Racism is an ongoing problem in Australia. It directly affects significant numbers of Australians. In annual surveys, about one in five Australians report having experienced racial discrimination during the previous 12 months. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and certain migrant communities (such as African Australian communities) are much more likely to experience racism than other people.
Racism continues to take place in organisational settings. In a 2017 study, about one-third of surveyed Australians reported they had experienced racism in the workplace. Racism has severe health and economic consequences for its targets and is damaging to Australia’s social cohesion.
But talking about racism can be difficult. Many organisations do not discuss racism until they are faced with an incident of racism, such as a derogatory comment made by one person to another, or an instance of offensive behaviour. In the aftermath of a racist incident, organisations may not be well prepared to navigate the issues arising with the appropriate level of care. An overt incident may also be seen as an isolated occurrence rather than an indication of a more systemic problem. This may lead those who have experienced racism to feel unsupported, and risk more incidents happening in the future.
A new approach is needed. Australian organisations would benefit from dealing with racism in a proactive, rather than a reactive, way. This will make organisations more inclusive and resilient. It will have important social and cultural impacts outside of the organisation too.
The Australian Human Rights Commission has developed this guide to assist Australian organisations in conducting meaningful and productive conversations about racism. It can be used in conventional workplaces, community groups, faith organisations, sporting clubs as well as other organisations. While it is designed to be useful as a ‘proactive’ document, it can also be used to assist in facilitating conversations about racism after an incident has occurred.
The guide is designed to support the start of a conversation about racism in your organisation. Having a proactive, open discussion about racism demonstrates a commitment to tackling racism when it occurs and preventing it in the future. A sensitive and mature approach to discussing racism strengthens organisational culture and makes an organisation better prepared to handle racist incidents if or when they happen. For the development of more advanced racial awareness in your organisation, a formal training package is recommended.