B&T‘s first Changing The Ratio session for 2021 took place on Thursday morning, with the topic ‘Belonging: It Starts With you’ discussed by a range of industry leaders.
Tiddas 4 Tiddas co-founder Marlee Silva opened proceedings, sharing her views on how the media and marketing industry can start to make meaningful change when it comes to promoting diversity and inclusion.
Silva reflected on her own experience growing up as a Gamilaroi/Dunghutti woman as well as broader issues such as company culture and the retention of Indigenous staff in certain industries.
She suggested that creating real change starts with embedding different perspectives among a company.
“It’s not just about building a level of cultural competency in your staff. It’s not just about putting policies in place when it comes to these sorts of instances. And it’s not just about building identified positions for First Nations people to grow the diversity in your teams” she said.
“It’s about embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into every facet of your work. I truly believe, that regardless of what it is that you do and what industry you’re in any business operating in Australia – and therefore operating on Aboriginal land – must uphold this as best practice.”
She pointed to data from 2018 that suggests the current number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the arts and media industries is too insignificant to report on at all.
And creating change here starts at the top, said Silva.
“Leadership must be the place of representation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” she said.
Silva reflected on her own experiences in the industry and suggested that changes to leadership could increase retention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff.
Also speaking during the Changing The Ratio session was Tommy Trout, founder and CEO of WeFlex. Trout was joined by his brother Jackson, who is also part of WeFlex.
WeFlex is a startup connecting people with a disability to mainstream fitness and health providers.
Both Tommy and Jackson shared how they have been building a brand that can take on this task.
“One thing that WeFlex is really passionate about is that we’re not looking to build this company for people with disability, we’re looking to build it with them,” Tommy said.
“There’s so much experience, knowledge and expertise with the customers that we’re going to be working with, we’d be crazy not to have them build the product with us.
“It’s not just the right thing to do from an inclusivity standpoint, it’s also just good practice.”
Jackson, who is on the autism spectrum, reflected on his experience in helping build the WeFlex brand.
“I felt that I was truly listened to. I felt as though I wasn’t there just to tick a box, but that I had an input and contributed.”
Adland action agenda
The final session for the day saw industry leaders Avish Gordhan, Executive Creative Director, M&C Saatchi Sydney; Pia Chaudhuri, group Creative Director, BMF and Ant Medler, Creative Partner, Coffee Cocoa Gunpowder.
The three have recently formed the ‘Adland Action Agenda’ as a way to improve diversity in the industry.
The group pointed to data that shows only 16 per cent of adland in Australia comes from a diverse background, and highlighted how this has translated into 75 per cent of creative work featuring all-white talent.
“Those are two statistics that actually correlate quite understandably,” said Gordhan. “But the reality is that Australia is not made up with [three out of four people being white].”
“The understanding of Australia as one of the most diverse countries in the world – no one needs to question that. What we need to talk about is how do we fix this within our industry.”
Gordhan discussed how a lack of diverse representation in adland has created problems for both agencies and clients.
“The problem is that often when we are in a room we are the only one in the room – and that is problematic,” he said.
“It’s problematic because we are not representing the brands that we service correctly. How can we have a conversation if the people that we are talking to are not in the room creating work that is going to talk to them?”
And while there is certainly a need to create ads that better reflect society in terms of diversity and inclusion, ensuring brands and clients actually take part in such work can be a challenge.
Chaudhuri described the role of an agency in this.
“It’s our job to help guide our clients. They employ us to help in that sense and I think that for some people, they’re just further ahead in the journey than others,” said Chaudhuri.
“If we’re all pulling in the right direction there will be change and for some clients, maybe they’re already there.”
Melder suggested that creating a more diverse industry requires change at both ends of the leadership spectrum.
“I think we need more diversity at the top level, because if you look at the top level/C-suite in agencies, it’s quite generic and one-dimensional. So I think we need more diversity there.
“And really importantly we need more diversity coming in at the entry level – we need to refresh it from both of those elements. I think when there’s more diversity at the top that will then encourage people coming in to think: ‘I can do that’.”
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