Business leaders must step up efforts to stamp out workplace racism


Racial discrimination remains a huge problem in Australian workplaces – it affects employees’ stress, health and performance, making them likely to leave for other jobs. Companies that don’t address this issue will be left behind.

Even though racial discrimination is illegal, statistics suggest Australian businesses still have a problem. They must be prepared to call it while increasing their investment in cultural awareness training.

A report by the Scanlon Foundation Research Institute in 2021 found that one in five people living in Australia were the target of racial discrimination, or more than four million people.

Reconciliation and alliances experts Carla Rogers and Aunty Munya Andrews, co-directors of Evolve Communities, believe that education is the key to reducing racial discrimination in the workplace and that cultural insensitivity persists because people lack knowledge.

Carla Rogers tells Independent AAustralia:

“It’s more important to provide diversity education in the workplace because Australians haven’t necessarily received cultural awareness or sensitivity training at school.”

Regarding employment, Ms. Rogers warns:

“Workplaces that lack cultural sensitivity will struggle to retain and inspire employees from diverse backgrounds.”

Two years ago, a report by Diversity Council Australia and the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research (UTS) at the University of Technology Sydney found that 28% of respondents said they worked in culturally unsafe workplaces. Other reports say 44% have heard racial slurs in the workplace and 59% said they have faced “appearance racism” about their appearance.

A Diversity Council Australia report published in March this year found that 43% of non-white Australian employees regularly experience racism in the workplace.

One of the biggest challenges facing organizations today is lack of engagement and high employee attrition. Many companies celebrate cultural diversity – without putting processes in place to ensure their diverse team is properly protected or educated.

Unless racism is identified and the language around it changes, companies that don’t respond will face lawsuits, brand damage and reduced productivity, all of which will impact their results.

The price of inaction is enormous and it should send a powerful message to organizations to take racism seriously.

The following items examine ways to address racism in the workplace:

Identify and promote the benefits of diversity in the workplace

Explain the business case; how it boosts company reputation, drives innovation and increases profits which, in turn, provide employees with job security and career growth. A staff member taking sick leave because of racism adds additional pressure to a team’s workload while they are away.

Structural racism in Australia and the pandemic

Shaping anti-racism

Consider including mandatory reporting in the value statement so that racist incidents are reported when they occur.

Invest in a buddy system and appoint a running champion within the leadership team, and ensure inclusion and diversity are standing agenda items at management meetings.

An anti-racism position statement should be included in the code of conduct and in employee contracts – and enforced, so it’s not just lip service.

Provide training on racism — invest in quality cultural diversity and multicultural education and training. Training should educate about issues of racism, unconscious racial bias and discrimination. Use concrete examples of bad experiences and good practices. Set clear expectations for what your organization stands for and maintain zero tolerance for racism.

Workers must have confidence in the complaints process

Racism can prevent workers from raising issues or filing complaints. Sometimes co-workers from different backgrounds don’t feel heard when approaching Human Resources to raise an issue. Making it easier for staff to lodge complaints will help demonstrate that racial discrimination is not tolerated.

Business leaders have a role to play in eradicating racism

Leaders have an obligation to support employees and commit to creating a culture of belonging. Make sure your company’s multicultural landscape is well understood. Foster open dialogues on racial issues and encourage employee discussions around their experiences or observations.

Maureen Kyne is an expert on bullying, sexual harassment and workplace discrimination. You can follow Maureen on Twitter @MaureenKyne.

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