Tabi on racial matters: Are businesses missing out on the untapped skills of Black African Australian women?

| November 27, 2020

As businesses reopen from lockdowns and seek to recover from the economic challenges of 2020, it is an ideal time to rethink how we do business. Specifically, how we can implement employment practices that benefit from the broad experiences of Black African Australian women to develop robust work environments critical for survival at times like this.

As an example, Blueline Laundry was looking for strategies to keep their doors open and remain viable through Covid-19. They discovered untapped skills within their migrant workforce and took decisive actions to use these diverse skills to fill roles that they struggled with in the past. The benefits to employee morale and the business have been substantial.

This example is one of many where Australian businesses could use the creativity, diversity and resilience skills of Black African Australian women to enhance business productivity.

Businesses can drive change

Black African women’s diverse skills, strength and experiences can enhance business effectiveness.

In particular, these women possess inherent skills that include creativity: skills necessary to start life in a new country for language, food, and work; diversity: ability to maximise the use of different talents in their tribe for survival; and resilience: capacity and courage to manage the frequency of setbacks due their identities in race and gender propels them to think ahead and survive surprises.

There is a double disadvantage when gender and race are presented together, it creates gender bias and racial discrimination. This inhibits Black African Australian women from applying their diverse skills in a workplace to enable businesses to thrive.

As a Black woman myself, I have had first-hand experiences of racial discrimination in many workplaces, this makes me think there are blind spots in many employers’ awareness of and willingness to seek out Black African Australian women’s skill.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of working together to include others for the common good.

If businesses take decisive actions to address racial discrimination and utilise the untapped skills of these women, it will provide a double advantage. Firstly, it will address racial discrimination and support Black women to flourish in workplaces. Secondly, it will add value to their business utilising skills not yet recognised.

Old assumptions and current research

Many people believe less diversity in staffing means fewer problems, less cost and a stable business. In fact, lack of diversity encourages poor culture and bad behaviour for businesses. Yet, businesses with diverse staffing models perform better and are more competitive. The McGregor-Smith review in the UK indicated that Black Africans and other ethnic minority groups are significantly under-utilised in workplaces.

In Australia, although there is limited research on Black African Australian women, the consequences of racism felt by Africans is well documented. In 2019, Diversity Council Australia researched discrimination and harassment in the workplace and found 28% of culturally diverse people were impacted by discrimination.

Many Africans are educated and skilled on arrival to Australia. The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWER) said in Chapter 8 of their report Africans in Australia, that a greater percentage of Africans are skilled compared to the general population. However, the report also revealed that they are burdened by unemployment.

Structural racism creates an unlevel playing field for Black women and creates significant barriers for them to achieve a successful career.

So, without deliberate business interventions to address racism, Black African women are not supported to succeed in workplaces.

Resilience from lived hardships

Often, Black African women arrive in Australia from war-torn countries, many have faced extreme natural disasters and work through significant challenges that threaten their survival. Many also come from a matriarchal society where women are leaders of their community.

Therefore, these women know resilience, creativity, adaptability and leadership skills through lived experiences. These skills are essential for business effectiveness to enable staff to stay motivated, engaged and productive.

Uncovering these hidden gems of untapped skills injects vitality and creates new opportunities for businesses.

From awareness to new possibilities

Robert Livingston has demonstrated that to successfully engage with any racial group, it requires conscious and deliberate efforts by businesses to address racism and bias. He has outlined five critical steps for effective racial engagement which includes: Problem Awareness, Root-Cause Analysis, Empathy, Strategy and Sacrifice.

Research tells us that even if businesses have diversity policies in place, they also need to take deliberate actions to address racism specifically with problem awareness. Recognition of this fact will pave the way to address workplace discrimination.

If Black women are made to feel safe to share detailed accounts of the negative impact that racism has had on their lives, this can aid to register an awareness in staff.

Any deliberate actions to develop racial diversity will also broaden the staff talent pool.

Once business leaders are aware of racial problems and can accept how they exist within their policies and practices, then the next question is whether they have the desire to do something about it.

Empathy will propel organisations and their people to act and bring about social justice through exposure and education. An organisation that makes it a priority to include racial equity in its core values and model the behaviour from the top down, will influence both institutional policies and individual attitudes.

To prioritise racial equity, businesses must swiftly follow with effective strategies for education.

Businesses that are vigilant to support these women through recruitment and retention combined with safeguards in training, mentorship and promotion will reap the benefits. Staff could also reach out in ways that adds value to morale and contributes to business goals.

Now is the time for deliberate actions to unleash Black African Australian women’s creativity, diversity and adaptability skills to reap the benefits for business recovery.