Changing Perspectives - Things have changed for the better, but there are still lessons we can learn

By AdNews | 24 October 2023
Michael Wretham-Brown

The MFA DE&I Council would like to see an industry where everyone can thrive, feel heard, supported, and safe to do their best work. Let’s meet the Changers who are sharing their own lived experiences to inspire us all to change for the better.

Growing up in Western Australia in the ’90s, one thing that was drastically different to today was the number of LGBTQIA+ role models – that is, the lack thereof.

The industry I grew up in was very different to the industry I call home today. (And yes, it’s changed for the better!) Back then I didn’t have a blueprint on how to navigate the colloquialism of the industry, and the fact that there was nobody I could approach to discuss it with.

What was once deemed ‘acceptable workplace banter’ wouldn’t pass the sniff test today. Inappropriate comments, blurred lines between work and personal lives, and a hierarchical attitude towards junior staff, was rife.

In my very first interview my sexuality was questioned, and in every meeting and interaction after that I felt the pressure of constantly having to ‘come out’. It’s difficult to explain to people who haven’t had to go through it, but having to constantly explain who you are is exhausting. Not to mention the highly inappropriate comments that you’re expected to accept as ‘funny’. (I don’t think many media execs these days would be asked about their preferences in the bedroom on day 3!)

The hardest part of my journey has been the feeling of ‘otherness’ – the feeling that my life outside of work was somehow less valid than others.

To compensate I was always putting my hand up to do more, to achieve more, to prove myself.

I was almost always the last person out at media drinks as I tried to become the life of the party, because it made me feel included and accepted by the team around me.

I thrived on the social side of the industry and placed a lot of value on ‘showing up’. I cherish the close friendships I’ve made through work, but I do wonder if I over-invested time in order to try and feel accepted by everyone.

It’s not all negative, of course. My early experiences made me one of the most resilient professionals you’ll ever meet. I took on the challenge, as difficult as it was, and just never gave up. I always pushed myself as hard as I possibly could to succeed. I rarely took no for an answer, I learnt as much as I could from those around me, and if I ran out of learning opportunities I’d figure out a way to find more.

Overall, I feel having more positive role models, particularly in my early years, would have positively impacted my journey through media over the past 15+ years. So I’d love to be that role model for others as they enter the industry in the coming years.

In closing, my lived experience has taught me a few key lessons:

  • Use more inclusive language. Partner over boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife. It’ll make it easier for us to share more as we are ready (and feel more included).
  • Social norms apply for all, don’t assume you can ask detailed physical questions just because we’ve shared some personal information.
  • Thinking about the marriage equality plebiscite gives me PTSD and thankfully that is long gone (and I’m now married myself). It was a tough time for many of us, so I think it is always safer to leave the politics and religion at home.
  • Normalise asking everyone their pronouns and declaring yours. It makes it far easier for those around us who must constantly correct and declare.

Michael Wretham-Brown is Head of Digital & Transformation at Match & Wood

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