Charities urged to create safer environment for people of colour
1 July 2021 at 4:01 pm
New research shows a majority of women of colour experience discrimination in the workplace
The not-for-profit sector is in need of a “shakeup” to better reflect the diversity of people it represents, according to a community leader striving to create a fairer Australia for women of colour.
Brenda Gaddi is a second-generation migrant from the Philippines who recently founded Women of Colour Australia (WoCA), the nation’s first NFP of its kind championing women of colour through tailored programs, community support initiatives and advocacy work.
The organisation – in partnership with Murdoch University – has just unveiled the inaugural Women of Colour in the Australian Workforce survey report.
This survey of more than 500 women of colour in Australia found that 60 per cent have experienced workplace discrimination related to their identity as a woman of colour.
For these women, racism, tokenism, sexism or a combination of these were identified as major challenges at work.
Overall, 58 per cent of respondents had white men as leaders, 26 per cent had white women as leaders, while just 7 per cent said their leader was a woman of colour.
Gaddi has been involved in the not-for-profit space for several years, and she told Pro Bono News these problems were evident in the sector, which she described as being “very white”.
“Those in the leadership teams do not necessarily reflect the people that they’re servicing,” Gaddi said.
“It’s a huge disconnect. I think it’s time for a shakeup as well. We need to be reflecting the people that we’re representing.”
But for Gaddi, fixing the issue isn’t as simple as just getting more people of colour into leadership positions.
She said without organisations undertaking a deep and wide transformation, things would not progress beyond “surface level conversations”.
“It starts from within, from the top to the bottom in all the facets of the organisation. Make sure that if you’re bringing in people from diverse backgrounds that the work is culturally safe,” she said.
“Because it’s all good to open it up to diverse people, but your organisation needs to provide safe spaces for when there’s racism in the workplace, making sure that there are steps in place so [people of colour] know they’re going to be heard.”
Gaddi was inspired to form WoCA after her mother Electa suddenly passed away in March last year.
She said while they did not really talk about it together, she knew her mum experienced discrimination as a women of colour who had emigrated to Australia in the early 80s.
Through WoCA, Gaddi is looking to honour her mother’s memory by creating a space where women of colour feel they belong and can learn from their peers.
The organisation runs community support initiatives and online events featuring the stories, voices, and lived experiences of women of colour in Australia.
It is also working to establish a formal mentorship program, which Gaddi believes is important.
“In the survey where we asked the question, ‘what can we do as an organisation to help you?’ Overwhelmingly, a lot of them said that they wanted a mentoring and leadership program designed by women of colour for women of colour,” she said.
“So we exist because we want to fill that void and we hope to do that in a respectful way, while also bringing the community together – because without community, we can’t go anywhere.”