Is Australia racist?

New study shows ethnic minorities much less likely to be considered for leadership roles

Is Australia racist?

Australia, until recently, was always known as ‘the lucky country’ — but sometimes we are associated with being a ‘racist country’.

This is in the spotlight now more than ever with an impending referendum on whether to grant Aboriginals special rights to the parliamentary process.

Research from The Leadership Quarterly — where more than 12,000 job applications from ethnic minorities were sent to more than 4,000 job advertisements — revealed that applicants within the six ethnic groups vying for leadership positions were 57% less likely to be considered for leadership roles and 45% less likely to be consider for lower job positions.

In all cases, the resumes were identical.

What’s in a name?

“It is definitely difficult to get senior jobs in Australia,” Nandita Chakraborty, author, said. “People have preconceived ideas that our communication, language skills or leadership capabilities won’t be as useful or that we don't understand Aussie culture.

“Not only is my name very ethnic sounding, but it can also be hard to pronounce as well.”

Chakraborty says she has experienced many issues because of her Indian sounding surname.

“The challenges are real and can be so disheartening. I have found that if I take the time to get to know people so they can develop an understanding of who I am and what I bring to the table, I am more likely to be successful in being given opportunities. If I don't do this and make the extra effort, and I am considered on name alone, then I know that I miss out on opportunities.”

Ethnic discrimination for leadership positions

The research also revealed that ethnic discrimination for leadership positions was even more pronounced when the job ad required customer contact.

In contrast, hiring discrimination for leadership positions was not significantly influenced by whether the job advertisement emphasized individualism or learning, creativity, and innovation.

“Our findings provide novel evidence of a glass ceiling for ethnic minorities to enter leadership positions,” said the researchers.

Every country has its challenges, Chakraborty said.

“In Australia, I have found that I am too Indian for Australia and too Australian for India. I arrived here many years ago and have flourished but I have found integration a little more challenging because I am an unmarried Indian woman over the age of 40. Culturally, there is an expectation that I should be married. In many workplaces, while organisations say they embrace diversity on paper, in reality they don't.”

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 29.1% of the Australian population was born overseas in 2021 equating to 7.5 million people.

The largest group of overseas-born were born in England, however, Indian-born was the group with the largest increase since 2011 and were the next largest group followed by the Chinese.

In 2020, Australia ranked ninth internationally for the total number of migrants in its population.

Equal opportunity regardless of ethnicity

“I believe that everyone should be given an equal opportunity to reach their potential regardless of their ethnicity,” Jon Michail, CEO of Image Group International, said. “Australia is an incredibly diverse country, and it is important to recognise and celebrate this diversity and not fear it because of history.”

That being said, there are still hidden barriers that exist that make it difficult for people from certain ethnic backgrounds to reach their goals, he said.

“Surprisingly, even they don't like publicly talking about it, preferring to simply fit in, extenuating the problem.”

But it’s important to recognise and address these barriers to ensure that all Australians have the same access to leadership opportunities regardless of their colour, creed, or surname, Michail said.

“In a poly-crisis world, this is another opportunity for us Australians to step up.”

The problem exists, and it will take time to weed out the unconscious bias and simple decision made by some employers.

“Lack of employment and leadership opportunities is both overt and covert racism depending on how decisions are rationalised and communicated,” Chakraborty said.

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