What does a lack of diversity and inclusion look like in the workplace?

09 October 2017

You may not sense any issues with exclusion, bullying or harassment in your workplace – however these are ongoing issues in Australia and many are caused by the subtle things people do, often without realising, that increase the gap between people with diverse experiences and everyone else, and cause harm.

People who are diverse in sexuality, culture, gender, race, disability, age, mental health, socio-economic status (the list goes on) have views made up of many experiences that the rest of the population has not had, and it can take some learning to become aware of how these experiences have shaped these diverse perspectives.

People often make throwaway remarks which may seem harmless, but they can have an enormous impact on those from diverse backgrounds and can make them feel on the outer.


Casual racism

Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, says casual racism is not necessarily a deliberate act of discrimination, or something that is meant to cause offence or harm. But it still has an impact and racism is as much about impact as it is about intention.

Diversity Council Australia’s research also states that workers from culturally diverse backgrounds are up to three times less likely to perceive their workplaces as being inclusive.

Casual racism makes people feel that they don’t belong, and can take forms such as:

  • asking someone where they are from when first meeting – while this may feel like an inclusive thing to say, it’s something that culturally diverse people may be asked often and can lead to feelings of being seen as an ‘other’
  • statements beginning with, “I’m not racist, but …”,
  • using language that historically has racist connotations, even though the meaning has since evolved, such as referring to someone as ‘monkey’

This is why cultural sensitivity is so important, not only to people’s mental health, but also for cohesiveness and culture of a workplace. This Inclusive Language Guide may help kick off these discussions in your workplace.


Gender inequality

Many women have encountered casual sexism at work, including:

  • being told things like, “You’re really good at (a stereotypical male skill) for a woman”,
  • assuming someone new is male because they are a high-level executive
  • taking on most of the “office housework”; the Harvard Business Review reported that taking meeting minutes and baking cupcakes for the office afternoon tea impact on a woman’s career.

Such indirect remarks and expectations can contribute to women being less likely to feel empowered or permitted to force their careers forward in the way that men do, and this is an inequality we can all easily address through higher levels of awareness.

SuperFriend’s Promoting Positive Mental Health in the Workplace resource provides a guide to respectful interactions, in order to create a mentally healthy culture where people can work without fear of discrimination.


The marriage equality debate

The current marriage equality survey has sparked much conversation and debate. Some of these views can be expressed in a hurtful way or, when discussed disrespectfully, can be upsetting for someone who identifies as LGBTIQ and feels their life is being voted on.

The survey has brought with it so much hate speech that the Federal Government has passed temporary laws to protect people against discrimination during the survey period.

It’s vital that leaders help their employees be mindful of the impact their words can have on others.


We can only benefit by better understanding those around us and, when it comes to diversity, this is a fantastic opportunity to become more aware, caring and cohesive people and professionals.

Here is an excellent campaign showing how bias can rear its head in workplaces… Have you ever said or felt any of these things?


This article was featured in our monthly e-Newsletter SuperFriend News which provides practical advice for employers to guide them in creating positive, cohesive and productive environments for all employees.