Opinion

It’s time to stop whitewashing comms

For a long time, the media has been held responsible for whitewashing Australian experiences – for telling stories that go beyond basic misrepresentation to advocating for and justifying racism.

But there's been a blind spot – the PR and comms industry. Naomi Brooker, founder and CEO of SUADA, says it needs to stop.

We create narratives about people and brands. We build communities. We shape behaviours and perspectives. And while we don’t control every story that’s published via traditional and social media channels, we certainly play a significant role in what these stories look like.

And for too long, we have evaded accountability for our ‘tokenistic diversity’ highlighted in an independent 2022 report about our industry.

There’s something to be said for an industry that is unwavering in its insularity – for an industry body that is propped up by a Fellows Committee of entirely non-Indigenous, non-diverse faces and a Board with diversity that’s limited to a member with French heritage.

The simple fact is that we get away with it – and it needs to stop.

Take First Nations experiences and perspectives. It is jarring to reflect on the overflow of black tiles for BLM in 2020 and the onslaught of pro-Voice commentary in 2023 – the largest support corporate Australia has delivered to a referendum – to now, where I regularly see press releases, announcements, campaigns and public commentary that can be so condescending, so archaic in its prejudice, it beggars belief.

Let me be clear: ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘Indigenous’ are not synonyms.

But it’s not just about language, it’s also about representation. From the most granular level of campaign collateral, like showcasing diversity in animated videos, to ensuring that you’re collaborating with a diversity of people and perspectives when you’re brainstorming, pitching, writing or speaking – there’s more we can be doing to shift away from tokenistic nonsense.

Perhaps this is about opportunity. In my almost 20 years in comms, I’d never had the opportunity to discuss what role our industry might play in reconciliation until I founded my own business. As a non-Indigenous woman, I’ve rarely seen opportunities to learn about what more inclusive and equitable communications might look like, because the truth is that our professional development is enabled by workplace cultures that privilege white people, traditions, ideals and language.

This is, of course, not about all comms professionals, all campaigns or all brands – I am not painting every PR pro with the same brush. But there can be no denying that our industry is dominated by a lack of diversity – we’re telling the stories of brands and organisations largely through a white lens, with a predominately white perspective, and we’re also the main liaison with mainstream media, and this has a knock on effect when it comes to what stories are told and how.

So, for what it’s worth, here’s a reminder: inclusion and diversity is not just the right thing to do, it delivers results.

A huge number of research reports show that inclusion and diversity drives employee retention, creativity and innovation, and it decreases harassment and discrimination.

A 2018 study of venture capitalists (a little random, but stay with me) even found that diversity significantly improved financial performance, profitable investments and overall fund returns.

The comms industry has real power to drive change – to shift the public, national narrative through our everyday work. To hold people accountable for stories that don’t do our beautiful, rich and multicultural communities any good. To create a society that is more inclusive, kind and equitable.

It’s time we put steps in place to make this a reality.

 

 

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