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Racism A Reality In Kiwi Workplaces

The spotlight might be on the US and its living legacy of racism, but here in Aotearoa New Zealand, new research shows we are not immune to discrimination. New research from AUT examines the prevalence of racism in the New Zealand workplace and its impact on employee performance and wellbeing. It also shows how these findings compare to international data.

The research was conducted over 2019-2020 by Professor Jarrod Haar (AUT Business School) with AUT Master of Business Management student Saima Amjad. They used multiple quantitative surveys to examine racism in the workplace as experienced by New Zealand employees who identify as Māori (437), Tagata Pasifika (148), or Muslim (121). The samples reflect a broad range of professions, gender and age.

Perceived discrimination at work is defined as an employee’s perception that selective and differential treatment is occurring because of their ethnic/cultural/religious affiliations. These experiences could be expressed as, “At work, I feel uncomfortable when others make jokes or negative commentaries about people of my ethnic/religious background” and “At work, people look down upon me if I practice customs of my culture/religion.”

In a perfect world, we would expect a score of zero, reflecting that no employees perceive discrimination at work. Unfortunately, our world is not perfect: we found around 40% of Māori and Pasifika employees and 35% of Muslim employees reported no racism at work. Slightly over 20% of Māori and Pasifika employees and 15% of Muslim employees reported a moderate level of racism at work, with fewer than 5% of all employees reporting a high level of racism at work.

Compared to international data, these findings indicate workplace racism rates are high in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Across all three ethnic groups, findings showed that those who reported more racism at work also reported lower job satisfaction, poorer engagement, and were more likely to want to leave their jobs. In addition, wellbeing was impacted: those facing more racism at work reported lower happiness and higher job anxiety and job depression.

The findings show that while we might want to consider New Zealand a country that embraces diversity and different cultures, the experiences of those in the workplace reflect a different reality. We talk a lot about embracing diversity, inclusion and belonging in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Our data show that, when it comes to walking the anti-discrimination talk, New Zealand workplaces still have work to do.

Professor’s Score? D (must do better!)

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