Sixty per cent of Australian women of colour suffer workplace discrimination, reveals survey

The top challenges at an Australian workplace are racism, tokenism, sexism, and/or a combination of these.

A new survey has revealed that the majority of women of colour in Australia have experienced discrimination in the workplace.

This is despite majority of Australian workplaces having a diversity and inclusion policy in place.

Image source: Women of Colour Australia (WoCA) – Website.

The online survey was conducted by advocacy group  Women of Colour Australia (WoCA) in partnership with Murdoch University.

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Image source: Brenda Gaddi – Women of Colour Australia

Brenda Gaddi, founder and managing director of WoCA told the ABC that the findings were unsurprising. 

“Even if we’re saying 60 per cent, it might be like 70 per cent or 80 per cent in reality,” 

WoCA was established in 2020 with the aim of championing Australia’s Women of Colour.

“We exist to champion Australia’s women of colour through programs of education, community support initiatives, and advocacy work.”

Image source: WoCA chair Dr Pilar Kasat – website.

WoCA chair Dr Pilar Kasat told the Mandarin that women of colour continue to experience discrimination and prejudices in the Australian workplace.

“D&I initiatives should explicitly focus on race as well as gender as both combined create specific, unique challenges for women of colour that are too easily overlooked with broad platitudes that seek to advance women’s representation without questioning which women are most likely to benefit.”

543 women completed this online survey and they respondents were mostly white-collar workers – 70% working full-time and 30% earning between $100,000 and $149,990.

Image source: Dr Usha Manchanda Rodrigues – Deakin University.

Dr Usha Manchanda Rodrigues, who is a Visiting Scholar at ADI Deakin University and Adjunct Professor at Manipal University, feels women of colour suffer from invisibility and stereotype.

“When it comes to increasing or promoting diversity at the workplace, managers first look at gender balance, which happen to be women from Anglo-celtic backgrounds. It is often women at the intersection of gender and race who are overlooked.”

It is not surprising that only 2 per cent of the respondents to this survey said they were their organisation’s leader.

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Image source: representative image – Wikipedia.

Dr Usha M. Rodrigues notes:

“The women of colour are often seen as being from eastern cultures, who are compliant and timid. They are not seen as professional, assertive and accomplished leaders. When they do defy these stereotype, women of colour are seen as aggressive rather then assertive as their white counter-parts. To some extent, women of colour face double whamy of being a female and being a coloured person. Then, there is the issue of expected behaviour of them. They are not expected to be professional, ambitious, leaders, but caring and nice, who are not supposed to demand equality.” 

The survey revealed that almost 60% of women have experienced discrimination in the workplace based on their identity.

The respondents also cited the following as their top challenges at an Australian workplace: racism, tokenism, sexism, and/or a combination of these.

Dr Usha M. Rodrigues believes that the women of colour are often overlooked at Australian workplaces because no one expects them to actually object to any form of discrimination.

“My view is that often workplaces discriminate because they can. There is very little an employee who is discriminated can do. Going to the regulatory bodies is stressful and can prove to be fatal for a complainant’s career.” 

Keeping these views in mind, once again it is not surprising that only 30 per cent of the respondents believed that their identity as a woman of colour was valued in the workplace.

Further, only half of the women surveyed said that their organisations provide cultural or diversity training. This was thought of any use by only 41 per cent of the women surveyed.

WoCA’s report is very similar to the findings from the Australia Talks National Survey 2021.

ATNC survey too found that 49 per cent respondents experienced subtle forms of discrimination and while 35 per cent said they were unfairly treated in the Australian workplace.

If you feel any form of discrimination, kindly visit Fair Work website: www.fairwork.gov.au. In addition, there are a range of anti-discrimination laws and you may prefer to raise your concerns with the Australian Human Rights Commission  on 1300 369 711 or your relevant state or territory anti-discrimination body. If you are a member of a trade union or employee association, they may also be able to help you.