Election result sends message to our industry too as multicultural communities demand to be seen and heard

The success of first-time federal candidates from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds during this election point to a growing push for diversity and representation. Think HQ's Som Sengmany and part of Think HQ Group, Culture Verse's Jess Billimoria talk of the implications for the industry as calls for meaningful cultural diversity grow louder.

Voters at the 2022 Federal election have sent a clear message to our political parties: Continue to ignore Australia’s multicultural population at your own risk. It’s a message our industry needs to heed too.

The success of first-time federal candidates from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds – including Sally Sitou, Sam Lim, Zaneta Mascarenhas, Michelle Ananda-Raja, Cassandra Fernado and Dai Lei – is significant for two reasons.

Som Sengmany, multicultural insights director, Think HQ

Firstly, our Parliament will become a little more representative and reflective of contemporary multicultural Australia.

Secondly, the results challenge the ‘business as usual’ approach where political parties ignore ethnically diverse communities by ‘parachuting’ in ‘outsider’ candidates with no direct link to the local community. That shredded parachute is now lying-in tatters.

The election results highlight that multicultural communities are now demanding to not only be seen, but also heard. And represented.

In exercising their voices through the ballot box, culturally diverse communities are exercising their rights to recognition and representation. They’re telling our political parties they will no longer be ignored or taken for granted.

The increased cultural diversity that will sit in our nation’s capital is critical because it exposes the double bind of invisibility and ‘othering’ that culturally diverse communities face within society.

This reality lives within our industry as well. No matter how much Australia seems to celebrate ourselves as a multicultural success story, we just can’t seem to integrate multicultural communities into the stories we tell about ourselves. Those of us outside the imagined ‘mainstream’ still find ourselves invisible. And if we are included? It’s as tokenised examples, out there on our own, masking the problems.

Jess Billimoria, head of CultureVerse, Think HQ Group

What are the implications for our industry?

The significant injection of culturally diverse voices in our Parliament offers a unique opportunity to develop new and more meaningful approaches to how we understand, recognise, and engage with cultural diversity and our multicultural communities.

Within the diversity and inclusion space, the industry has made some significant gains in addressing the need for greater gender diversity. However, cultural diversity remains a continuing blind spot.

Indeed, we must shift away from a ‘productive diversity’ approach where cultural diversity is understood only through an economic lens, not a human one.

Prioritising the business value of cultural diversity as a commodity or business asset is an unnecessarily narrow approach. It can smack of tokenism, pigeonholing and opportunism, and is ultimately self-defeating.

In taking this blinkered approach where we can only see straight ahead, we miss what’s going on around us. When we do that, we fail to engage with the broader socio-cultural and political implications of cultural diversity. It’s like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle with only one piece. You’re never going to get the big picture.

Here’s the thing. If you approach cultural diversity as a risk to be managed, the best you’ll ever do is manage the risk of being seen as out of touch. But even there, you’ll eventually fail, because you’ll still be out of touch with your audiences in a way that makes connecting with them impossible. But, if you approach this as an opportunity to be grabbed, as a change to connect with more people, open more markets or create wider change, well then there’s no limit to what you could do.

When some party leaders and pollsters were discussing possible outcomes and voter intentions before the election, they talked a lot about ‘quiet Australians’. They misread the room.

The election sent a different message, loud and clear. The election results speak to the need for our industry to shift away the tokenisation of cultural diversity, and towards industry practices and policies that are inclusive of, and responsive to, the voices of multicultural Australia.

Jess Billimori, Head of CultureVerse (Think HQ Group), and Som Sengmany, Multicultural Insights Director, Think HQ


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