Achieving equality in the workplace

Migrant and refugee women experience the workplace and the labour market differently to men, and to women who are not from migrant communities. The intersection of gender and race discrimination is particularly salient in the world of work.

Some of the impacts of intersecting race and gendered discrimination are inequitable access to education and training and a devaluing of qualifications that are earned overseas. This discrimination also puts women on the back foot during job shortlisting, interviews, starting pay, career advancement, as well as access to leave and other entitlements. Add the disproportionate burden of formal and informal care that is placed on migrant women to this exhausting but not exhaustive list of disadvantages, and it becomes clear that the playing field is not only uneven but a rocky obstacle course.

The Jobs Summit being held this week will consider five key issues that are also circumscribed by race and gender discrimination. The Summit will be looking at ways to boost job security and wages, lift workforce participation, reduce barriers to employment, deliver the skills and training that the workforce needs, including a more targeted migration program, and plan for the industries of the future. These are such important issues to consider and looking at these issues from the vantage point of migrant and refugee women will make this discussion completely different and richer. Perhaps more importantly, if the Jobs Summit does not provide an opportunity for migrant and refugee women to speak about these issues on their own behalf, then we must ensure that opportunity is created.

It is by now well known that many migrant women come to Australia with a range of skills and qualifications, but they encounter racialised barriers to their formal and informal recognition. Migrant women of colour report that their skills are often not equitably valued in the workplace, they are not offered the networking opportunities that are needed in many workplaces, and as a result they often experience a process of downward mobility and de-skilling over time.

We also know that migrant women have a relatively lower workforce participation rate, but we don’t always make the connection between discriminatory workplace experiences and women's ‘choices’ to leave the workforce. The struggle of trying to balance work and care in the context of race and gendered discrimination has the effect of pushing women out of the workplace or off their chosen career path, which is not the gender equitable world we are all working toward.

Lifting women’s workplace participation and reducing barriers to employment are of paramount importance, as is getting the migration program right for the workforce. We must see these issues from the important and distinct vantage point of migrant women, and hear their voices and perspectives, before we reach the solutions that will make a real difference.

First published in edition #112 of The WRAP on 31 August 2022.