Welcome to another installment in the ongoing Local Diversity and Inclusion Spotlight series. In these blog posts, we’ll explore how various countries around the world address diversity and inclusion in their culture and workplace.
Our newest spotlight country? Australia, a country that celebrates “Australia Day” in January.
Here are some things to know about diversity and inclusion in Australia.
Note: Information is excerpted from GlobeSmart Culture Guides.
Australians take pride in their status as one of the most culturally diverse populations in the world, but prejudice against Indigenous, African, Muslim, and non-English speaking Australians persists.
From its first Aboriginal peoples, then British and Irish settlers in the early 20th century, and later through the arrival of immigrants beginning in the 1970s, Australia has evolved into one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse populations in the world. Nearly half (49%) of Australia’s inhabitants report being born overseas, and 21% speak a language other than English.
Despite official commitments to multiculturalism, Australian society experiences tensions between its growing diversity and an enduring legacy of Anglo cultural dominance.
Since 1989, Australia has implemented a number of official governmental policies aimed at promoting multiculturalism. Leadership positions in today’s Australia, however, are overwhelmingly held by people of European descent. While those who report non-European or Indigenous backgrounds make up an estimated 24 percent of the Australian population, such individuals account for only five percent of senior leaders across academic, business, and governmental sectors.
The vast majority of Australians agree that racism exists in Australia, and identify those from non-European backgrounds, in particular Indigenous Australians and individuals born in sub-Saharan Africa, as experiencing the greatest barriers. While most Australians (84%) believe that multiculturalism is a benefit to society, a considerable percentage (41%) consider Australia to be “weakened” when people of different ethnic origins maintain distinct cultural or religious practices. National surveys have indicated negative perceptions of Aboriginal Australians, Asian Australians, African Australians, and Muslim Australians in particular. Among these groups, a 2016 national survey found that poor perceptions of Muslim Australians were the most widely shared.
Discrimination on the basis of religion alone is not unlawful under federal law, however, it is prohibited in particular regions within Australia, and some religious discrimination cases may be covered under “ethnic origin” in the federal Racial Discrimination Act.
Formalized Diversity and Inclusion processes are rare in Australian workplaces, yet widespread support for these initiatives continues to grow.
A 2019 Diversity Council Australia study found that support for Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) initiatives in the workplace is growing among Australian workers, even amongst the previously least supportive groups. This growth in support among professionals is important in the wider context of cultural tensions in Australia, where, according to the report, D&I initiatives have been occasionally perceived as overzealous political correctness.
Australia’s Indigenous peoples experience considerable discrimination, resulting in critical impacts on their physical and social wellbeing.
Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples comprise Australia’s Indigenous population. With ancestries stretching back roughly 75,000 years, Indigenous Australians have been recognized as the oldest civilization, with the oldest continuous culture, on earth. Today, Indigenous peoples comprise roughly three percent of Australia’s population, and face enormous social problems including poverty, homelessness, mental and physical health inequities, and high rates of incarceration. Among the most critical issues is a stark gap in life expectancy (roughly nine years lower for men and either years lower for women) between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their non-Indigenous counterparts.
Racism is a common experience for Indigenous Australians, yet few organizations implement formal measures to combat racial discrimination in the workplace.
A 2020 survey of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers found that 59% of respondents had experienced racism in the past year. Only one in three respondents reported having the workplace support required when they experienced racism, and only one in five reported that their organizations had implemented formal anti-discrimination procedures or compliance trainings regarding anti-Indigenous discrimination and harassment.
Respondents of a 2014 survey of non-Indigenous adult professionals identified Indigenous Australians and individuals who do not speak English as the most likely groups to experience discrimination. One in five of these respondents self-reported that they would personally engage in discriminatory acts against Indigenous Australians (such as moving away if an Indigenous person sat next to them); one in ten reported that they would not hire an Indigenous person for a job.
A majority of Indigenous Australians report that it is important for them to express their cultural identities at work, however, 63% have reported experiencing high levels of stress due to the lack of inclusive practices in the workplace. Diversity Council Australia offers detailed resources aimed at improving diversity and inclusion initiatives across Australia’s workplaces.
Becoming familiar with some facts, terms, and best practices can help you express respect for Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
It is important to recognize that Aboriginal Australians are a heterogeneous group of cultures with diverse traditions, histories, beliefs, and over 250 different languages. Torres Strait Islander peoples are indigenous to what is now Australia’s Queensland. Though distinct from Aboriginal Australians, they are often grouped together as peoples who are indigenous to the lands colonized by the British in the 1780s.
Professionals should be aware that certain terms that have been used to describe Australia’s Indigenous peoples (“Aborigine,” “Native,” “Blacks,” or acronyms such as “ATSI”) should be avoided as they are associated with racist, outdated, or homogenizing attitudes. Although still widely used in formal media, the very term “Indigenous” is often considered too generic; a preferred practice is to honor the specific region, first nation, or linguistic group by which Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal Australians may prefer to be identified.
Those doing business in Australia should also be aware that seeing or hearing images or recordings of deceased persons may offend against strongly held cultural prohibitions in some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Consequently, formal publications in Australia often display content warnings before including such material.
While women are well represented in business and significant workplace discrimination is rare, they are underrepresented in key leadership positions in both business and government.
According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, women make up half of employees in Australia, but comprise only 30% of management or directorship positions, and 18% of CEO roles. Gender stereotypes framing women as nurturing caregivers ill-suited to assertive leadership positions may serve as one factor influencing disproportionate gender representation in the C-suite.
Foreign businesswomen should not expect to encounter significant workplace gender discrimination, as it is prohibited in Australia. While widespread gender discrimination is typically not a major issue, sexual harassment does occur. In a 2020 survey of Australian women in the workplace, one in four respondents (23%) reported having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the previous year.
Although relatively few women hold positions of power in either Australian politics or business, the government and many corporations are creating programs that encourage women to enter and stay in nontraditional professions.
While homosexuality is legal in Australia, the age of consent varies between states and territories.
Homosexual acts are legal in all states of Australia. The age of consent varies between jurisdictions: it is 16 years in New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Western Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, and Queensland. The age of consent is 17 years in South Australia and Tasmania.
Same-sex marriage is legal in Australia.
In Australia, same-sex marriage is legal throughout all of the states and territories. Federal law allows legally married same-sex couples most of the same rights as heterosexual couples.
Same-sex couples have the right to adopt children across Australia.
Since April 2018, adoption by same-sex couples is legally available in all jurisdictions of Australia.
Australian citizens and Australian permanent residents can bring their same-sex partners to the country.
Same-sex couples who want to reside in the country are not required to have lived together for the previous 12 months, as long as their relationship has been entered on a state-based registry. Foreigners can include their same-sex partner in most temporary and permanent visa applications.
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