People Matter: Victoria's mixed results on diversity

By David Donaldson

October 4, 2016

Victorian public servants born in non-English speaking countries are happy with efforts made by their workplaces to foster inclusivity, agreeing that cultural background is not a barrier to success to the same extent as Australian-born employees.

Aboriginal staff are slightly less positive, however, with a significant minority of Aboriginal public servants being concerned cultural background may be a barrier to career progression, according to the first tranche of People Matter 2016 insights released by the Victorian Public Sector Commission.

Data show a noticeable difference in responses between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal employees — while 78% of non-Aboriginal employees agreed with the statement “cultural background is not a barrier to success in my organisation”, this fell to 66% for Aboriginal staff. Only 4% of non-Aboriginal staff disagreed, compared to 12% for Aboriginal respondents.

Aboriginal respondents were less likely to agree that their background is no hindrance to success at work.

The results are somewhat mixed. Aboriginal employees were more likely to say that their workplace had “a positive culture” for employees who are Aboriginal, but they were also more likely to disagree that this was the case.

Aboriginal employees were more likely to agree and disagree that there is a positive culture for Aboriginal employees in their organisation.

A different pattern can be seen for people born overseas. Those born in non-English speaking countries were actually more likely to believe their organisation was welcoming and inclusive than people born in Australia or other English-speaking countries.

While 59% of Australian-born people agreed that “my organisation fosters an environment of inclusiveness”, this number rose to 68% for people born in non-English speaking countries. People from non-English speaking countries were also more likely to agree that their workplace had an environment where all staff are treated fairly and with respect, as well as that there is a positive culture for people from varied backgrounds.

These results paint a more encouraging picture than the Australian Human Rights Commission’s cultural diversity and inclusive leadership report earlier this year, which highlighted a clear lack of people of non-European background in the upper levels of public services around Australia.

People born in non-English speaking countries were more likely to believe their workplace is supportive of diversity.
People born in non-English speaking countries were more likely to believe their workplace is supportive of diversity.

A total of 62,354 staff employed by 177 public sector organisations participated in the People Matter survey between May and July, achieving an overall response rate of 35%. Over 51,000 employees from 123 public sector organisations completed the new diversity and inclusion module.

Around one-fifth of respondents were born overseas (compared to one-third of Victoria’s population), and 0.9% identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander (compared to around 0.7% of the state population).

People born overseas gave almost the same responses as Australian-born public services on how workplaces dealt with diversity.
People born overseas gave almost the same responses as Australian-born public servants on the question of cultural background being a barrier to success at work.

The VPSC will be releasing further data from the survey over the next few months. Topics to be covered will include workplace diversity, bullying, employee engagement and wellbeing, sexual harassment, learning and development, and career intentions.

The commission has been working to turn around the perception that the public service takes a “tick the box” approach to recruiting and retaining Aboriginal public servants. Last month it launched a career development program for Aboriginal public servants from VPS 3 to VPS 5, as well as an Aboriginal undergraduate cadetship program. Its Aboriginal Employment Unit has commenced work on developing a new Aboriginal employment strategy to be implemented in 2017.

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