Adland should do more to shape the narrative about queer Australia

On International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, Blake Mason reflects on being himself in adland, and where to next.

Growing up gay in the Shire in Sydney’s south, I could count the number of times I’d seen a same-sex relationship depicted anywhere in the media. 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 society is a lot more accepting of others’ sexualities. 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’ camp.

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% 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 putting together my 10 year plan, but 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% 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 does the suppression 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 negative impact on productivity and mental health of not doing so – has been well documented in recent years. Having an open and diverse workplace benefits everyone. Thankfully, we are seeing more of a focus on diversity and inclusion, and an emphasis on people over profit.

Today, we celebrate International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT). We remember the decriminalisation of homosexuality. And we recognise that we, as communicators, have a crucial role to play in ensuring the faces and voices of all Australians are seen and heard.

Collectively, we influence big brands and media. We are in a position to put forward talent. We should ensure that it’s diverse talent, not just within the queer space but also from other minority groups.

Millennials (those of us aged 23-38 in 2019) make up nearly a third 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 of millennials believe businesses behave ethically (45% in 2018 vs 75% in 2017). Globally, 69% of millennial employees who think their senior management teams are diverse also think their working environments are motivating and stimulating. And 78% of millennials who say their top teams are diverse report their organisations are generating strong profits.

Today, I’m lucky enough to work in a company that celebrates diversity. I can honestly say we can all bring our authentic selves to work, and we seek out opportunities to promote and encourage education of other people’s individuality. As a result, our people perform better, we generate better ideas for our clients, and produce better outcomes. It also means we are able to talk with first hand authenticity about the role CSR plays in ensuring a brand’s success.

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 the appropriateness of each aspect of diversity in their business. 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 Workplace Gender Equality Agency. 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.

Blake Mason is an Account Director at N2N Communications and leads Diversity & Inclusion for Herd MSL


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