Workplace racism a growing problem

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Figures from the Human Rights Commission show that racial discrimination and harassment are on the rise in New Zealand, according to Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie, CEO of the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust. The same figures show that incidents of racism are most likely to occur in employment.

In 2010 the number of racial harassment complaints was 59, which rose to 68 in 2011, and 71 in 2012. Those related to employment went from 44 in 2010, down to 34 in 2011, and back up to 44 last year.

“Racism surrounding employment comes in many different forms – some job seekers were not given work due to their ethnicity, others suffered racist comments and abuse at work while other were treated badly because of their accent,” Cassidy-Mackenzie said.

Cassidy-Mackenzie also noted that slurs, such as telling someone to return to where they come from, were ‘ridiculous’ given the ethnically diverse nature of the contemporary workforce in New Zealand. “Auckland, for example, has nearly 200 different ethnicities in the workforce,” she wrote.

As well as being absurd, such instances of harassment are bad for business, according to Cassidy-Mackenzie. She noted that, with an ageing population and skills shortage, companies need to welcome talent wherever they could find it. “A lot of organisations ‘get it’ and employ the most suitable qualified person for the job but it looks like many other are failing,” she said.


  • Richard Motet Business Psychology NZ on 20/05/2013 1:06:20 p.m.

    Racism is an integral part of workplace bullying. But unlike other manifestations of bullying, there are much wider implications which may have ramifications with our key trading partners.

    Since 2010, we have seen a significant rise in behaviorally risky behavior, even in those organisations who work hard to build strong and effective cultures.

    When put to the test however, these cultural values and practices may ‘permit’ or encourage acts of bullying, prevent a target from reporting the behavior, or expect they must endure it, or make it acceptable for management to ‘ignore’ reports.

    Given one in eight people pose “a significant behavioral risk” to their organisation, and many of the ‘risks’ are found in middle management ranks, there is an expectation that responsible employers will be proactive in fulfilling their obligations to their employees, stakeholders, and to their customers where brand protection is a non-negotiable.

    Bullying is bad for business, racism is bad for New Zealand.

  • Angelica on 20/05/2013 12:49:06 p.m.

    As a HR professional I am amazed to see such statistics on a rise. A real shame really.

    New Zealand has been known for its diversity in culture for decades. So why arent we as employers embracing it?

    Lets embrace our nation's melting pot. Be proud that other races/nationalities have chosen NZ as its home and a solid ground for education, health & career.

    Cultural Diversity in a workplace adds spice and excitement and an environment for us Kiwis to learn about what lurks beyond our forshores and lets not forget the wealth of experience and qualifications off shore candidates come with.

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