‘Still a ways to go’ in achieving First Nations inclusion in the media and marketing industry

As adland increasingly offers alternatives to today's public holiday, Mumbrella's Kalila Welch speaks to CampfireX co-founder Peter Kirk and Cox Inall Ridgeway managing director Yatu Widders-Hunt about the progress the industry has made, and the work it still has to do beyond 26 January to engage with First Nations talent.

Peter Kirk is frank when discussing the wave of floating-holiday policies that have emerged from the industry in the lead-up to 26 January.

“Not working on the day, going to work on the day, calling it a certain name or doing nothing does not detract from the fact that the advertising and media industry has one of the lowest representations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working within any industry.”

Cox Inall Ridgeway managing director, Yatu Widders-Hunt, and CampfireX co-founder, Peter Kirk, spoke to Mumbrella about the wave of floating-holiday policies that have emerged in the lead-up to January 26

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander talent accounts for less than 1% of media and marketing industry talent, a particularly low level of representation compared to other industries.

The national date of celebration is one of contention, with many now acknowledging the painful reminder the day serves as for First Nations people of Australia’s shared, and continuing history.

Kirk, the co-founder of Aboriginal-led creative consultancy CampfireX and himself a proud Jerrinja man, feels that adland’s sudden willingness to respond to the harm that 26 January celebrations have, does little to address the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within the industry.

However, it is not a straightforward issue to resolve. Speaking to Mumbrella recently, a senior agency leader admitted there was a “very small talent pool” of First Nations talent within the industry, for whom government and community bodies as well as corporates are now competing for.

They pose that the solution might lie within an increased emphasis on building university-based and alternative pipelines to get Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into the industry, alongside creating genuinely safe workspaces that are understanding of the needs of First Nations employees.

“It’s well and good that you say you want to hire First Nations people within your business, but there has to be an understanding and acknowledgment that it requires a shift across the whole business, in terms of how it communicates, sees the issue of First Nations rights in this country, and how it respectfully engages,” they explain. “Tokenism will just never, ever work, and in fact, it will backfire.”

The risk of tokenism that comes with any forwards-step for a business is ever present, with a sustained investment in more inclusive frameworks required to improve outcomes for First Nations people within the industry.

While Kirk says he respects the choice of agencies and individuals to approach 26 January and the Australia Day public holiday as they see fit, he is not convinced it is indicative of the industry’s progress on First Nations issues.

“It’s completely anyone’s right to do what they want to do. I respect it and I’ll always respect it,” he states, offering the caveat that he is “frustrated and perplexed” as to why the advertising and media industry “cannot and will not lean in properly and listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, regarding opportunities, pathways, networks, amplification and acceptance.”

General manager of Dentsu’s Indigenous consultancy, Cox Inall Ridgeway, and Dunghutti and Anaiwan woman, Yatu Widders-Hunt, says she is hopeful about agencies taking a stance on the public holiday and what it represents.

“I think it demonstrates quite a positive move, to genuinely respond to and be mindful of the impact that things like this can have at a community level,” she shares.

Widders-Hunt explains that communicating these kinds of policies publicly can be a “positive demonstration of leadership” within the industry, affirming the “principle of listening to communities about what is an appropriate way to approach these kinds of things”.

However, like Kirk, she shares the opinion there is “still a ways to go as an industry” in terms of embedding some of those practices on a more consistent basis.

She offers that “building a more inclusive, safe, culturally competent workforce is really key”, and is ultimately the long-term solution.

Yet for businesses looking for immediate opportunities to engage with First Nations communities, Widders-Hunt explains that business leaders can invest in Reconciliation Action Plans, demonstrate support for Uluru Statement from the Heart, or increase media spend with First Nations media outlets.

Beyond 3% encourages increased ad spend in First Nations media

“There’s almost opportunities on every touchpoint of the work that we do, the way that we operate, to think about how First Nations perspectives, engagements and relationships can be considered,” she says.

To move beyond tokenism, Widders-Hunt adds that businesses must look to “sustained commitment and real resources and money to put behind things that are business priorities”.

She encourages businesses to “build their own cultural capability” by investing in relationships with First Nations consultancies and also “doing the work internally”.

“Genuinely invest in things like cultural awareness and cultural capability training, make the effort to be visible and engage in community-led events, not just industry events.”

While she acknowledges that knowing what to do can be hard, as there’s not a definitive checklist, it is more about “having a mindset of being open, engaged and willing to learn that can crack open opportunities for the sector.”

In December, Mumbrella spoke to senior leaders of First Nations media in Australia, in conjunction with NITV’s 10th anniversary about the progress that still needs to be made in the lead-up to the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum.


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