Racism is still prevalent in Australian workplaces, with over 90% of respondents from a Diversity Council of Australia study reporting racist attitudes in businesses.
But despite the high percentage, gender diversity, work/life initiatives and indigenous employment were still seen to be of greater importance to Australian businesses.
The study of 75 Australian businesses (released yesterday and completed in conjunction with the Scanlon Foundation) found 30% of Australian businesses ranked gender diversity as the most important issue to address, while only 13% identified cultural diversity as a key priority.
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DCA cultural diversity director Katriina Tahka told SmartCompany the high percentage of Australians who identified that racism was still present in the workplace means it’s still a front-of-mind issue for employers and employees.
“They’re not saying that 90% of workplaces are full of racism, they’re recognising that it’s too simplistic to say the issue is totally dead and gone,” she says.
“The number sounds high, but it’s like a consciousness number. It would be too risky for us to say racism no longer exists, as this would mean we accept things the way they are right now.”
Despite placing a higher importance on gender diversity, 70% of respondents said they also had cultural diversity initiatives in the workplace.
A further 60% said they were also going to be implementing new cultural diversity initiatives in 2014.
“There needs to be an understanding that organisations can simultaneously work on all of these issues. There shouldn’t be one focus,” Tahka says.
“They should be working towards the inclusion of all people.”
Tahka says Australians need to understand that everybody can contribute.
“If an individual in the workplace sees or hears something which doesn’t sound or look right, do something about it. This can simply be speaking to the individual or your manager, but don’t just let it go because then it will become part of the culture,” she says.
“The organisation can also run awareness sessions and make sure the organisation understands their obligations and rights.”
For leaders and managers, it’s about understanding what type of workplace you want to create.
“Individual managers and leaders need to walk the talk and have an extra responsibility to role model the right behaviours,” Tahka says.
The study also found one in three Australian businesses didn’t feel that cultural diversity was valued in their workforce.
Tahka says gender equality has been a prominent issue in the media in comparison to cultural diversity, partially because of the reporting requirements around it.
“It will stay the number one issue in the next five years thanks to the statutory reporting requirements which give it some extra oomph. This reporting tends to drive good behaviour,” she says.
“This type of reporting doesn’t exist in the cultural diversity space and it won’t be tackled from a compliance perspective, but the biggest chance for change comes through the increased discussions about the Asian century,” she says.
Tahka says these discussions can frame cultural diversity as something which provides benefits and opportunities to businesses.
“When businesses see it as an imperative and an opportunity, this can be a more powerful driver of change than compliance reporting,” she says.
“Businesses need to understand if they want to grow and expand they can do so by harnessing the opportunities which come with cultural diversity.”