NOW

Agency Calling Racism A 'Misunderstanding' Is The Problem, Says Diversity Expert

'It’s not a misunderstanding, it's blatant racism.'

05/08/2016 3:33 PM AEST | Updated August 5, 2016 19:30
Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images
An Australian woman was told the agency had 'too many brown people'.

A Sydney creative agency, Banjo, has apologised for a racial "misunderstanding" after a job applicant claims she was told the agency had "too many brown people".

Senior Lecturer at Sydney University's Business School and diversity management expert Dimitria Groutsis said the concern is not only the comment, or the fact the manager mistook Surungi Emily Hohol for an Indian when she is Sri Lankan, but the company's apology -- calling the comment a misunderstanding.

"While I applaud the managing director for responding to this immediately, I don't think the response is satisfactory because it's not a misunderstanding, it's blatant racism, and it's just unacceptable," Groutis told The Huffington Post Australia.

"When I looked at the managing director's response, he said that these comments were taken out of context. I don't see a context where these comments would be acceptable and that's where I find such comments quite troubling."

Sri Lankan woman Surungi Emily Hohol posted a status on Facebook on Thursday evening claiming she was "livid" and "seriously irritated" after being told she wouldn't be suitable for a position as the agency already had two Indian employees.

"Direct quote 'the client might be alarmed by having three brown skin people attend a meeting'. Seriously what is wrong with people," Hohol, who has lived in Australia for 27 years, wrote on Facebook.

"The injustice of racism."

Facebook: Surungi Emily Hohol
27-year-old Surungi Emily Hohol.

Banjo released a statement to the media on Friday after the post began gaining traction on Facebook, calling the incident an "unfortunate misunderstanding".

"The senior staff member who conducted what was a very positive interview made a casual remark at the end of the interview, which was intended to set the person at ease," the statement read.

"Unfortunately it was taken out of context and has since gained some notoriety on social media.

Banjo Managing Director Andrew Varasdi said he had arranged to meet with Hohol and the senior manager to resolve the issue.

"We couldn't possibly deliver on our promise that our clients come first, if our own staff did not reflect the Australian community," Varasdi said.

To prevent these situations occuring Groutsis said education is key, which ideally needs to start at the primary school level.

"We should be starting this conversation very early on, but by the time this person's at an executive position, what we need is awareness," Groutsis told HuffPost Australia.

"I would hope that this organisation responds with introducing initiatives and policies and strategies that respond to diversity and inclusion, because they clearly don't have them in place at the moment."

Groutsis said the 27-year-old should be applauded for calling out the comment, as walking away from these issues only allows the systemic problem to continue.

"We tend to walk away from it. And that's what you find in a lot of workplaces -- that humour and banter has a lot of implications on how individuals feel, on their confidence levels on their wellbeing, on their psychosocial and emotional participation, on them feeling confident, Groutis said.

"I find it frustrating that in 2016 someone is made to feel like they need to justify who they are, or their identity is also misinterpreted."

After surveying many businesses throughout Australia the workplace diversity expert said there is "blockage" between ethnically diverse talent rising to senior management positions, with senior leadership positions requiring more cultural diversity for reasons other than simply "representing what Australia is".

"It's a no brainer. It also has a positive economic impact so we need to just keep sending out that message so that this doesn't continue to happen. There's no negative about having an ethnically diverse workforce," Groutis said.

"We need to start educating our society to understand what is acceptable, what is unacceptable, particularly in a workplace context. We do have [racial discrimination] laws and policies which have been implemented since the mid-1970s. And the fact that we're not aware of these is problematic."

More On This Topic
Advertisement

FOLLOW HUFFPOST

Advertisement