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Discrimination in Australian Workplaces – Looking Into The Past Can Help

Looking into the past can help us in the present. It’s 1957. Imagine being in this jury room. A man’s life is on the line. You are one of 12 people deciding on his fate. You have just left the court room. You saw him in the Dock, and he appeared fearful and perhaps sad. The air in the jury room is thick with tension. You and your peers are confronted by a person who is vocal in his stereotyping of ‘these people’, and he seeks to gain support toward a decision he wants. What would you do? What leadership would you show?


 

I love this scene from ’12 Angry Men’ because it explores the risks created through discrimination and bias and it demonstrates the rallying power of leadership and objective challenge based on values. Discrimination in Australian workplaces continues to be a concern. The conversation around discrimination in this country has predominantly been around the treatment of our indigenous people. The problem however remains broader, as our research suggests:

14% of 5000 (1 in 7) working Australians surveyed by Risk to Business in 2011/12 reported experiencing discrimination at work.

  • The discrimination was verbal and mainly occurred during meetings (it was public, just like in the jury room)
  • It happens at all levels irrespective of position
  • It happened most during organisational restructure
  • The older we are the greater the risk
  • Those people felt angry and hurt
  • They felt:
    • upset and emotional
    • sad, depressed and had suicidal thoughts
    • unsupported, alone and undervalued
    • would leave their job if they could
  • 15% reported victimisation when they raised a concern
  • Only 14% of respondents reported that their organisation made things better (86% did nothing or made things worse)

The cost?

  • 14% reported reduced productivity
  • 15% took 1 to 5 days sick leave
  • 12% took 6 to 10 days sick leave
  • 13% took 11 to 30 days sick leave
  • 10% took more than 30 days sick leave
  • 36% took no time reporting reduced motivation
  • observers who saw discrimination reported reduced productivity and motivation
  • Loss of team based trust and engagement is harder to measure

Of the workers reporting discrimination, the industry sectors they were working in at the time were represented from highest to lowest as:

  • Emergency Services and the Resources sectors;
  • Health;
  • Transport;
  • Government, Business & Finance, and Professional Services sectors;
  • Energy, Retail, and Hospitality;

I believe we can do better.  What values do you apply through your leadership. Change happens through leadership at every level, processes and systems. Change happens through how we talk about discrimination as a community, and change happens through policy, regulation and enforcement. We all have a voice that we can use for good or for bad. The choice is ours. The standard we pass by is the standard we adopt.