A pathway to a healthier you

Racism, discrimination and the CALD nurse

Jenna, a RN who migrated to Australia in 2004, has experienced adverse mental health as a result of racism and discrimination in the workplace.  

“I felt very unsafe and de-humanised. It was an awful feeling. I experienced anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. I couldn’t function, I couldn’t look after my kids.” 

On encouragement, Jenna applied for a senior position, having been told she was the most qualified, experienced and suitable person for the role but when she asked her manager to support her [as a referee] she was unsupportive.  

“I heard from someone else that she didn’t want me to leave my current role. There’s this expectation that CALD nurses are there to fill junior roles and positions. When we apply for promotions or senior positions, we’re told we should be grateful to be here when we’re overlooked.” 

Identifying racist behaviours

Jenna was shocked when she was told not to term what she had experienced as “racism” because it couldn’t be proven. The lack of validation by management after she reported her experience re-traumatised her. 

“There were policies in place, and we were being told to call out racism and discrimination but when it happened there was no action taken because it was covert. I had to resign because I had called it out and it became unbearable. I had raised it, then had to face secondary repercussions. It was safer for me to leave but I had no job to go to.” 

Policy versus practice

There is a lot of lip service and tokenism by employers when it comes to inclusion and equity, says Jenna. Many organisations advertise themselves as an equal opportunity employer, encouraging those from CALD backgrounds and different ethnicities to apply.  

“The policies, guidelines, vision statements, and mission statements are there. But the reality we experience is so far removed from those written policies and expressions of inclusivity.  

Calling out racism

“When faced with discrimination and racism in the workplace in going through the processes and the right channels, that’s when the reality for CALD nurses and midwives often sets in. The actual reality is that when these issues are raised, if CALD nurses and midwives are not supported, it further puts us in harm’s way.  

“We are re-traumatised as a result of speaking up about racism and discrimination and going through the proper channels only to not have our experiences validated and acted on. It’s been my experience that it’s not followed through on when it’s reported – they either discredit you or dismiss the allegation.” 

Supportive workplaces 

Jenna’s first experience when she came to Australia in 2004 was a positive one, with the first organisation that sponsored her. 

“They valued my contribution. I came into a welcoming environment with a very good induction and being embraced as one of their own.” 

“In retrospect it was management that set the tone. It was one of inclusiveness where wellbeing was a priority in deed not just talk. I was thriving and enjoyed coming to work, doing my best with my clients and their families.”  

Understand the experiences of CALD nurses 

Good workplaces, says Jenna, are those organisations that are aware of the challenges that CALD nurses and midwives face and are authentic in efforts towards striving to equality. 

“It may be that we have the same opportunities, but it might look different for someone from a CALD background. We have the same goals, but it might be to make it smoother given the other challenges we face. It’s being willing to be open, to listen and to understand our journey and make changes to accommodate us to level the field for everybody.” 

Ensure safety, respect and real opportunity

Supportive workplaces are respectful, encourage opportunities based on experience and qualifications, one where you feel safe and your contribution is valued, says Jenna. 

“I have unique experiences as a CALD nurse that my colleagues have no idea about. It's really important to bring us to the table, and to hear our lived experience. If you want to know what exclusion looks like, if you want to know what racism looks like and feels like, you have to ask people who are actually experiencing it.” 

Role model diversity at all levels

Workplaces should have role models that are representative in diversity in the workplace, says Jenna. “Those in senior positions that we can see, who have discussions at a higher managerial level and contribute to the solutions that bring diversity to the table.” 

Delivering support services to CALD nurses and midwives 

Jenna says any service supporting the health and wellbeing of CALD nurses and midwives needs to be culturally sensitive and competent. Her experience with an EAP counsellor to help her through her experience was whilst supportive, was that they were out of their depth. 

Cultural insights and responses

“You have to know how to respond in a culturally responsive way or you risk causing further harm. I was at the height of my crisis. Someone who is culturally competent asks the right questions. You need someone to validate your experience and help you work through it with you in a strengths-based way.” 

Peer-to-peer understanding

Jenna joined the NSWNMA CALD Reference Group which she credits with helping her through her experience with its key strength, its peer-to-peer support.  

“It’s a wrap-around for each other, particularly in times of crisis. We know the issues we face and what the right solutions might look like. We have developed anti-racism nurse and midwife specific resources on these issues. We draw from lived experience and share wisdom. Resources provide information, practical advice and mental health support. They help with gas lighting and feelings of alienation, and provide validation.”

Support, report, be an ally

“You’re not alone, find the right support. Prioritise your mental health and do whatever you need to for your psychological safety. Draw from your own community, CALD community and your non-CALD allies. Always reach out. There is a lot of under-reporting because of fear of repercussions and lack of support.”  

If you’re experiencing discrimination or alienation at your workplace, reach out and call us on 1800 001 060