‘Speak the truth’: Australian workplaces culturally unsafe for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with 44% reporting racial slurs

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Source: Pexels/Adrien Olichon

Australian workplaces are culturally unsafe for Indigenous employees, according to a new study that found 44% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers experience racial slurs at work.

The report draws on a survey with over 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers across Australia and puts forward recommendations for how organisations can improve inclusion for Indigenous staff.

Led by the Jumbunna Institute of Indigenous Education and Research and Diversity Council Australia, and sponsored by National Australia Bank and Coles, the report is titled Gari Yala, which means ‘speak the truth’ in the Wiradjuri language.

The report found more than a quarter of respondents said they work in culturally unsafe workplaces, while 38% reported being treated unfairly because of their Indigenous background, and 44% reported hearing racial slurs sometimes, often or all the time.

Industry professor at the Jumbunna Institute Nareen Young said the research centres on the lived experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff.

“To improve the experience of Indigenous people at work, we need to stop asking non-Indigenous people about Indigenous people at work,” Young said in a statement.

“This survey challenges that narrative for the first time on a truly national and rigorous basis, and provides evidence for employers about what they can do to create workplace environments where Indigenous people can thrive.”

According to the report, 59% of survey respondents reported experiencing racism about the way they look or ‘should’ look as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person.

Unsurprisingly, respondents who regularly experienced racism at work said it negatively affected their job satisfaction.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff who endured unfair, racist treatment were 2.5 times less likely to always be satisfied with their job, compared to those who rarely experienced racism — and twice as likely to look for a new employer the following year.

Only one in three respondents said they had the workplace support required when they experienced racism.

The report proposes “ten truths” to remedy these experiences, urging organisations to “take action to address workplace racism”.

One of the recommendations is that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-related work be Indigenous-led and informed.

The fifth truth highlights the importance of recognising identity strain and educating non-Indigenous staff about how to interact with their Indigenous colleagues in ways that reduce this.

Identity strain is the strain Indigenous employees feel when they, or others, view their identity as not meeting the norms or expectations of the dominant workplace culture.

Diversity Council Australia chief executive Lisa Annese said these recommendations form a “framework of actions” for organisations to start becoming more inclusive.

“These actions are based in evidence and designed for workplaces that are ready to listen to Indigenous staff, and willing to act on what they tell them.”


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