From the Commissioner – The importance of intersectionality
At the Commission we frequently promote the idea of diversity. Diversity in the workplace helps an organisation develop strategies to capture a larger client base, diversity in goods and services means an organisation is able to sell to a larger client base, diversity in education means a larger proportion of the community is able to meaningfully and independently engage with society, and diversity in accommodation means a greater population has the security of a home.
Diversity inclusion is key to healthy, functioning society and achieving equality.
Many individuals need to be congratulated for recognising this in their day to day life and organisations in their policies and practices.
At an organisational level it might be things such as setting gender targets for executive level positions, amending procedures to better serve people with a disability or creating scholarships and internships to attract Aboriginal students and graduates.
All around the state organisations are changing how they think and what they do to be more inclusive of diversity and it has a trickledown effect, so the equality message transfers to other co-workers, students and members of the public.
Many in our community may be falling through the cracks because they have compounding problems due to them having an intersection of characteristics.
Intersectionality, when speaking about diversity inclusion, is a term that takes diversity and inclusion beyond the usual focus areas such as gender, sexuality, disability or race, to intersect with other focus areas for better inclusion.
Perhaps an organisation has a gender target for women, and it has an organisational focus on better serving Aboriginal clients.
The organisation then needs to focus on the intersectionality of gender and race to perhaps target women who are also Aboriginal.
International law firm Dentons recently spoke about its intersectionality initiative.
The law firm has set up a LGBTI diversity and inclusion network and has, through this network, been able to set up Australia’s first free trans and gender diverse legal centre in partnership with the Inner-City Legal Centre in Sydney.
More recently, Dentons launched DentonsABLE, a disability inclusion group and the law firm saw opportunities for their LGBTI network to work more closely to provide opportunities for people with disabilities who may also be part of the LGBTI community.
Dentons Partner Ben Allen and Senior Associate John Heard said the firm recognised that someone could cross any number of its diversity and inclusion groups simultaneously and, as a result, faced unique issues in the workplace.
This is well worth considering when it comes to discrimination complaints at the Commission. Many of our complaints are made on multiple grounds at the Commission, so intersectionality is relevant to our work here.
The Commission understands multiple grounds of discrimination often create a deeper level of inequality and disadvantage.
It is something we address in our community awareness work, so our community considers intersectionality when thinking about their rights and responsibilities.
We know someone with an ethnically diverse last name or a disability is less likely to get a job, and we know women are less likely to get higher paid employment.
Someone with all three characteristics faces discrimination on multiple fronts, even though they might be the best person for the job.
If we really want a healthy, functioning Western Australia employers need to think more about intersectionality and how they can address it.
Commissioner for Equal Opportunity Dr John Byrne
Uni debates reasonable adjustments for impairment
Manager Commission Services Diana MacTiernan and Community Education Officer Mike Harte gave feedback to six Curtin University Design and Built Environment students who debated the topic It is not reasonable to expect businesses to make adjustments for impairment.
The affirmative side argued the costs of adjustments and productivity would need to balance the money made by businesses in order to be considered ‘reasonable’.
Arguments from the negative team mentioned gains on the costs of adjustments, such as bringing diversity experience to the workplace, as well as public relations and tax benefits.
Diana said both teams had researched the topic well.
“I was pleased to see some level of agreement on what would be considered reasonable,” she said.
Mike also noted the excellent focus on what is considered reasonable and its relevance to the Equal Opportunity Act 1984.
He said if businesses could show the adjustments required were too onerous then they could use that as a defence under the Act.
Both Diana and Mike congratulated the affirmative team on referring to the State Administrative Tribunal case Sumanasekera vs IELTS Australia Pty Ltd where Mr Sumanasekera’s impairment discrimination complaint was dismissed due to the reading of the Act.
The Tribunal found the extra adjustments required for IELTS Australia to provide the service of English as a second language testing to Mr Sumanasekera, who had a learning impairment, were unreasonable.
The company had already made a range of adjustments and they argued further adjustments would compromise the test.
Following the debate Diana and Mike provided the class with equal opportunity training, which touched on some of the issues covered by both the affirmative and negative teams.
Issues of discrimination in housing were also discussed during the training segment.
“Some of the students commented property managers and landlords had refused them a rental lease because of their marital status and their age in the past.
“Being a student can be a vulnerable time, so it is important for students to be aware of their equal opportunity rights, as well as their responsibilities when they get out into the workforce,” Diana said.
Following this session Mike conducted a follow up session with the class on sexual harassment so students were aware of their rights under the Act and how to be an effective bystander to stop harassment.
Diana delivering training to the class
Commission supporting dogs
The Equal Opportunity Commission took part in Sussex Street Community Legal Service’s event to raise awareness about guide and assistant dogs, their handlers and their trainers at the Raine Square shopping centre in Perth.
Acting Senior Legal Officer Jeff Rosales-Castaneda said the Commission has received complaints and enquiries in the past about guide dogs and assistance dogs mostly in the area of goods and services.
“Usually in complaints involving guide and assistance dogs it is a café or restaurant that does not want animals inside a venue where food is served.
“The Equal Opportunity Act 1984 in WA is silent about the use of assistance dogs, however guide dogs for sight impaired complainants are covered by the Act,” he said.
Jeff said people with assistance dogs for other impairments such as epilepsy, diabetes, autism or post-traumatic stress disorder needed to lodge a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, which did cover the use of assistance dogs.
“They are a section of the community who fall through the gaps of our discrimination laws in WA, however it was a valuable opportunity to meet those with assistance dogs and get a better understanding of the important work their animals do,” he said.
Jeff said it was a great opportunity to speak to people passing through Raine Square about the Commission and the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 and how it related to guide dogs.
“Having a group of adorable guide and assistant dogs in training certainly brought in the crowds and gave us the opportunity to provide important community outreach to those on their lunch breaks from work in the CBD,” he said.
Jeff Rosales-Castaneda with an assistance dog in training
Multicultural focus in the Pilbara
Commission Community Education and Training Officers Stephen Goodall and Mike Harte spent time in the Pilbara doing training in Port Hedland, Karratha and Roebourne and some community outreach work with the Office of Multicultural Interests (OMI).
Stephen said it was beneficial to partner with an organisation like OMI as it allowed the Commission to provide different messages to different sections of the community.
“On Thursday evening we presented at a dinner meeting to members from the Pilbara Multicultural Association, Karratha Community Association and the Soroptimists International Karratha and Districts Incorporated about their rights under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 and how the Commission could assist them when seeking to make a complaint.
“It was also interesting to hear the different experiences of people from multicultural backgrounds living in the Pilbara,” he said.
Stephen said it could be particularly challenging for ethnic minority groups living in rural areas because access to services is limited compared to the metropolitan area.
Some of the issues covered by the group during the presentation included race and language barriers, gender issues, particularly for women, and religion.
“Being part of an ethnic minority can be challenging anywhere, but when there isn’t the same sort of access to support groups and specific services to cater for your needs it makes things quite difficult,” he said.
Stephen and Mike also provided training sessions to staff from the North Regional TAFE at the Pundulmurra TAFE campus in Port Hedland and at “The Quarter” in Karratha and some community outreach to inmates and staff at Roebourne Regional Prison.
Stephen Goodall (left) and Mike Harte (centre) with people from the Pilbara Multicultural Association, Karratha Community Association and the Soroptimists International Karratha and Districts Incorporated.
What’s coming up?
The Commission’s Training Calendar from July to December 2019 is now available. You can register for all Commission courses on the Community Education page.
17 & 18 September Equity Grievance Officer Role (2 days)
16 October Recruitment and Selection – Are you getting it right?
22 October Contact Officer Role
Please contact us on 9216 3900 if you are interested in organisation specific training or for a rights-based session for your clients or community members.