The controversy caused by a study into the cost of race discrimination on the economy is making headlines today in The Australian newspaper.
The study was conducted by a member of the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalization and funded by the Australian Human Rights Commission and VicHealth. It estimated that the cost to the economy of race discrimination is $44.9 billion per year in public health costs, which extends to mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder.
Executive Director of the Institute of Public Affairs, John Roskam, has been quoted in The Australian that the research has a hidden “political agenda”. Federal MP, Michael Sukkar, also questioned the merit in the study when Australians are already opposed to discrimination.
Mr Sukkar’s argument may seem strong on its face – Australians are opposed to discrimination, surely? So why spend taxpayers’ money proving that it has negative impacts. But are we really aware of the impacts of discrimination on an economic and a social level?
Are all Australians so opposed to discrimination that they will not only avoid discriminating against others, but will also stand up and speak out against discrimination if they see it happening? The evidence contradicts this. There are still incidents of discrimination taking place across all aspects of life in Australia, from public spaces and events such as the Halal Festival incident at the Melbourne Showgrounds this weekend – to the workplace. A great example of this is the review I wrote earlier this year about an Aboriginal economic development company found vicariously liable for race discrimination by two of its employees.
These incidences are not few and far between. In fact, the study found that 1 in 5 Australians experience racism, and its harm has an impact on years – eclipsing that of years lost to smoking (204,788) at a staggering 285,228 years.
Dr Amanuel Elias, who led the study, confirmed his hope that knowing what race discrimination costs society will launch an economic argument for making a reasonable effort to reduce racial discrimination.
Motivations and political arguments about this study aside, we know that discrimination is still prevalent, and we know that the costs to society, to businesses and to human lives is huge – however we choose to measure them.
As a country, we should be moving to change this without further statistics, or without pretending it doesn’t happen. But we are still not doing enough to make a significant impact to prevent racial discrimination.
The workplace is a clear example of an environment where everyone can make positive adjustments to change culture to one where discrimination does not exist and racism is not tolerated. How can this be achieved? Diversity programs must extend beyond gender. Leaders in organisations must promote and embrace cultural diversity to increase tolerance, nip bias in the bud, and increase social inclusion that can lead to a safer, discrimination-free workplace for all workers. And while policies around anti-discrimination are absolutely critical, these policies must be complimented with a robust training program to help drive and sustain an inclusive and diverse culture in the workplace.
If you’re unsure of whether your HR or L&D department currently has an anti-discrimination or diversity training program in place, or if you’re interested in speaking to someone about implementing one – feel free to contact one of our specialists today