Let’s hear it for diversity!

George A Spiva Centre for the Arts Diversity MaskGeorge A. Spiva Art Centre/ Diversity Mask

Let’s face it, diversity is a good-news story. Diversity in our workplaces or government policies and frameworks not only brightens the day, but it actually means quite a lot for people who have often been marginalised, to be included. For immigrant and refugee women, diversity in the labour force can translate into enjoyable and productive working lives. Diversity in publishing and the media can mean that readers have access to wonderfully important stories, and immigrant and refugee women have a voice. Diversity in education can mean that learning becomes both accessible and more meaningful for students from immigrant and refugee communities. Culinarily speaking, diversity adds to general enjoyment in life. I don’t think anyone wants to go back to the monotonous days of white-bread, cheddar cheese and lettuce sandwiches for lunch. These days we revel in the diverse gourmet choices we have, from sushi to quinoa, and everything in between.

But (even good-news stories can come with a reluctant ‘but’) diversity can have a down-side. Diversity, and the happy story that goes with it, as the feminist scholar Sara Ahmed has shown, can sometimes be understood as existing outside of the broader context of power relations. Diversity can be interpreted as a benign, horizontal difference which, while promoting the wonderful aspects of inclusion and acceptance, is not necessarily accompanied by any effective mechanisms for positive change. In the absence of real transformative initiatives within organisations that improve conditions for marginalised people, the very focus on ‘diversity’, can have the effect of cutting off diversity from other strategies that challenge inequities more directly, and in fact, may even take the place of such programs.

Diversity and structural change can end up as two sides of a coin. You can’t see both sides at once. Smiling colourful faces on organisational websites don’t always mean that organisations are ensuring that migrants and refugees are getting a fair go. In fact, such a public image may mask the reality that these same organisations tend for example, to reserve management positions to the usual white (and/or) male suspects, while promoting ‘diversity’ among the rank and file.

So we celebrate diversity, and will always promote its happy story. But next time you come across a diversity policy or statement, try flipping the coin over to see whether that diversity is supported by structural change initiatives. Do workplace policies include equal opportunity or affirmative action initiatives? Are there programs in place to value the skills and capabilities of immigrant and refugee women, and to facilitate their promotion and advancement in the workforce? Is funding equally allocated to government policy initiatives to address diverse needs and address structural inequities? If the answer is a resounding yes, now that is a good news story.

Media Release: Poverty report highlights the challenges for migrant and refugee women

The Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health (MCWH) commends the recent release of the ‘Poverty in Australia’ Report by the Australia Council of Social Services (ACOSS) and responded to the report’s implications for immigrant and refugee women.

‘The report makes clear both the multidimensional aspect to poverty and the triple jeopardy many migrant and refugee women face ’, said Dr Adele Murdolo, Executive Director of MCWH.

‘As the findings point out, if you are a woman or if you come from a non-English speaking country, your risk of poverty is significantly higher. And we know from the work we do at MCWH that migrant and refugee women also face higher risks when it comes to health and their overall wellbeing.’

‘The link between poverty and ill health is well-known, yet there is still very little comprehensive research about immigrant and refugee women’s health status.
‘Immigrant and refugee women are at significant risk from, and are already over-represented in, an array of preventable illnesses such as diabetes and diabetes-related deaths, maternal deaths and perinatal and neonatal deaths.

‘The report’s release is an important reminder to us all that poverty is not just an economic problem or about an individual’s financial resources, it’s also very much a social issue spanning many life domains, including health, employment, education, social connections and personal safety.

‘Being income poor is not the same as also being socially excluded and for many immigrant and refugee women, the concept of social exclusion is a reality and a risk they face on a daily basis.’

‘The concentration of migrant and refugee women in a range of low-skilled occupations and contract positions, for example, makes women more vulnerable to exploitative and discriminatory treatment and increases their risk to negative health outcomes.

‘In order to reduce inequalities, we need to invest in the appropriate early intervention and prevention policies that assist the health and wellbeing of all Australians, regardless of their birthplace or ethnic origin,’ said Dr Murdolo.