More Than Ticking a Box
Almost half of Australia’s population were either born overseas or have at least one parent born overseas. Given the multiculturalism of Australia, one would assume that there is increased diversity in the workplace. However, the amount of cultural diversity varies quite largely depending on which field you look at. The legal field, in particular, has historically lacked cultural diversity. However, there is an increasing effort to address this and progress forward. Further, Australia’s international business is growing, with Japan and China being amongst our biggest trading partners. Therefore, it’s important to recognise and embrace cultural diversity in the workplace.
1. Recognising Flaws
Increasing cultural diversity in the workplace isn’t just about ticking a box. Rather, it’s important to be self-aware and recognise what is lacking in your workplace. The first step, although this may be the hardest, is to take a step back and reflect on yourself as well as the current employees in your workplace. Are there any trends you notice? It’s ok to notice something concerning, in fact, it’s easy for subconscious biases or prejudices to occur.
Companies Leading by Example
With introspect, you’ve gained the ability to recognise a bubble and now have the power to pop it! If you’re unsure of how to approach this, here are some companies that are leading by example:
- Wesfarmers ranked 22nd in LinkedIn’s Top Companies of 2018 primarily for their cultural inclusion. They have a Reconciliation Action Plan and was not all talk and no action. They held more than 800 NAIDOC Week activities in 2017! Additionally, they offered cultural awareness training to team members and had a 20% increase in Indigenous team members in one year.
- ANZ ranked 3rd in LinkedIn’s Top Companies of 2019, gaining recognition for putting employee culture & events at the heart of their business. This included Diwali celebrations and smoke ceremonies during reconciliation week.
- Woolworths ranked 11th in LinkedIn’s Top Companies of 2019 for an innovative community-oriented project. They implemented a program to provide employment opportunities for displaced refugees from Syria and the Middle East. This was an effort to reflect the culturally diverse communities it serves, as well as increasing cultural diversity in their workplace.
The legal field, in particular, has recognised that its demographic is quite narrow. Thus, in recent years, law firms have released new strategies in an effort to increase cultural diversity. This will be explored in the ‘Blind Recruitment’ section of this article.
2. Subtle Effects Experienced by Culturally Diverse Employees
An excellent article was written just last month, giving an insight into the glass ceiling experienced by an Asian-Australian law student. It’s eye-opening to understand the different barriers that people can face because once you can step in their shoes, creating a workplace to cater for them can be more easily executed.
Workplace culture has a huge effect on its employees, and can also hinder your company’s progress if it is toxic. This is reflected in an insightful study critiquing mainstream workplaces, conducted by Jennifer Nielson, a professor at Southern Cross University. The Aboriginal People who participated in her study said that a range of workplace behaviours made them feel isolated and uncomfortable. This included overt discrimination, racist jokes, and not being supported when they lodged grievances against white colleagues.
Unfortunately, this experience resonates with people from many different cultural backgrounds. Often, this occurs even in the early stages of applying for a job; the participants in the study found that employers refused to hire them due to stereotypes that they openly addressed. This included stereotyping them as “risky” and as “troublemakers” who are unreliable, disinterested, unqualified, or prone to crying “discrimination” if things don’t go their way.
Although in this situation, their concerns were open and transparent, it is often hard for a person to individually recognise this unconscious bias that may occur. Therefore, the next tip is a simple step to prevent bias from happening.
3. Blind Recruitment
Blind recruitment means that the company will assess all applications without knowledge of who submitted it. This is increasing in popularity, as it hires people purely based on their skills and qualifications. Consequently, this prevent bias from occurring, because recruiters are unable to make assumptions of the applicant’s cultural background.
The legal industry in particular, has recognised the need to improve cultural diversity in the workplace. Top-tier firms Herbert Smith Freehills, Clayton Utz and King & Wood Mallesons joined forces for a panel discussion earlier this year. They jointly acknowledged that “the time for diversity is now”.
The need for structural change was emphasised by the Managing Partner of Herbert Smith Freehills, “To force a change, we need to embed structural changes into recruitment, career development and leadership programs to ensure diversity is present and will continue to flourish in our industry.” Therefore, a step as simple as having blind recruitment can help facilitate this.
4. Fair Work Policies
Policies can get difficult when legal details are involved. Lucky for you, LawPath has an article on What Workplace Policies Does My Business Need? This article explores the need to address anti-discrimination acts and safeguards to ensure employees are looked after under the Work Health and Safety Acts.
By having flexible work policies, you are recognising the different experiences of people from different cultural backgrounds. For example, the grieving process for different cultures can vary, with some taking longer than others to heal. Therefore, by having flexible work policies, you are catering for a wide range of cultural differences.
5. Raise Awareness
It’s important to encourage and foster cultural diversity in the workplace, and take pride in cultural differences. After all, that’s what makes everyone unique! Having office celebrations like Multicultural Day can help increase inclusion. However, it’s important that the main message gets across, so the event does not seem tokenistic or trivial. Consultation is an important step to ensure no one is offended. For more initiatives on how to recognise diversity, read 3 Tips for Incorporating CSR in Your Business.
If you are unsure whether your company is providing enough support for your employees, try contacting an appropriate community organisation for advice. Organisations include the Asian Australian Lawyers Association or Diversity Council Australia. It’s also important that you raise awareness of these organisations to your employees, so they can seek help within that community if they wish to. Additionally, there are many guides that help employers create a culturally-aware workplace. Suggested resources are by the Human Rights Commission and the Australian Government.
Further, to ensure everyone in the office is on the same page, cultural trainings & workshops are encouraged. These can be engaging and eye-opening! They also serve as a good refresher to remind people to be culturally aware of their surroundings.
A culturally diverse workplace reflects a company to a significant extent. If companies are proactive towards hiring a diverse employee portfolio, it is likely that they will attract stellar applicants. Further, if a company fosters its cultural diversity, employees feel valued. Ultimately, a company can benefit from culturally-aware decision making, as well as learning global skills and strategies. A lot can be learned from different cultures, so embrace it!
Unsure where to start? Contact a LawPath consultant on 1800 529 728 to learn more about customising legal documents and obtaining a fixed-fee quote from Australia’s largest legal marketplace.