31 May How communicators can shape the narrative about queer Australia.
On the eve of Pride month, Blake Mason reflects on being himself, and where to next.
Growing up gay/queer in “the Shire” of Sydney’s south, I could count the number of times I’d seen a same-sex relationship depicted anywhere in the media; it was so rare that it was actually shocking. The stigma and fear around AIDS in the 80s had gripped my parents’ generation and this message that being anything other than heterosexual was dangerous permeated through to impressionable young people like me.
Fast forward 15 or 20 years and we can see that society is a lot more accepting of other people’s sexuality. The 2017 same sex marriage vote showed overwhelmingly that Australians believe the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) people should be protected. Frustratingly, the stomping ground of my youth was still in the ‘no vote’ camp (the Banks electorate), but I can see even those views becoming more progressive.
But of course the battle for recognition doesn’t end there. Despite anti-discrimination laws, studies have shown that gay men in Australia are paid on average 20 percent less than their straight counterparts. Gay men also face greater barriers to promotion and career advancement than heterosexual men, resulting in slower wage growth. When I was in my mid twenties I remember pulling together my ten year plan, yet it took me an additional five years to get where I wanted to be. I believe this is due – at least in part – to my perception that the environment I was working in didn’t allow me to bring my whole self to work. While I never hid my sexuality, according to 2014 research from the Australian Human Rights Commission, 40 percent of LGBTQI people do hide their sexuality at work for fear of discrimination. So does hiding your sexuality mean you’ll have a greater chance to succeed or would the oppression of who you are stifle your opportunities to do great things? I believe it’s the latter.
The benefits of bringing your full self to work, or rather, the lack of productivity and negative impact on mental health of having people hide who they are has been well documented in recent years. Having an open and diverse workplace benefits everyone and also has a positive impact on a businesses bottom line. Thankfully we are seeing more of a focus on diversity and inclusion, and an emphasis of people over profit from the younger generation.
We as a communicators have an crucial role to play in ensuring the faces and voices of all Australians are seen and heard to showcase those that make up the social fabric of our nation. Collectively we influence big brands and media and are in a position to put forward talent who is more than just the pretty girl, or the ideal family. Brands needs to be bold in actively seeking out talent that aligns with their values – not just within the queer space but across all aspects of diversity.
Millennials (those of us aged 19-36, however the definition can be argued depending on who you talk to) are a force to be reckoned with. We make up nearly a third (29 percent) of Australia’s population and are set to make up three-quarters of the Australian workforce by 2025. Whether Australians like it or not, the interests and values of this generation will shape the future of the Australian economy.
In the most recent Deloitte Millennial Survey, fewer than half millennials believe businesses behave ethically (45 percent vs 75 percent in 2017). Globally, 69 percent of millennial employees who believe their senior management teams are diverse see their working environments as motivating and stimulating. And 78 percent of millennials who say their top teams are diverse report their organisations perform strongly in generating profits.
Today I’m lucky enough to work in a company that celebrates diversity. I can honestly say we are all able to bring our authentic selves to work, and we seek out opportunities to promote and encourage education of other people’s individuality. We regularly host events to raise awareness across a number of areas within diversity; from Indigenous Australians, to gender parity, queer, disability, multiculturalism and beyond. We’ve been able to foster a harmonious culture of inclusion, one which embraces individuality. As a result our people perform better, we generate better ideas for our clients and produce better outcomes. It also ensures we as an organisation are able to talk with first hand authenticity about the role CSR plays in ensuring a brands success.
It’s because of this shift we are seeing more and more organising working to proactively communicate the positive impact of their CSR initiatives. The motives of these communications programs can often be questioned so it’s essential to have buy in from the appropriate business units before engaging in any external comms. Having your house in order will ensure you’re able to talk authentically about the issues you stand for.
Pockets of success exist in adland – in PR we see a strong representation of female leaders, and we’re for the most part proudly flying the rainbow flag – however, more needs to be done across the board. What organisations choose to do will vary depending on their size and appropriateness of each area of diversity. It could be as simple as throwing a lunch for NAIDOC week using Indigenous caterers and having a yarn with staff. It could be ensuring the organisation has gender quotas and conducts a pay parity review with the WGEA. It could be broadening your reach of talent to ensure there’s stronger representation of race and disability in media. Whatever you do, it simply needs be done with respect and authenticity. Start the conversation in that state of mind and you can’t go wrong.
At Herd MSL we see value in working with clients to develop and refine a corporate social responsibility (CSR) approach, complemented by an authentic communications strategy. Two examples are NBN Co and CSIRO.
We worked with NBN Co to drive their engagement with regional and rural communities, encouraging students across the nation to participate in a program designed to encourage STEM education, whereas we delivered a float for Sydney’s Mardi Gras parade with CSIRO to show that Australia’s National Science Organisation supported the LGTBQI community.
Millennials are more socially conscious in their purchasing choices and their usage of social media also means that a brand’s market can make their dissatisfaction with a brand known to a wider audiences so the consequences of not doing the right thing or not having a CSR strategy have more weight now than in the past.
Herd MSL is a integrated agency, comprising agencies N2N Communications, Fuel Communications and Touch Creative, working extensively on CSR across government, b2b, technology and consumer communications.
Blake Mason is an Account Director at N2N Communications and leads Diversity & Inclusion for Herd MSL.
Watch Herd MSL’s Diversity and Inclusion video here
This article originally appeared in Mumbrella.