Let’s not just tick a box this Harmony Day

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A word from our Acting CEO, Brad Webb:

When we’re talking about diversity, it’s not a box to check. It is a reality that should be deeply felt and held and valued by all of us” -Ava DuVernay

I’ve been reflecting on these words from African-American film director Ava DuVernay in the lead up to Harmony Day. So often diversity can be stripped back to a tokenistic tick box, and opportunities for true inclusion are lost.

Samaritans prides itself on being available to everyone, no matter their age, ability, race, sexuality or gender. As DuVernay’s quote notes, embracing diversity should be a value all people hold all of the time, not just something to put in the spotlight and wave around when a special day or week is on the calendar.

For those who embrace diversity every day, there are many reasons and ways to celebrate Harmony Day. With the tagline of Everyone Belongs, Harmony Day is encouraged in communities, schools and workplaces to embrace cultural diversity. The day coincides with the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

This led me to think about the extent to which diversity features in the makeup of Samaritans staff. In last year’s “Voice Survey”, 5% of our staff respondents identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people. 13% identified as being from a culturally and linguistically diverse background.

I found it intriguing to compare this data alongside the most recent ABS Census data taken from the regions in which we work.

National ABS data source 1 and 2 | Regional ABS data source (using Statistical Areas as boundaries)

What does this tell us? Certainly, from a regional perspective, our staffing profile is not quite representative of the wider community we serve. (Unfortunately, at the time of writing this blog, I didn’t have access to figures on the diversity within the people we support). So we are well on our way in the journey towards embracing diversity.

Given what we can see from these numbers, it’s appropriate that our new Strategic Plan has been themed For All People. The people we support, employ and partner with, along with those that fund, donate and volunteer with us, are the heart of Samaritans. The diversity of our people is our strength.

Within the new Strategic Plan, Samaritans is committed to nurturing intentional partnerships that deliver the best outcomes for our communities. An example of this is our partnerships Aboriginal organisations such as Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council and Ungooroo Aboriginal Corporation and with migrant support services like Northern Settlement Services.

The core of partnering is the ability to see the strength in others and work together. I touched on this in my recent blog for World Day of Social Justice. One of my final remarks was that there’s certainly a lot we can learn from the history, hardships and hopes of our fellow human beings. If we see the common humanity amongst us, we can strip away the fear that many people attach to those whose background is different from their own.

However, Australia seems to have a conflicted relationship with diversity. A recent social cohesion survey showed that on one hand we are embracing those from diverse backgrounds and acknowledge the great contribution of multiculturalism to our society, but on the other hand we have a fear that’s driving increased concern about national security and immigration.

The same survey asked numerous questions of people who had immigrated to Australia, and while respondents indicated they’ve felt a high level of happiness in Australia, 20% had experienced discrimination in the last 12 months because of their skin colour, ethnicity or religion. This is the same percentage as 2016 and sits at the highest level since the survey began in 2007.

Australia certainly has a way to go in reconciling attitudes not just in relation to the immigrant communities featured in the studies above, but also in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Something we can do this Harmony Day to counter attitudes of ignorance and to avoid being tokenistic is to commit. Commit to continuous learning. Commit to acceptance and support of those different from ourselves. Commit to ongoing partnerships so our communities can prosper.

Not just for Harmony Day, but for each day, let’s say it proudly: Everyone Belongs.