AdNews, in partnership with the MFA (Media Federation of Australia), presents a series of articles from members of the MFA's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Council. The body promotes the MFA’s ambition to build a diverse, equitable and inclusive industry:
Nisha Rajamani, Client Operations Director, Carat:
"DE&I work can be as simple and tangible as learning to pronounce someone’s name correctly, and as complex and measurable as equal parental leave for secondary carers."
What motivates you to advocate in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion?
Migrating to Adelaide in 1991, I was one of only two Indian kids at our primary school of 500+ students, and I experienced racism as many did and continue to. As an adult, the unfortunate side effect of this is that I have constantly modified my individuality with a focus on assimilation. It takes significant emotional effort to avoid defaulting to ‘fit in’, even in a work context. In my early 20s starting in media, I purposefully modelled my accent on Julia Gillard as the best representation of ‘true blue’ – or so I then thought. And as I rolled this out to old school media reps, I would often feel that I had won by tricking them into thinking I was the same as them. It dawned on me many years later that I had also slowly tricked myself out of my cultural heritage.
My motivation is for others across this industry to always be able to bring their true self to work and never feel as though their identity compromises their chances to be seen and their output to be respected. This applies to cultural identity as much as to additional intersectional layers such as being a parent or being gender diverse.
As an industry, our primary work is in connecting consumers and brands. If we are not diverse, respectful, and inclusive as practitioners, our output cannot sufficiently recognise these elements in consumers. Being true to our industry and performing our roles with diligence requires us to prioritise diversity, equity and inclusion before we can adequately fulfill the brief.
Where are we seeing progress and where are there still inequities to be addressed?
Overall, we seem to see the most progress – or at least efforts – made in the area of gender equity, with a focus on progressing women into senior leadership as well as recognising gender diversity with Pride-based events and representation such as adding pronouns to signatures. As an industry we are certainly ahead on our willingness to progress in these areas, even if some things are more measurable while others, a little token.
There are certain skews within this progress that are (dare we say!) easier to achieve as they are conversations in the spotlight – for example, pay parity, sufficient parental leave, and flexible working arrangements. However, the more challenging aspects of gender equity are slow to progress across the industry – such as job-share arrangements at senior management levels or extending equal rights to non-maternal secondary carers.
Areas such as Accessibility for neuro-diverse, differently abled members of our industry or not-discussed age biases are examples of areas that still need to be addressed.
One of the MFA’s aims is for the DE&I Advisory Council to highlight simple actions individuals and companies can take to encourage and promote diversity, equity and inclusion. Can you share a positive example of an interaction with colleagues or clients during which you felt seen and included?
The flexible working arrangement facilitated for me by my manager, team and dentsu as a whole is an example of a problem shared and then solved together – to support a part-time working parent with an equitable and inclusive solution.
My part-time contract of three days a week was based on the traditional 9-5.30 operations. For this to work with two young children, I was dependent on a nanny to manage after school pick-ups and evening routines. However, when my nanny became unwell and regularly cancelled, my home routines fell apart, as did my work week. The resulting stress of cancelling meetings at the last minute to pick up children and then working into the night was carried not just by me, but was a shared pain across our close-knit team. So, we redefined my flexible working week by stretching three long days, across four shorter days 9-3pm, so that I could manage school runs and prioritise my family. However, it goes one-step further.
It was not just the flexibility to modify my working hours, but other aspects that made it clear that the organisation was behind me. The message came from the immediacy and openness in how this was implemented by both Carat and dentsu, the non-apologetic comms to clients and the clear and respectful access boundaries, which demonstrated that I was a valued team member.
What should our priorities be as an industry in the area of DE&I?
Rather than focusing on which DE&I stream deserves priority, we need to prioritise education for the industry across all the streams.
DE&I work can be as simple and tangible as learning to pronounce someone’s name correctly, and as complex and measurable as equal parental leave for secondary carers.
The true scope of opportunity for DE&I in our industry is widespread and can significantly impact our interactions with each other as well as our work with brands. With education as the first step, we can start to define what types of initiatives fall under DE I, how everyone in the industry – regardless of level – can effect progress and give DE&I to the people on the floor.
We need to bring in the cycle of education, learning, implementation (in stages), as a loop of growth and continual development.