Six in ten Australian women of color face discrimination at work, survey finds
In a Sydney pub with her colleagues, Cathy Ngo thought it would be a normal Friday night for an after-work drink.
Instead, to her surprise, she was approached by a male colleague at the company, who picked her up and threw her over her shoulder.
Ms Ngo said her former co-worker shouted at the pub, “I love Asian women!”
He later told Ms. Ngo that his words were “just a compliment”, but Ms. Ngo was shaken.
“He was a very tall white man, six feet tall. And I was 22 years old. I’m also quite short, [only] five feet tall, ”she said.
“I was treated like a child or something.”
Now CEO of a public speaking agency, Ms Ngo said it was just a work-related incident in which she was discriminated against or harassed because of her identity as an Asian woman .
Now she’s calling for safer and more respectful workplaces for women of color, and she’s not alone.
Discrimination at work
A national survey of the experiences of Australian women of color in the workplace shows that the majority do not feel safe at work.
The report, produced by the Women of Color Australia advocacy group in partnership with Murdoch University, interviewed 543 women of color, 7% of whom identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
It found that nearly 60 percent of those surveyed had experienced discrimination based on their identity, such as gender, ethnicity, age or religion.
Brenda Gaddi, Founder and CEO of Women of Color Australia, said the results were not surprising and incidents are often underreported.
Only a third of the respondents felt that their identity as a woman of color was recognized and valued at work.
The report echoes findings from the Australia Talks National Survey 2021, which found that nearly half of those polled (49 percent) experienced minor slights or subtle forms of discrimination, while 35 percent said being unfairly treated at their place of work.
The Australia Talks survey also found that 51% of women were discriminated against on the basis of their gender, compared to 19% of men.
“Constantly having to prove yourself to others”
According to the Women of Color Australia report, nearly 70 percent of those surveyed said there were no people from diverse backgrounds. holding leadership positions in their organizations.
Some respondents also indicated that they have to prove that they fit into the team “over and over again” – an experience Dr. Yumiko Kadota knows all too well.
Dr. Kadota, surgeon and author of Emotional Female, recalls once meeting a patient who asked a Caucasian doctor to treat him instead.
“When she saw me she said, ‘Oh, I’ll have an Australian, thank you,'” said Dr Kadota.
“So you have to constantly prove yourself to others, and it gets tiring.”
But some women feel like they don’t even have the opportunity to prove their worth.
Caroline *, a Chinese-Australian woman, works in construction, a male-dominated industry.
She wished to remain anonymous because she was concerned that public speaking would impact her future employment prospects.
Caroline said she was the only woman in her 10-person team and was the only one not allowed in the company car to go to construction sites.
She said her senior colleagues also refused to print business cards for her, and another colleague, who was also Asian, told her, “You stay in the office all the time anyway.
“And that’s the scariest part.”
Why is it difficult to speak
Ms Gaddi said that, according to the report, many felt they could not press charges of discrimination.
“A lot of women, especially women of color, don’t feel safe because of the potential repercussions,” she said.
“[The complaint] could affect their employment prospects and then their economic situation.
Even for those who successfully file a complaint, cultural barriers persist.
Melbourne-based Asian-Australian artist Janelle Da Silva has filed a racial discrimination complaint with the Fair Work Commission.
She came to a settlement, but said there were cultural barriers that prevented women like her from speaking out about their experience.
“It’s a part of our culture, you know, to be respectful and almost even to know to some extent our place in society,” she said.
“We should always act grateful as if we have had the opportunity to be heard or seen all the time.
Besides cultural barriers, not knowing how to report discrimination at work was also a reason some women of color did not file a complaint, according to Lina Cabaero, coordinator of Asian Women at Work.
She said many migrant women working in hotels, farms and beauty salons might not hear of unions or organizations where they might seek help.
She added that another factor was that many women with an immigrant background were not fluent in English.
“But they keep working because what they get here is so much better than what they get in their country.”
Create a safer workplace
The Women of Color Australia report found that more than half of those polled said their organizations had inclusive policies.
But 30 percent of them thought these policies were “inappropriate”, that is, they were “outdated”, “not as diverse” or “not implemented”.
Meanwhile, 48.4 percent of those surveyed said their organization offers diversity training, with two-fifths finding the training useful.
The report also found that many respondents wanted mentoring programs for women of color.
Ms Gaddi said it shows they hope to develop a sense of belonging in their workplace.
“[Then] they can feel that they are seen, they are heard. “
She said creating a safe workplace for women of color requires stakeholders to understand diversity and commit to action.
“Talking is cheap, and it won’t be overnight,” she said.
The Australia Talks National Survey asked 60,000 Australians about their lives and what keeps them awake at night. Use our interactive tool to see the results and compare your answers.
On iview, watch the Australia Talks TV special, as hosts Annabel Crabb and Nazeem Hussain share key findings and explore the survey with some of Australia’s most beloved celebrities.