Workers silent on race related issues

by Cameron Edmond18 Dec 2013
With greater protections against discrimination, diversity initiatives in more organisations, and a general shift in society’s perspectives, it’s easy to assume racial discrimination in the workplace is in decline.

However, that’s not the case. The latest annual report from the Australian Human Rights Commission found the volume of racial discrimination complaints has risen by 59%.
While it’s difficult to identify a single cause for this jump, Professor Lucy Taksa of Macquarie University thinks it is generally linked back to a lack of understanding and appreciation of other cultures.

“There are fundamental complexities around cultural identities and they play out in a workplace because that is where people spend most of their time interacting,” she told HC.

Taksa explained that racial vilification continues to persist in the workplace because people are fearful of speaking up about it. Most prominently are issues surrounding communication, which differ from culture to culture.

“People don’t want to identify as [being] different, they want to be just like everyone else,” she explained, adding that this leads to issues surrounding demoralisation and stress, which can then result in a breakdown of teamwork and productivity.

This fear of being marginalised or reprimanded due to cultural differences is an issue Taksa stressed must be resolved. While unable to pinpoint an exact cause, Taksa raised the following points for consideration:
  • Racism is often equated to occur only between Anglo Australians and ‘others’. This view does not consider the complexities and differences between the broad array of cultures in the Australian workforce. “For example, in Chinese companies where, perhaps, the management is Chinese but employees are Korean there are different cultural values,” Taksa stated.
  • While it is important to hire on the grounds of merit and not race, merit in Australian organisations is often viewed without context. “We bring to notions of merit all sorts of assumptions,” Taksa explained, adding that verbosity – which may not be viewed as an asset in many cultures – is seen as a sign of engagement and therefore merit.
  • Due to the fear of condemnation, HR must proactively approach employees and engage them in conversation surrounding cultural diversity and if they feel comfortable, and if not – what can be done?
Do you have a cultural diversity plan in your organisation? Do you agree with Taksa’s points?


  • by wendy o'Hanlon 18/12/2013 3:02:06 PM

    There is hidden racism everywhere.
    An excellent article

  • by Jason Buchanan (Optimum Consulting Group) 18/12/2013 3:51:20 PM

    Well done on tackling such a sensitive subject Dr Tanaka. I have experienced such productivity problems in previous organisations, and as a result I have been experimenting with a really simple anonymous and continuous online feedback platform as a way to pick up on issues before they become a really big problem. The cost of dealing with something too late is significant for any organisation.

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