on cultural diversity at the most senior levels of Australian business.

A new research project between the DCA, PwC, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, ANZ, and IBM is soon due to be released, and the research  will for the first time capture the culturally diverse profile and intercultural capabilities at board and senior executive levels of ASX200 companies, as a first step to moving forward in key battleground of diversity.


  • by A 15/11/2012 3:34:07 PM

    I feel this is the case, especially with recruiters. I have been told that I should anglicise my name so as not to be discriminated against before my resume is even looked at. Another thing I was told is to ring the recruiter before applying so they can tell that I have a good grasp of English and no accent rather than them assuming that I am an international student, which is probably worse than the above example.

    It is actually quite depressing, but thankfully I have a job already even though I do not like the culture or the people. I feel more for the people that are discriminated against due to age and have family to support, as thankfully I still live at home and my parents would never kick me to the kerb, so I will always have a roof over my head and don't have to worry about paying the bills or feeding myself or others if this job gets any worse before I find another one.

    All in all, it is really good to hear that they are speaking about this type of discrimination, as it appears that the main focus in Australia regarding diversity is gender and mainly for women. Which I guess is good for me as a woman, but I think my race/ethnicity would be the first place I would be discriminated against, so that sort of matters to me more.

  • by RC 19/11/2012 11:16:04 PM

    I have also been advised to modify my name. One GM, when presented with a CV with my name , candidly said that "...these resumes (people from my racial background) go to the bottom of the pile... They all exaggerate their qualifications." One recruiter said "I will let my client know you are not a typical ..." A manager I spoke to recently said "80% of those people are no good and the other 20% can't handle pressure."

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