Evaluating the Effectiveness of Multicultural Awareness Training Amongst Staff in an Australian Government Department

Background

Australia is a very diverse country, with nearly half (49%) of all Australians born overseas or having at least one parent who was, and with 2.8% of the population identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015, 2017). Australia’s policy of multiculturalism is largely supported by the population (Markus, 2017); however, discrimination and prejudice against immigrants and people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds appear to be on the rise, with discrimination at the workplace the most commonly identified kind of discrimination (Markus, 2015).

This project evaluated the effectiveness of an Australian government training program, which aims to improve attitudes and behaviours from service staff towards people from CALD backgrounds. The training program aims to create positive change within department, not just in service provision, but also within the workplace. More specifically, the department has a desire to evaluate the training with respect to the following objectives which will inform the current project:

1) Improvements in services designed for and delivered to CALD customers.

2) Identification and utilisation of anti-racism strategies in the workplace.

3) Identification of the key aspects of cultural awareness in the workplace.

4) The application of knowledge gained through training and how this has impacted decision-making and behaviours.

5) Greater sense of inclusion support by peers in the workplace.

Summary and Findings

A study consisting of three phases was conducted in 2017 and 2018, with a large number of the department’s staff completing a variety of measures: 1) before the programme (Phase 1); 2) immediately after the programme (Phase 2); and 3) three months after the programme (Phase 3). A small number of participants in the control condition completed the same measures in Phases 1 and 3 but did not participate in the program.

The study has found relatively strong support for the success of the program. The program affected many changes across diverse attitudes, behaviours, and perceptions in relation to ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity. Participants’ baseline levels of pro-diversity attitudes and behaviours (which already were relatively high) have significantly improved immediately after the program, and these changes have persisted three months later. In fact, this program appears to deviate from many other similar and relevant programs that often find changes immediately after the program, but lack of or much weakened long-term changes (Bezrukova, Spell, Perry, & Jehn, 2016). This shows that the program is achieving its goals – at least when it comes to participants’ changes in baseline attitudes. More pro-diversity changes emerged for people who experienced more empathetic emotions during the training. Participants indicated that the three most useful aspects of the training related to: 1) “Listening to other people’s stories and experiences first hand”, 2) “Understanding other people’s perspectives” and 3) “Having an open conversation”.

With regards to the stated aims of this evaluation the program is a success in FOUR out of FIVE categories.

1) Improvements in services designed for and delivered to CALD customers.

Overall, training participants reported increased confidence, cultural awareness, and capabilities in their interactions with CALD people. Their ethnocentric attitudes (see Figure 1), such as a sense of ethnic ingroup superiority, preference for ethnic ingroup members over others, and wish for ethnic purity (Bizumic, 2019), and tendency to exhibit and tolerate discriminatory behaviours decreased. Additionally, individual attitudes and feelings towards every measured social group (i.e., immigrants, asylum seekers, Indigenous Australians, Chinese, Africans, White/Anglo Australians, Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims) were more positive after the training than before the training. With the exception of attitudes towards two CALD groups (immigrants and asylum seeker) each of these effects did not significantly decline three months after the training.

Ethnocentrism is an attitudinal construct emanating from the belief that one’s own ethnic group is of immense importance. It involves factors such as preferring members of one’s own ethnic group over others, seeing one’s own ethnic group as superior to others, maintaining the purity of the ethnic group, exploiting other ethnic groups to benefit one’s own ethnic group, maintaining group unity and cohesion, and intense devotion to one’s own ethnic group.

2) Identification and utilisation of anti-racism strategies in the workplace.

Training participants displayed greater intentions to confront discrimination in the workplace, and lowered intentions to display behaviours such as laughing at jokes about other ethnic groups. This effect remained three months after the training.

3) Identification of the key aspects of cultural awareness in the workplace.

Training participants indicated increased awareness of cultural differences and greater intentions of being respectful of them. These effects remained three months after the training. Participants, however, did not indicate any change in comfort asking people about their cultural background.

4) The application of knowledge gained through training and how this has impacted decision-making and behaviours.

The vast majority of participants found the main aspects of the training useful and these have translated into greater confidence and skills with their interactions with CALD people throughout the workplace. These participants had greater intentions to confront discrimination but were no more likely to make friends with people from other ethnic groups. Additionally, the knowledge building exercises in the training were useful with over half of the participants indicated they found the statistics useful, and just under half indicated they found the misconceptions debunking aspects useful.

5) Greater sense of inclusion support by peers in the workplace.

Despite across the board improvements in individual attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours, this study failed to detect any changes to the workplace environment generally. Training participants did not indicate perceiving any changes in harmony between CALD individuals in the workplace, were no less uncomfortable with the idea of having a manager from a CALD background and did not indicate any change in their beliefs about the importance of diversity in the workplace.

References

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2015). National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, 2014-15. Cat. no. (4714.0) Canberra, ACT: Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2017, June 27). Census reveals a fast changing, culturally diverse nation [Media release]. Retrieved from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs%40.nsf/lookup/Media%20Release3

Bezrukova, K., Spell, C. S., Perry, J. L., & Jehn, K. A. (2016). A meta-analytical integration of over 40 years of research on diversity training evaluation. Psychological Bulletin, 142, 1227-1274.

Bizumic, B. (2019). Ethnocentrism: Integrated perspectives. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Markus, A. (2015). Mapping social cohesion: The Scanlon Foundation surveys 2015. Caulfield East, VIC: Monash University.

Markus, A. (2017). Mapping social cohesion: The Scanlon Foundation surveys 2017. Caulfield East, VIC: Monash University.

Contact Us:

The Chief Investigator on this project is Dr Boris Bizumic, a Senior Lecturer at the Research School of Psychology ANU.  Learn more about Boris Bizumic.

Enquiries.Psychology@anu.edu.au

Research School of Psychology
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