Australia is home to many different cultures and a vastly diverse workforce. Cultural diversity is not something that a person can leave at home. Rather, it is intrinsically linked to their everyday life; preserved in their own cultural identity. That could be different beliefs, nationalities, religions, languages spoken at home, traditions, behaviours, and the many rituals and customs related to food and celebration.

There is not one singular prerequisite to define a person’s culture. In fact, many of our colleagues are Australian, but may have a different heritage, language preference or practise a different religion. Therefore, it’s imperative that we’re all conscious of the differences that make us unique and practise sensitivity to ensure we all feel part of an inclusive working environment.

How Diverse Is Australia?

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australia’s migration arrivals for 2022/23 increased by 73% (737,000 arrivals). Comparatively, the year before saw 427,000 arrivals, showcasing how year-on-year, Australia’s diverse demographic is proliferating.

2021 statistics from the ABS also reported that over 27.6% of Australia’s population – or more than 7 million people – were born overseas. In addition, the Grattan Institute found that one in three Aussie workers in 2022 possessed a work visa – whether that be temporary or permanent. So, overall, Australia is a vastly diverse country which is reflected in our dynamic workforce.

What Is Diversity In The Workplace?

Organisations have placed stronger emphasis on hiring talent from many different backgrounds, ethnic profiles, lifestyle preferences and demographic groups. This is especially true for businesses that have adopted a work from anywhere model. According to a James Cook University paper, many workforces will utilise skills and expertise from a global market. For example, those markets may see people belonging to the LGBTQI+ community or proudly hail from Indigenous communities within Australia and elsewhere overseas.

Today’s employment market is agile and mobile due to advancements in technology and the rise in migration. And with Aussie borders open after years of ongoing closures during the pandemic, migration is set to continue to rise rapidly. Australia’s Centre for Population has indicated migration is forecast to return to pre-pandemic levels over the course of 2024/25. With that in mind, cultural sensitivity, especially in the workplace, needs to be prioritised and planned for.

Preventing Discrimination Through Cultural Sensitivity Training

While society appears to be more inclusive, many minority and cultural groups still experience ongoing discrimination. According to Australian Treasury statistics, 16.1% of overseas workers experience discrimination. Comparatively, that’s 4% higher than discrimination experienced by those born in Australia. Reconciliation Australia also surveyed a group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over a six-month period, during this time, 60% reportedly experienced racial discrimination.

Rightly so, anti-discrimination laws exist in Australia, in which the Fair Work Ombudsman has outlined the various attributes that are protected. However, we all have a moral duty to change our behaviours and preclude workplace discrimination. Diversity Australia saysone way to remain culturally sensitive is to be culturally aware. That doesn’t mean we all need to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of all cultural norms and preferences. Rather, Diversity Australia emphasises that being aware of different cultures in the workplace will encourage us to practise a higher degree of sensitivity.

Bringing Cultural Sensitivity Into The Workplace

Cultural diversity is ubiquitous, so workplaces need to adapt and foster a more inclusive environment to support, enable and maximise the benefits that flow from a diverse workforce. To do so, this can be as simple as running a food harmony lunch or performing a training session specifically targeting cultural inclusion. Here are a few reasons why a training model could be introduced and how it can augment your work environment…

Safety Is Paramount!

Workplace safety and ensuring that your colleagues feel comfortable and confident should never be underestimated or compromised. By training all employees on how to be more culturally sensitive will help to instil an environment where employees feel a sense of belonging, safe to express their opinions and ideas, or raise concerns without fear of negative consequences. This, in turn, will promote greater knowledge sharing, mutual learning and ultimately, better outputs, increase productivity and organisational performance.

Engender Innovation

Workplaces who welcome, embrace, and then practise cultural sensitivity when hiring, training, and growing their talent will engender greater innovation. Research featured in the Havard Business Review demonstrated that many workforces with both adopted and innate cultural differences outperformed workforces with less diversity. Statistically, their findings outlined that 70% of businesses were likelier to attain new markets and 45% of businesses were more likely to report innovative growth with a workforce possessing these traits.

Diversity also brings different viewpoints, so when ideating your next campaign, or when you need to problem-solve a customer emergency, a diverse team will have different perspectives on how to overcome such challenges and roadblocks – which are, more often than not, more robust, considered, and innovative.

Building Better Relationships 

Professional relationships are the bedrock of where collaboration occurs, creativity is sparked and where mutual learning takes place. Therefore, recognising that cultural diversity underpins many teams, being sensitive and respectful of the value this brings will help teams build better relationships all round and contribute to better team and organisational performance.

Stronger Communication

Communicating with your colleagues is foundational and fundamental for all workplaces. Indeed, having strong communication skills coupled with cultural awareness will enhance your team’s performance. For example, a clinical trial where clinicians were trained in cultural sensitivity, not only resulted in better patient experiences, but it also saw greater communication with all patients regardless of their background. This was particularly true for patients from developing nations, or those from low-socio-economic areas.

Turn Your Talent Pool Into A Talent Ocean

Being close-minded to actively building a diverse team means your talent pool is adversely constrained, and great talent will slip through the cracks and seek employment elsewhere. In fact, a competitor may happily snap this person up. As such, having an all-encompassing, accepting, and inclusive workplace will broaden a company’s talent pool and turn it into a talent ocean over time!

How Colleagues Can Adopt Culturally Sensitive Strategies

While senior positive leadership and a top-down approach is essential, it’s also on each and every one of us to exercise and foster cultural sensitivity. There are a number of ways to do this, but to get into the granular details, here are a number of tips and tricks to building more culturally sensitivity…

Look At The Whole Person

While we all have a specific ethnic heritage or identity, we also recognise a person is defined by much more than ethnicity alone. We dress in our own ways and practise our own religions and rituals, which ultimately, are deeply personal to us and reflect both our identity and individuality. Therefore, being respectful of those choices, preferences and nuances are essential to understanding what is special about each person, and indeed celebrating their unique identity and contribution at work and in life.

Take The Time To Learn 

Politely asking about a person’s culture and showing genuine curiosity and interest goes a long way. Whether it’s new colleagues who are assimilating, or colleagues you’ve worked with for years, taking the time to respectfully understand their culture will create better relationships, a stronger sense of safety at work, and support higher trust and foster more in-depth collaboration.

Share Your Perspectives

If you feel comfortable doing so, sharing your experiences and how you express your cultural or individual identity will enable you to build more meaningful relationships with your colleagues. Coupled with the above point, this is a pivotal way to promote greater collaboration because your colleagues will better understand you, feel more connected to you and the broader context of what you bring to work.

Study Up On Other Cultures

Taking the time to intentionally explore other cultures and learn more about what makes societies and life diverse can augment your cultural awareness. Absorbing all that we can about other cultures will help us understand the many positives that flow from being culturally attuned. And, let’s not forget: it’s fun!

Be Aware Of Your Impact 

We all have influence over our environment; more influence than we may know. So, adapting our workstyle, communication, and thinking demonstrates greater cultural flexibility and social awareness. Be careful and resist the urge to judge others: behaviours and views vary from person to person, so withholding judgement and recognising others’ differences can be more impactful than you may ever realise.

Helping Your Diverse Team

At Converge, you may already know we offer mental health and wellbeing services to you, so you feel safe and supported. But did you know we offer a large range of specialist streams of support to make sure we give you exactly what you need, when you need it. Whether your issue is to do with your career, workplace conflict, sleep, family concerns, or cost of living, we are here to help you sort out these big life issues when they happen. The bottom line is, whatever your issue or concern might be, we’ve got you covered. We have a large team of highly trained and independent professionals who have years of experience in their craft. Curious about how you get started? Book your session today via our online booking platform.