Workplace discrimination and harassment levels rise in DCA’s fourth Inclusion@Work Index 

Last updated on 29 February 2024

Despite making positive changes during COVID-19, Australian workplaces are reportedly seeing increased levels of discrimination and harassment of marginalised staff. [Source: Shutterstock]

A worrying trend is emerging in the post-COVID-19 world with the Diversity Council Australia’s (DCA) 2023-24 Inclusion@Work Index showing that workplace discrimination and harassment levels have risen, while many workers are also feeling less connected, valued and included at work.

Key points

  • One in two workers say they belong to an inclusive organisation while a growing percentage of workers are supportive of diversity and inclusion actions
  • Almost one in five employees do not feel valued, respected or able to contribute and progress at work; this has nearly doubled since DCA first collected data in 2019
  • More than one-quarter of employees believe their manager does not show inclusive behaviours a 6% increase from 2021
  • Although organisations with a specific focus on diversity and inclusion are bucking the trend, discrimination and harassment are on the rise with 30% experiencing it in some way

DCA has investigated the state of inclusion and diversity in Australian workplaces since 2019 when it released its first Inclusion@Work Index. Now, its fourth release has resulted in a perfect snapshot of three critical time periods: the pre-pandemic era (2019-20), the pandemic era (2021-22) and the post-pandemic era (2023-24). 

At the core of the results is that more workers are feeling less valued and respected by their teams compared to 2019, while there are more non-inclusive managers. Both of these key trends did improve during the COVID-19 pandemic but Lisa Annese, DCA CEO, said many Australians are still recovering from the shared trauma caused by the pandemic.

“Workplaces are adjusting to the latest ‘new normal’, grappling with questions around flexible working, AI technology, inflationary pressures, and growing skills shortages,” Ms Annese said. 

“Meanwhile, employees are still processing the trauma and disruption of the past few years, fuelling a growing disillusionment with traditional working arrangements. With all this in mind, it is unsurprising that DCA’s 2023-2024 Inclusion@Work Index finds workers feeling less connected, valued and included post-pandemic. 

Although it is disappointing to see key trends surrounding diversity and inclusion revert slightly, the majority of employers are creating inclusive environments. This has good outcomes for businesses overall, too.

Employees in a diverse and inclusive workplace are twice as likely to belong to an inclusive team and have an inclusive manager who values differences, deals with inappropriate behaviour and uses a diversity of ideas. Additionally, workers are nearly twice as likely to report their work has a positive effect on their mental health. 

This has a positive flow-on effect on their interactions with consumers and customers and other behaviours such as problem-solving and collaboration. Ms Annese said it’s clear that focusing on diversity and inclusion has positive effects on employees. 

“In a time of so much disruption and division, a focus on diversity and inclusion is more important than ever. This report addresses the unique problems of the post-pandemic workforce and lays out a case for D&I action as a proven solution,” Ms Annese added.

Exclusion is worst for marginalised workers

  • Nearly two-thirds of First Nations workers experienced discrimination and/or harassment at work, compared to one-quarter of non-Indigenous workers
  • Roughly 40% of workers with disability, who identified as LGBTIQ+ or belong to a non-Christian religion experienced some form of discrimination or harassment in the past 12 months
  • Younger men are less likely to support diversity and inclusion compared to 2019 with their rate of support dropping from 77% to 69%

Unsurprisingly, it is marginalised workers who reported the highest levels of exclusion in the Inclusion@Work Index. But several other interesting trends also highlight how the generational gap is strong.

Young workers under 30 are twice as likely to have experienced discrimination or harassment compared to their colleagues aged 55 and over.

While the report does not dig into the reasons why one could argue that younger workers are more likely to be affected by everyday racism or their perception of harassment differs considerably from past generations.

Subtle examples include everyday exclusionary behaviours that can often be just as damaging to employee well-being and performance. This includes being ignored at work (33% reported experiencing this) or having assumptions made about their abilities based on their identity (39% said this occurred). 

The good news is support for diversity and inclusion action is on the rise across the board, with the greatest gains occurring among older workers in recent years. Men, overall, are also more supportive but men under 30 are bucking the trend.

“This drop reflects a concerning trend in broader society where younger men report the least support and most negative views towards gender equality. Part of engaging younger men with workplace D&I is shifting misconceptions that it is reverse discrimination that only benefits the minority at the expense of the majority,” the Report stated. 

If an employer does take an active role in promoting diversity and inclusion, DCA’s findings show workers will be twice as satisfied, have a positive frame of mind and be far more likely to stay and work harder at their workplace.

cultural diversity
Diversity Council Australia
culturally and racially marginalised
Inclusion@Work Index
marginalised workers
employee discrimination
employee value