Photo by Corey Young / Unsplash

It’s time to go beyond virtue signalling

The social and racial reckoning that happened in 2020 following George Floyd’s death has well and truly died down. The black squares on social media, the overuse of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatters, conversations about the importance of diversity and inclusion, have all been muted. In my opinion, this is what virtue-signaling looks like - it takes place in spurts, it’s temporary, there is no follow-through with actions, and it happens at a time that suits a specific agenda as opposed to doing the work with the intent to drive real impact and change. 

In Australia, the annual Refugee Week, held in June each year, is a prime example of organisations and big corporates professing rhetorical support for refugee communities in Australia. Because it makes them look good, feel like they've contributed, and may even drive more customers for them. This has a negative influence that can stifle progress and attempts to foster genuinely inclusive workplace environments. This type of allyship maintains the status quo and any attempts to change processes that support structural racism, discrimination and other barriers.

Sharing a photo with a great caption highlighting the issues affecting refugees and people seeking asylum during Refugee Week does nothing for refugee rights or well-being if there are no follow-up actions from organisations. 

Here are some tips for organisations on how they can get beyond virtue signalling and start to make a real difference.

  1. Donate 

Refugees and people seeking asylum don’t start from the same starting block as people born in Australia. The reality is that refugees, people seeking asylum and forcibly displaced people are disproportionately impacted by higher costs of living, the housing crisis, among other issues and there are a plethora of ways that organisations can help refugee communities by donating - financially or donating their time to volunteer at a refugee-led charity or at refugee-led events.

  1. Research and spread the word about refugee-led businesses

Refugees have been deemed the most entrepreneurial migrants in Australia. Use your privilege to help others. If you are a big brand that has a big platform, it would make a huge difference to share refugee-led businesses with others. Highlighting successful refugee entrepreneurs also helps inspire others and contribute to a more positive narrative about refugees in Australia.

  1. Increase your refugee employment rate

Review your hiring process and widen your talent pool when recruiting to also consider refugees and people seeking asylum. According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, only a quarter of refugees who arrive in Australia find employment within two years of arriving in the country. The benefits of having a diverse workforce are widely documented. Employing more refugees will create positive ripple effects not only for the companies but also for these new Australians as they settle here and contribute to the economy. 

  1. Educate yourself and advocate

You cannot drive change, no matter how small, if you are not aware of the issues that refugees and people seeking asylum face. Educating oneself is the first and most important step to take if you want to go beyond just the once-in-a-while allyship. There are so many resources out there for anyone who’s interested in really understanding the challenges and the shortcomings of the refugee system in Australia. Once you start becoming more aware and educated, bring the conversation to the dinner table with family and friends. It will not only help educate others but it also challenges others to stop and think about the obstacles, inequalities, discrimination and daily struggles that refugee communities face. 

By doing any of the above recommendations, organisations have the power to create a more supportive environment for refugees and refugee entrepreneurs in Australia and their local communities.