Is racism a reality in NZ workplaces?

Those facing more racism at work reported lower happiness and higher job anxiety and depression

Is racism a reality in NZ workplaces?

Protests against racism brought on by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police continue to spread in the US and around the world. And new research from Aotearoa New Zealand shows that workplace here are not immune.

The study from the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) looked at the prevalence of racism in the New Zealand workplace and its impact on employee performance and wellbeing. Moreover, it shows how these findings compare to international data.

The survey was conducted over 2019-2020 by Professor Jarrod Haar (AUT Business School) with AUT Master of Business Management student Saima Amjad.

The researchers used multiple quantitative surveys to examine racism in the workplace as experienced by New Zealand employees who identify as Māori (437), Tagata Pasifika (148), or Muslim (121). The samples reflect a broad range of professions, gender and age.

Perceived discrimination at work is defined as an employee’s perception that selective and differential treatment is occurring because of their ethnic/cultural/religious affiliations.

For example, these experiences could be expressed as, “At work, I feel uncomfortable when others make jokes or negative commentaries about people of my ethnic/religious background” and “At work, people look down upon me if I practice customs of my culture/religion.”

In a perfect world, we would expect a score of zero, reflecting that no employees perceive discrimination at work.

However, the results found around 40% of Māori and Pasifika employees and 35% of Muslim employees reported no racism at work. Slightly over 20% of Māori and Pasifika employees and 15% of Muslim employees reported a moderate level of racism at work, with fewer than 5% of all employees reporting a high level of racism at work.

Compared to international data, these findings indicate workplace racism rates are high in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Across all three ethnic groups, the research showed that those who reported more racism at work also reported lower job satisfaction, poorer engagement, and were more likely to want to leave their jobs.

Wellbeing was also impacted: those facing more racism at work reported lower happiness and higher job anxiety and job depression.

The findings show that while we might want to consider New Zealand a country that embraces diversity and different cultures, the experiences of those in the workplace reflect a different reality.

The research concluded that “when it comes to walking the anti-discrimination talk, New Zealand workplaces still have work to do”.

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