More than half of Australia's workers hide true selves at work: Study

'Diversity disconnect' prevalent in Australian workplaces

More than half of Australia's workers hide true selves at work: Study

New research into diversity and inclusion in Australian workplaces has found an alarming disconnect between the perceived and lived experiences of minority groups. The findings by Indeed revealed that of the 2060 surveyed, 62% admit to concealing part of their identity from their colleagues all or some of the time.

The research found that while overall, 81% of working Australians believe that people from a different ethnic or cultural background are treated equally where they work, that figure is almost 10% higher than the response of those individuals from a cultural or ethnic minority group.

The figures highlight a disconnect when it comes the lived experiences of workers from different backgrounds. The same trend was identified when it came to employers taking action against discrimination. Almost 80% of working Australians believe their employer would take action in the event of discrimination, but only 69% of Indigenous Australians and 66% of non-English speaking workers agree.

Speaking to HRD, Jay Munro, Indeed’s head of career insights, said there is still a lot of stigma and a lack of understanding associated with diverse and minority groups.

“This can be for a variety of reasons, such as poor education around different experiences or backgrounds, a lack of companies with robust diversity and inclusion initiatives, and not enough attention placed on creating a sense of belonging within the workplace,” he said.

Read more: WeWork D&I lead urges employers to design more inclusive workplaces in wake of pandemic

For some employees, COVID-19 also made things worse. Almost a fifth of working Indigenous Australians said the pandemic had made their organisations worse at managing diversity and inclusion. Munro said this decline in inclusivity may be due to the lack of equity across dispersed workforces. For example, some may feel less comfortable using video conferencing from their home and yet unable to speak up about their needs.

When working as a team from multiple locations, that sense of inclusivity and belonging can be challenging to create, maintain, and promote. There are also expectations that can sometimes seem unreasonable and affect individuals speaking up about their particular needs.

“For some, accommodations need to be made to allow for exceptions, and to encourage everyone to feel safe and able to be their true selves at work without judgement,” he said.

“It can be very difficult to read or anticipate others' reactions to your diverse background or grouping. Lack of visibility of body language and easily misinterpreted written tone and comments can all compound and result in reduced feelings of safety and trust, resulting in hesitancy to share information about ourselves.”

Read more: Neurodiverse jobseekers still facing significant barriers from entering workforce: study

Creating a strong sense of belonging and inclusion will continue to be vital for employees, but even more so for dispersed teams. While hybrid working arrangements bring many positives, HRDs must also be prepared to tackle challenges like fostering strong D&I from afar. Having a brilliant culture in the physical office space will only go so far when employees are splitting their time between the office and their homes.

Munro said its imperative that HRDs communicate with those in minority groups or diverse backgrounds, identifying their needs and what would make them feel included and safe to bring their whole selves to work.

“While it's extremely important to have all employees educated and encouraged to support diversity and inclusion, there's a hefty responsibility on leadership teams to "walk the talk",” he said. “There should be continued sponsorship, promotion, and encouragement from leaders to instil the values of diversity and inclusion, and to communicate the expected behaviours of all employees.”

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