Understanding is More Than Toleration

I recently came across an article which contained a similar title, well, the first half anyway. I then reflected on the author’s narrative and sentiment and was wondering if I was being a little judgmental when I came across the words, ‘We are committed to company X being an inclusive, tolerant workplace; we are launching a dialogue; yesterday was a first step, dialogue is the beginning of change; and, be our best selves’. The words may have come from the heart. And, yes, silence about racism signals zero acknowledgement as implied by the rest of the author’s original title.

However, I feel that when in a leadership role of a large corporation, could we start from a more deeper and informed place about race and issues facing people from culturally and linguistically diverse background in employment? Within its sphere of influence, what has the organisation done (historically and up to now) to bridge the racial inequity gap, close the gap or ‘jump the gap’? Does it want to and why? Does the composition of its workforce reflect the community it serves? Is there cultural and linguistic diversity (CALD) at all levels of the organisation? Are the upper echelons of the company occupied by people of visible diversity or is it homogeneous and lacking in cultural diversity? Let’s not skim the surface of a conversation that has been happening for well over 50 years, otherwise aspirational statements may be perceived as shallow and just talk.

Looking more closely at the narrative, using the word tolerance to me means ‘to put up with’ or ‘the continual subjection of ...’ Would acceptance or appreciation be a better narrative? ‘Launching a dialogue and taking a first step. Well it’s 2016, and that ship sailed long ago. And, ‘bringing your whole selves to work’ … well, it depends what life you’ve had up till now if you’d want to do that. Read a little about code switching and internalised racism. People have become pretty good at it. So how do we move from talk shows at work to something more authentic and meaningful that will engage and inspire, and, as the article did, start with compassion and good intentions?

I had the great fortune of meeting Jane Elliot in 1998 at the Melbourne Convention Centre on one of her speaking tours. Jane devised the controversial and startling "Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes" exercise that labelled participants as inferior or superior based solely upon the colour of their eyes and exposed them to the experience of being a minority. In fact, my first ever autograph was from Jane. She gave me my racial consciousness awakening.

The Courageous Conversations about Race model (developed by Glenn E. Singleton, Pacific Education Group) was another moment when I began to acutely understand how race impacts my life 100% of the time. The model uses a combination of experiential narratives/stories and values-based exercises within a race privilege conceptual framework to promote a deeper, more active and sustained engagement with the issues of cultural diversity, racism and community harmony. The process helped me to engage, sustain and deepen my race dialogue in a more meaningful way with humility and respect. Through years of practice and unlearning, I have aimed to further raise my racial consciousness and cultural competency, which helped me to understand my power, privilege, whiteness, biases, stereotypes, racial blindness and any internalised racism.

Is this the story in workplaces?

Diversity practitioners and researchers who have worked in the area of Cultural and Linguistic Diversity (CALD) (including faith) are usually familiar with Government and Organisational Cultural Competency Frameworks, Reconciliation Action Plans, CALD Action Plans, and strategies and training programs that aim to build cultural competency and raise racial consciousness.

Despite a number of successful initiatives, there continues to be a relatively high level of complacency and relatively low level of commitment and investment in cultural competency activities across the higher education and corporate sectors.

To drive social and cultural transformation within our personal and professional areas of responsibility, we need to examine, in a coherent way, multiple perspectives that can be weaved into our frameworks and culture, so that we achieve a genuine and authentic inclusive environment.

Has your organisation addressed race and CALD seriously? Has it developed or successfully implemented a CALD Action Plan, have KPIs in relation to CALD, have inter-institutional benchmarks on CALD staff, have longitudinal data of their CALD staff, have evaluated the effectiveness of their CALD strategies, or reviewed their policies and practices with a CALD lens? Has it explored key issues in relation to under-representation, under-utilisation, unconscious bias and discrimination?

As there is no obligation to disclose your CALD background to an employer, data capture in organisations is difficult (a diversity survey may be one solution). There are also some slight variations in how CALD is defined. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) defines cultural and linguistic diversity by three variables, Country of birth, Language other than English (LOTE) spoken at home and English language proficiency. However, in the Australian context, individuals from a CALD background are those who identify as having specific cultural or linguistic affiliation by virtue of their place of birth, ancestry, ethnic origin, religion, preferred language or language(s) spoken at home, or because of their parents’ identification on a similar basis.

Here are some key issues to explore in relation to race and CALD in Australian workplaces

Under-representation at executive level and media A

Anecdotal evidence shows that the representation of people from CALD backgrounds in the top echelons of Australian organisations and the mainstream media is not reflective of the community. Looking through the Executive Leadership Teams of the ASX 500 companies or mainstream television, we see a high degree of homogeneity and whiteness.

Participation rates in the workforce

Although unemployment rates for people from CALD backgrounds are broadly comparable to the general population, the rate is higher for people born in non-English speaking countries (more than 9% of people born in North Africa or the Middle East are unemployed) source.

AMES argues that official unemployment rates do not reflect the true unemployment rates in migrant communities because it does not consider underemployment and they suggest that the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) counts someone who has worked an hour a week as being employed.

In 2014-15, the labour force participation rate of people aged 20-74 years was 65.1% for women and 78.3% for men (ABS).

For people of CALD background (born overseas) it was 59.8% for women and 75.9% for men (ABS). For people of people of CALD background (born in Australia) it was 67.9% for women and 80.2% for men (ABS).

In 2016, the labour force participation rate of people aged 15+ years was 59.5% for women and 71.0% for men (ABS). The proportion of the Australian population aged 18-24 employed full or part time in 2011 for i) Australian born was 71.6%; ii) CALD born _ 44.5%, iii) Refugee born - 33.2%, iv) Refugee ancestry - 48.8%, and, iv) CALD ancestry - 55.9%.

We may need to also consider student enrolment data in conjunction with this data.

Participation rates of migrants in the workforce

Migrants who had obtained Australian citizenship since arrival were more likely to be employed (73%) than other recent migrants (64%) or temporary residents (63%). In all cases, males were more likely to be employed full time than females: 90% of male migrants with Australian citizenship were employed full time compared with 63% of females.

Under-utilization of skills

Further analysis of ABS data shows that the skills of many migrants have not been fully utilised. The proportion of tertiary-educated migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds who were unemployed or working in low-skilled occupations was higher than their counterparts from English-speaking backgrounds or born in Australia. This under-utilisation of skills was attributed to barriers including lack of local work experience, lack of references, language difficulties, lack of local contacts/networks, and overseas skills and qualifications not being recognised by employers. source

Diversity clusters

Results from a series of diversity surveys (2009-2013) from a large organisation showed that the employee cohort was culturally diverse with 30% of employees born overseas and ~50% of employees’ parents born overseas. This compares with 23% of Australians born overseas and 44% of Australians who had at least one parent born overseas (Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia, 2011).

However, the results showed that people from CALD backgrounds were clustered in specific work areas, for example, science and business departments. Conversely, people from non-CALD backgrounds were highly represented in human resources, equity and diversity departments, marketing departments and executive leadership groups. Digging a bit deeper, the results showed that the majority of the survey participants who identified as CALD had both parents born from the same country!

Bearing this in mind (and looking at your own workplace or department), does homogeneity impact on the development and design of policy and procedure for the whole organisation? Does it impact how diversity and inclusion initiatives are prioritised? Many organisations are currently focusing on gender equity and have clear reasons for doing so, but are they equally focusing on the whole spectrum of diversity or the diversity within the cohort they are focussing on, for example, women of CALD backgrounds, Indigenous women, women with disability, women of diverse genders and sexualities, women at different life stages, parents and non-parents.

Do homogeneous marketing departments look through a narrow lens when developing marketing tools to reach their target audience? At one organisation, I saw racial blindness in practice when I was involved in a poster campaign that looked at eliminating violence against women. The marketing department submitted a sample photo of woman waiting for a bus with a black man sitting in a bus stop shelter in the background. Not sure where the ‘flock’ the marketing guy came from?

Is there representation of people of CALD backgrounds in tv commercials, news reporters, films, secondary school brochures? Are these genuine or tokenistic? For example, are we attempting to diversify the pool of staff at secondary schools to better reflect the student cohort?

More cultural diversity attracts cultural diversity, more homogeneity attracts homogeneity.

Results from a series of diversity surveys (2009–2013) from a large organisation showed that work areas with a higher representation of people from CALD backgrounds (than the survey average) appeared to retain or attract more people of CALD backgrounds, whereas, work areas that were homogenous appeared to retain their homogeneity.

Employment matters

Results from the same survey found that discrimination on the grounds of race was very low (2%) despite the higher proportion of people of CALD backgrounds (25% of the CALD cohort) experiencing unfair treatment in mainstream employment situations (for example, promotion, career progression, performance review, remuneration, recognition, workload allocation, resolution of workplace issues, etc.). They were not overrepresented in incidents of unfair treatment compared to the non-CALD cohort.

However, does it raise an issue around whether discrimination is overt or covert? Does it depend on whose lens you’re looking through and how clued up you may be to detect it or articulate it? Should your CALD strategy focus on awareness or does is go deeper into employment practices as well as culture and leadership.

Race discrimination

Race discrimination has been against the law for over 30 years under equal opportunity law because it is destructive, unfair and has high social and economic costs for all of us. It is against the law to discriminate against a person because of their race, colour, nationality or national origin, ethnicity or ethnic origin, descent or ancestry. However, according the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission 2015 Annual Report, 213 complaints of race and religious belief or activity discrimination were lodged at the Commission between 2014 and 2015, in the area of employment. This makes up 12% of all complaints lodged with the Commission in employment, the second highest behind disability.

Indigenous Australians

For the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population born in 2010–2012, life expectancy was estimated to be 10.6 years lower than that of the non-Indigenous population for males (69.1 years compared with 79.7) and 9.5 years for females (73.7 compared with 83.1).

So how does the conversation look like now?

Why should Melbourne or Australian organisations work in CALD and race? 433,628 immigrants have settled in Melbourne from 2001 to 2011. One in three of Melbourne's residents today was born in another country. Almost as many speak a foreign language at home. Nearly one in five is of Asian ancestry, mostly Chinese or Indian. Source

Organisations need to be actively working in race and CALD at a deeper level to ensure that our community is inclusive and cohesive, where everyone is treated with dignity and respect and has the opportunity to participate in all aspects of work and public life. Not be disengaged, exploited, excluded or discriminated. This means a more sophisticated narrative and strategy in the employment arena.

On the whole, you’d think that most Australian organisations have moved away from food, fashion and festival (including multicultural lunches) or talk shows at work. It is through continual learning and unlearning, guided conversations, enquiry, reading, reflection, inquisitiveness and interaction that I widen my lens in order to have and sustain a deeper and courageous conversation about race.

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