Recognise and Combat Aboriginal Discrimination in the Workplace

In a recent report discussing the best ways to stop racism in sport, a key theme emerged–many people who behave discriminatorily to their peers or colleagues mistakenly assume that ingrained norms make this conduct acceptable. Part of the answer lies in educating workforces about which words, actions, treatments, or behaviours constitute racism, making it easier for all colleagues to call out racist treatment, and ensuring their workplace is an inclusive and safe environment for all.

Anti-racism training is an effective tool that ensures workforces not only appreciate and understand the profound impacts racism can have but are equipped with the understanding of what racism might look like and the often-repeated actions that allow racist behaviour to go unchecked.

Evolving Company Standards to Eliminate Workplace Aboriginal Discrimination

While discrimination and racism have varying definitions, they very often go hand in hand. As a quick overview:

  • Discrimination: When a person or group of people are treated differently or negatively based on a characteristic such as their ethnicity, culture, religion, age, gender, or sexual orientation
  • Racism: When an organisation or institution is prejudiced against a person or group due to the above-mentioned characteristics

It is easy to see why these two negative behaviours so easily co-exist. If a supervisor or recruiter discriminates against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when selecting candidates for interviews, for example, colleagues and workforce members will inevitably treat peers from that cultural background differently.

Conversely, ‘on paper’ attempts to improve workforce diversity by hiring First Nations people or those from another ethnic minority marks out an employee as different. They are often regarded with contempt by colleagues who assume they were hired to meet diversity targets rather than for the skills and talent they bring to the table. 

The solution isn’t solely to create an environment where racism and discrimination are unacceptable and actively addressed–but to ensure colleagues can spot these behaviours and take decisive action.

What Constitutes Aboriginal Discrimination Within a Corporation?

Discrimination comes in many forms. While the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 makes it illegal to discriminate against any person due to their race or heritage, discriminatory treatment persists, often because it slides under the radar or is not recognised or reported. Examples of Aboriginal discrimination could include, but are not limited to:

  • Promoting another colleague with equal or lower qualifications or experience over an Indigenous employee based solely on ethnicity
  • Opening opportunities for a role or higher level of responsibility only to white staff or inviting select applicants to apply based on their skin colour
  • Allowing racism or bullying to persist or failing to take action to eliminate these actions or investigate reports of racism
  • Believing a white member of staff over a First Nations person when mediating a conflict without giving equal weight to both sides of the story.
  • Taking punitive action against an Aboriginal employee for reporting discrimination or racism

Sometimes, discrimination is indirect but remains incredibly harmful. For example, ignoring derogatory nicknames or allowing colleagues to use damaging language when an Indigenous colleague is not present is a form of discrimination and allows racism to continue unchallenged.

How Does Tackling Workplace Discrimination Benefit Australian Businesses?

There are countless advantages for corporations that take decisive action to prevent discrimination and that represent the best standards of inclusivity, cultural sensitivity, and accessibility.

What is anti-racism training? This type of training is focused on education and information, sharing examples, ideas, and actionable strategies to upskill all members of staff to spot racism or discrimination when it happens and know what to do next.

Alongside better staff retention and employee satisfaction, these businesses gain:

  • An improved reputation in the community as a business that cares about its staff, customers, and the way they are treated and respected
  • Better communications and dialogues with local Indigenous communities and representatives, with opportunities to work to access further learning to progress their policies and approaches
  • Enhanced productivity, where staff have the skills and awareness to enter into even complex or challenging discussions, resolve issues, or share ideas in an inclusive environment

Although compliance with anti-discrimination laws is essential, companies that invest time and effort into anti-racism training see sustained, long-term outcomes. Staff, investors, customers, and partners are always keen to do business with a company that stands by its values and has a positive impact on the community around it.

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