What does genuine inclusion look like?

Huong Nguyen
By Huong Nguyen | 12 November 2021
Huong Nguyen.

Huong Nguyen, Business Director, Alchemy One

We’ve all seen the million and one articles on the benefits of diversity: better talent attraction, improved employee engagement, higher financial returns.

A diverse workforce is also more likely to understand your clients’ and customers’ needs, and come up with creative, relevant ideas to fulfill them. Are we as an industry truly reflective of the cross section of people who we aim to communicate with? Not yet.

And that’s all great. But let’s never forget that the most compelling reason to create a genuinely inclusive workplace is that the opposite isn’t ‘neutral’; the status quo is exclusionary and harmful to anyone we define as ‘diverse’ (which, when you really think about it, is… most Australians).

Real diversity and inclusion are not just about PR-able KPIs; it takes commitment to go further, to have some really difficult discussions, to dismantle the status quo. To look at our privilege. To address the root causes, not the symptoms. And as businesses, as employers, we need to ensure this is applied across all the nuts and bolts of what we do.

True inclusion is about looking at all the aspects of peoples’ lives that can be barriers and privileges and working to address the root causes - not just the symptoms. Race, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability, neurodivergence, class, education, caring responsibilities, personality type (hello! stereotype of the extroverted ad man), appearance, geography, and so much more. The key is to accept that the list of life experiences and social norms is somewhat endless.

We continually ask ourselves three big questions to hardwire inclusion into our agency.

1. How are we creating the right conditions for success?

Exclusionary practices are baked into lots of our world - empathy and a commitment to learning is essential to creating an inclusive culture. And backing that up with a commitment to do the tough thinking and growing.

We assume no one size fits all. We work to understand the individual styles, preference and needs of our staff. Have you ever assessed if the noise - chat, music, anything - of your office makes work challenging for neurodiverse staff? This is one tiny example in an ocean of inclusion opportunity.

We codify these values in progressive, human-centred recruitment and retention policies because to just say ‘we meant well’ just doesn’t cut it. We review our policies regularly, and this process is a two-way and transparent conversation with our team.

2. How are we futureproofing ourselves?

As a small, independent agency, we’ve been able to organically embed inclusion in our DNA. As we grow, we want to make sure that employees and clients have a common understanding of how we are driving the agenda both internally and externally.

We recently certified as a B Corp to give ourselves a structured and evidence-based approach. Two years in the making, this accreditation publicly and voluntarily commits Alchemy One to upholding a purpose-driven business, meeting the highest social and environmental standards. This includes everything from hiring and recruitment, equitable pay, and parental leave policies, to how we give back to the community.

Future proofing is also about looking ahead, not only at the now. How are we facing macro trends, such as meeting the needs of working mothers? Ask yourself, is what worked last year still working? We’re always testing and learning ways of working to accommodate the different needs and styles of our team.  

3. How are we driving better representation in our industry?

We’re developing a 24-month roadmap, which will strategically plan how we engage our publisher, partner and client stakeholders around our values, ambition, and key initiatives - including inclusion, climate action, and so much more.

We’re mapping our pro-bono work to prioritise projects supporting diversity and inclusion, such as Biennale of Sydney.

And finally, we’re working with our suppliers, publishers, partners and clients on baking representation and inclusion into the strategic development process across creative and media, rather than retrospectively addressing it at casting. How can you change your research practices to reflect the Australian community? Is your data representative? Are you asking publishers about reach with a range of communities and life experiences? Are you engaging experts in cultural-specific media? Are you turning gender stereotypes on their head?

Sometimes this work is hard and complex, but let’s not over-complicate it. The expertise is out there; traditionally excluded communities are experts in their own lives, and guidance is just a Google and professional development workshop away.

Advertising is, proudly, one of the most creative and innovative industries in the world. Let’s use these very skills to make our industries an inclusive, equitable and truly enjoyable place for everyone to work.

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