Unveiling Racism in Australian Workplaces

  • 02 Pages
  • Published On: 8-12-2023

In Australia, racism and its discourse goes back historically and also extends to the present times with the “two axes of Australia’s racist past” being the Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations and white and non-white and migrant relations (Nelson, 2015, p. 343). In the present times, the issues around racism are often also significant in the context of workplace with a recent example demonstrating how racism can impact individuals in the workplace; this incident relates to Adam Goodes of Australian Rules Football who reported during a game in 2013 that someone had called him an ape. This referred to a 13-year-old girl in the audience and although commentators said the incident was an example of banter, the AFL and the government judged the incident to be one of overt racism. This essay discusses how implied racism, overt racism and racial commentary impact individuals in their workplace.


Racism is a complex concept and it may be both overt and implied. Although overt racism is explicit in nature and relates to intentional and obvious harmful attitudes towards a minority individual or group while implied or covert racism is more subtle in nature however, even implied racism can be damaging and harmful (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2017). Explicit racism can also be part of laws and institutions while implied racism can also be part of culture and attitudes (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2017). In Australia, some groups like the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, experience significant racism in professional practice and workplaces (Gair, Miles, Savage, & Zuchowski, 2015). Such racism can be both overt and implied in nature including incidents of personalised racist language and behaviour, and even institutional racism (Gair, Miles, Savage, & Zuchowski, 2015).

In the Adam Goodes incident, the victim called the experience of being called an ape by a thirteen year old girl to be shattering. This suggests that one of the impacts of experiencing racism can be emotional or psychological. However, there can be other impacts of racism in the context of the workplace including impact on work environment and quality of work experience and can even reflect on the legal relations between the employee and the employer. An example of this can be seen in the case of Naidu v Group 4 Securitas Pty Ltd [2005] NSWSC 618, in which case the applicant was a security guard with the defendant firm and was bullied by another employee with one of the experiences being subjection to racist and sexist taunts inside and outside of workplace. The applicant was also subjected to excessive and unreasonable hours without pay, which can be said to be one of the impacts of racism in workplace. The court described the bullying as ‘brutal, demeaning and unrelenting’ and held that the employer had a duty of care to prevent such behaviour in workplace (Naidu v Group 4 Securitas Pty Ltd [2005] NSWSC 618, 2005). The case exemplifies different impacts of racism at workplace including psychiatric injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression (Hanley & O'Rourke, 2016). Overt racism in the workplace included subjection to racist abuse while implied racism can be seen in the way the applicant was subjected to excessive and unreasonable hours without pay. Both forms of racism had a negative impact on the victim.

The impacts of racism in the workplace can be both psychological and manifest in material losses for the victim such as restricted access to promotions, lack of better salary, and working conditions for the minority groups (Soutphommasane, 2015). Diversity Council Australia has reported that 18 percent of workers with Asian background have reported to biases and stereotyping about culture in the workplace with impacts on their quality of work environment (Soutphommasane, 2015). Importantly, racist talk at workplace, or race talk has been found to be linked to other discourses like gendertalk and classtalk and racist comments have been found to be expressed alongside classist and sexist comments by people (Embrick & Henricks, 2015). This suggests that there is an intersectionality of racism with gender bias and class bias, which may impact women of minority races in a different way than men, or women from poorer backgrounds may experience racism in a different way as compared to men. This has implications for how minority women experience racism at workplace.

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To conclude this essay, different forms of racism and racist talk can have negative impact on individuals in their workplace and these impacts may be psychological or material or both. In Australia, with its complex racial history, there is a growing discourse on these impacts.


Australian Human Rights Commission. (2017, October 11 ). The many faces of racism . Retrieved from humanrights.gov.au: https://humanrights.gov.au/about/news/speeches/many-faces-racism

Embrick, D. G., & Henricks, K. (2015). Two-faced-isms: racism at work and how race discourse shapes classtalk and gendertalk. Language Sciences, 52, 165-175.

Gair, S., Miles, D., Savage, D., & Zuchowski, I. (2015). Racism unmasked: The experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in social work field placements. Australian Social Work, 68(1), 32-48.

Hanley, G. M., & O'Rourke, A. (2016). The race without a finishing line: legislative means for confronting bullying in the A ustralian workplace. Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, 54(3), 352-368.

Naidu v Group 4 Securitas Pty Ltd [2005] NSWSC 618 (2005).

Nelson, J. K. (2015). ‘Speaking’racism and anti-racism: perspectives of local anti-racism actors. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 38(2), 342-358.

Soutphommasane, T. (2015). I'm Not Racist But... 40 Years of the Racial Discrimination Act. NewSouth.

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