'Racism and lack of cultural diversity' are still 'significant issues' in workplaces

'Bigotry is endemic in the workplace,' says Commissioner

'Racism and lack of cultural diversity' are still 'significant issues' in workplaces

In this day and age, Australian workplaces reportedly still confront “racism and lack of cultural diversity” as “significant issues,” according to Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan.

In a speech delivered before the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria for an anti-racism symposium, Tan highlighted that “cultural and linguistic diversity is missing from many areas of public life,” including employment. Tan said it was directly contrasting the country’s social fabric, citing a 2016 census which identified that 49 percent of residents were born overseas or have at least one parent born overseas.

Tan then explained that “individual and institutional biases and barriers” may be “directly responsible” for the disconnect. “We all know the failure to reflect and value Australia’s cultural diversity in our workplaces is experienced by employees in many ways,” Tan said.

“For some, it means invisibility or leaving parts of themselves ‘at home’. For others the effects can be much more harmful, resulting in discrimination, vilification, or hate at work,” Tan added.

He pointed out workers’ “stories of fewer opportunities for training and professional development” and “barriers to recruitment and career progression.” He also said there is a lack of diversity on hiring panels and ineffective complaints processes. Tan further stated that “inappropriate jokes and comments” play a part in the problem. 

“All these experiences come at a high cost to affected employees and to workplaces. Workplaces where workers must hide their cultural and linguistic differences from one another, and especially from their managers, are often places where presenteeism exists—people come to work but are less productive because they cannot contribute in a comfortable, appropriate, and authentic way or because there is no space for them to be visible and heard,” he said.

The Commissioner then pointed to a 2018 Leading for Change report that examined corporate leadership across the country. According to him, the report estimated that “those who occupy the most senior posts in universities, major ASX listed companies, federal parliament, and public sector departments, only 4.7 percent have a non-European background and 0.4 percent have an Indigenous background.”

“Put another way, about 95 percent of these senior leaders in Australia have an Anglo-Celtic or European background. Although those who have non-European and Indigenous backgrounds make up an estimated 24 percent of the Australian population, people with such backgrounds account for only 5 percent of senior leaders,” he said.

‘Workplace diversity contributes to culturally safe and competent workplaces’

The Commissioner explained that diversity and financial performance are interrelated. “At an organisational level, research from McKinsey also shows a positive correlation between diversity and financial performance,” Tan said.

“The 2018 Delivering through Diversity report showed that companies with the most ethnically diverse executive teams—in both absolute representation and in ethnic mix—are 33 per cent more likely to outperform their peers on profitability,” he added.

‘Workplace productivity and diversity’

The Commissioner said that diverse heritages in the workplace can boost productivity since it creates inclusivity, adding that it builds workplaces “with higher job satisfaction.”

“Places where people can work while embracing who they are—these are necessarily places where people thrive, and productivity comes along as a happy by-product,” Tan said. “The knock-on effect of this is workplace productivity.”

“If organisations are serious about promoting an inclusive and culturally diverse workforce, it is critical they examine their leadership, accountability, and workplace culture to ensure they are functioning in a way that best attracts, promotes, and nurtures a multicultural workforce,” he said.

“Bigotry is endemic in the workplace and to succeed you must beat it and not just blame it,” Tan said in the council’s media release. “We must open the doors of opportunities, but we must also equip our people to work through those doors,” Tan said.

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