New Australian research shows businesses how to address racism at work

Media releases

Research into the barriers facilitating racism in Australian workplaces by the peak body for workplace diversity and inclusion has recommended key anti-racism actions to address racism at work effectively.

In response to the global push for racial justice in 2020, Diversity Council Australia (DCA) studied how businesses can effectively address racism in Australian workplaces. 

The resulting report, Racism at Work, is an evidence-based organisational framework for anti-racism action to help Australian businesses effectively address racism.

“Australian employers were asking Diversity Council Australia what the global push for racial justice meant for them, and for evidence-based guidance to address racism in their workplaces that considered Australia’s historical context,” DCA CEO Lisa Annese said.  

Racism at Work was informed by people who experience racism, guidance from an expert panel, and a survey of 1547 Australian workers across various sectors. 

The survey found 88% of respondents agreed racism is an issue in Australian organisations and that 93% of respondents agreed organisations need to take action to address it.  

However, while support for organisations to tackle workplace racism was high, only 27% of survey respondents said their organisations were proactively preventing workplace racism.  

“Pervasive and persistent racism against Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people, as well as people of colour, migrants, refugees and their descendants, is part of Australia’s history,” Ms Annese said.  

“Racism is not only the result of behaviours or attitudes from a few people, rather, as our research shows, it is also embedded in workplace policies, organisations and workplace cultures. 

The impact of racism is a high personal cost to individual employees who experience it and workplaces where barriers facilitate it.

“It is the role of workers at all levels of a business, not just people who are racially marginalised, to provide a racially safe workplace and take action to address racism when it arises at work,” Ms Annese said.  

“To create effective change, approaches to addressing racism in the workplace must centre the voices of people who have experienced racism, alongside people who are racially privileged.”

DCA Member Education Director and Racism at Work co-author Dr Virginia Mapedzahama said it was vital anti-racism approaches in Australian workplaces consider the Australian context.

“We need to consider our history with race and racism and our current denial to talk about racism specifically/directly,” Dr Mapedzahama said.

“Approaches to racism in Australian workplaces will only succeed if they recognise and acknowledge racism as systemic. 

“This really starts with us using the language of racism and calling it what it is,” Dr Mapedzahama said.  

“To identify and effectively respond to racism, we need to stop shying away from it by using race-neutral language like ‘harmony, cohesion, culture’.

“That language, though useful in its own right, will not help us tackle racism.”

 DCA Board Chair, Ming Long AM, said Australian businesses, employers and workers must start addressing racism in the workplace and developing anti-racism approaches. 

“No organisation is immune from the scourge of racism,” Ms Long said.

“Effective anti-racism, racial diversity and equity approaches should be led and informed by people with lived experience of racism, centring their voices, in partnership with workers who don’t share their experiences.  

“Workers at all levels of a business have a moral and legal imperative to proactively contribute to a racially safe workplace, which means striving to be non-racist themselves and engaging in actions to address racism in their workplace.”

Racism at Work was sponsored by Diageo, IKEA Australia, Relationships Australia NSW, Arup and QBE.

Quotes attributable to Racism at Work research sponsors

Angus McPherson, Managing Director, Diageo Australia

“Diageo’s support for this research is core to our inclusion and diversity philosophy to ensure our workplace effectively addresses racism. 

“Our commitment to this cause is not only important for our workplace, it is fundamental to the way we engage and influence our communities, partners and industry to do the same. 

“Together we can ensure racism is no longer a lived experience in the workplace.”

Elin Ahlund, People and Culture Manager, IKEA Australia

“At IKEA, we believe equality is a fundamental human right, and this is reflected in our values as a humanistic, values-driven business.

“Despite the culture of inclusion, we work with our 4000 co-workers every day to realise, racism is deeply entrenched in our society and requires constant effort and action to overcome. 

“As a workplace, we need to know how to identify and overcome barriers and how to work effectively to end racism.

“These guidelines provide the direction and framework to address workplace racism in Australia, a critical tool in supporting us to deliver a safe, inclusive space for all co-workers to come to work each day. We are very proud to have partnered with DCA to support this work.”

Elisabeth Shaw, CEO, Relationships Australia NSW

“As people, as colleagues and as organisations, we have a shared responsibility to listen, to do better and critically – to act. 

“RANSW is proud to support the Racism at Work report and the collective role we all have to navigate respectful relationships between ourselves and others in the workplace.” 

Kerryn Coker, Arup, Co-Chair Australasia Region

“At Arup we are on a journey of deep understanding on the impact of racism in the workplace.  

“Sponsoring this project has been a key part of our commitment to furthering this understanding – to support not only Arup but other firms with clarity on what they can and must do to eliminate racism in workplaces.   

“The first step to identifying, eliminating and preventing racism for Arup has been accepting that our firm is a part of larger society and what is “out there” happens here too.  

“Creating an open environment for dialogue and to understand the harm that racism in the workplace causes means we can act on it with courage and kindness.  

“DCA’s guide will help to support Arup and other organisations in taking meaningful action.”  

Sue Houghton, QBE Australia Pacific Chief Executive Officer said the tangible actions in the report will further empower organisations to effectively understand the experience, build capability and take positive actions to address racism in the workplace.

“Racism is a complex experience, and while the workplace is only one location in which it can occur, the research shows that there is a clear onus on businesses to be proactive in preventing and addressing racism.

“The actions in the report provide clear and practical steps all workplaces can consider to build awareness of others’ lived experiences, actively address racism and offer support pathways.

“QBE is proud of its inclusive culture and commitment to ensuring our people feel valued, respected and safe to speak up, and we’re proud to have contributed to this important workplace tool.

“I am confident many organisations, including QBE, will build on their efforts to date and consider how they can make a positive impact and take ongoing action to help eradicate racism in the workplace.”

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Media Contact: Sonia Kohlbacher 02 7209 9080 [email protected]