Diversity, Equity and Inclusion - The conversion point between culture, commerce and creativity

Joshua Green
By Joshua Green | 25 August 2021
Joshua Green.

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:

Joshua Green, Associate Strategy Director, Spark Foundry

What motivates you to advocate in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion? 

As a teenager, navigating my identity as part of the LGBTQIA+ community was challenging. 

I didn’t see myself reflected in Australian culture and that made it hard to imagine where I could ‘fit in.’ 

An occasional screening of Priscilla Queen of the Desert does not a self-actualised young gay man make, and it resulted in me grappling with social expectation and fear for a lot of my adolescence.

Despite a strong and supportive network of family and friends, I didn’t feel that I could represent as my truest self without being subject to scrutiny. 

While I’ve found a strong sense of self since that time, I’m reminded constantly that this simply isn’t the case for many others. For my siblings in the queer community. For our First Nations people. For those who are cognitively and physically diverse.

And it makes me wonder what we’re collectively missing out on. 

If those people did feel they had a safe place, a platform… how much of a better Australia might we have?  

It’s this foundational belief that genuine representation can drive positive change in the world that drives me to work towards a more diverse, equal and inclusive industry and society. 

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? 

It’s sometimes easy to forget the impact that acts of recognition can have on people from diverse groups. 

For me, I still vividly remember my first year as a graduate. The Marriage Equality debate was in full swing and, as a young LGBTQIA+ person, it was a time filled with both promise and apprehension.

My agency at the time stood in solidarity with our community through two acts – one a grander gesture than the other, but both incredibly meaningful.

The first was a pro bono project with Airbnb – Until We All Belong. The idea was simple: a disconnected ring that highlighted the gap in rights that our community faced.  

The campaign video was screened at our all-agency meeting on a Monday morning and I felt both accepted and profoundly touched by the collective sensitivity of our people.

Secondly, the day of the plebiscite, the news was running on a television right in the centre of the agency for all to see. More than that, when the announcement was made, people stopped work (no mean feat in our industry) and sat to watch the announcement.

These were not only our queer employees but allies, sitting to support their friends and colleagues on a day filled with both hope and potential trauma.

Reflecting back on it now, having the news on feels like such a simple act. But it wasn’t for me. It was powerful. It made me feel supported, connected and accepted. 

If anything, this underlines the impact that acts of recognition can have – however small – on diverse groups and people. 

How would greater diversity and inclusion impact our industry?  

One of the things that excites me the most about greater diversity and inclusion in the advertising industry is the accompanying diversity of thought it would bring.

We are an industry that represents the conversion point between culture, commerce and creativity. Authentically representing that culture through diverse voices will result in work that resonates more strongly with all Australians. 

And yes, that holds commercial promise. But more importantly, it also begins to shape the kind of Australia that we want to see. In representing the multifaceted patchwork that makes us ‘us’, we begin to create safe spaces in culture – opportunities for people to see themselves reflected back. 

For a long time, I saw advertising as a mirror to society but recently I’ve begun to think about how it can be a catalyst for change. Reflection is too passive. We have the power to project the change we want to see. 

What should our priorities be as an industry in the area of DE&I? 

There are three key areas that can help us advance in DE&I (and, pleasingly, some agencies are already on the front foot here) – talent, training and tools.

Talent refers to not only attracting people from diverse backgrounds but also to paving the way for them and ensuring that a nurturing working environment is created that they have the opportunity to flourish in. 

Diversity quotas are not enough. We need to think about how we are nurturing collaborative working practises that can help bring to fruition the benefits of a diverse workforce too. 

Training needs to be approached holistically, including both the provision of educational resources and opportunities to apply these learnings through safe, collaborative working environments.

I am a firm believer that we’re all on a journey when it comes to DE&I and the very nature of a journey is that different people will be at different stages. Recognising this and creating a culture where people can admit that they don’t have all the answers (or even the questions) is a powerful means of fostering a more authentically inclusive culture and working practises. 

Finally, the tools and processes that we use to create work require a review. All too often they are reliant on legacy thinking that makes it all too easy to slip into stereotyped or tokenistic representation. By thinking critically about these ways of working, we can pave the way for better work that is more reflective of culture at large

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