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How to focus on cultural diversity in your content marketing

There are many types of diversity to consider in content marketing and media, including sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, religion, age, socio-economic status and ethnic/cultural background. Cultural diversity has in particular been in the spotlight this year. We ask three passionate women about their perspective.

Rana Hussain, broadcaster at The Outer Sanctum and Diversity & Inclusion Coordinator at Richmond Football Club.

What does media diversity mean to you?

The first thing I think of is representation: who is on screen, who is writing, who is in the editorial rooms. And considering balance around what experience is in there. In an ideal world you would see a mix of races and genders in media rooms. It’s a difficult question because at the moment we have so little diversity you just need something. For me one of the biggest issues [is] that, in this country, you’d hope there would be a number of Indigenous voices curating content. Similarly for bylines and on-screen talent.

Why is it important?

It’s like oxygen to me. Without diversity in storytelling, in people who shape news and culture, we’re only getting one side of the story; one piece of the pie. It’s missing so many perspectives. How do we understand who we are if we’re only hearing from one segment of society? The media shapes our understanding of who we are and [right now] we don’t see it accurately reflected. The other thing is, it does feel there is a monopoly on mainstream media. We need to amplify [other] publications and organisations. Allies can amplify people’s voices and publications. We can work with and collaborate on untold stories.

What should our clients be considering as they seek to communicate with their audiences?

It’s such a cliché term but it’s so real: ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’. Similarly, if you want people to engage with your brand, they can’t if they can’t see themselves. I want companies to understand they need to be reflective of the community they are trying to engage. Organisations such as Hardie Grant can be advocating with the people they are working with, and connecting corporate Australia to community stories and different identities. Storytelling is so powerful, no matter how we do it. You can get to truth. You can lean into that more. Some strategies we use are best practice language and seeking diverse imagery, stories and sources. What other media diversity strategies are important? [Looking at] everyday power structures. Whether that’s within an organisation, who’s got power, who’s got social capital. But also in the clients you work with: what is the power dynamic between audience, content-maker and client? Consider narrative truths. This happens in sports media a lot. People from a marginalised community are put in as the good news story. This is still an ‘othering’ and actually doesn’t help anything. That ‘rags to riches’ trope or ‘triumph over adversity’ trope. It takes away from the nuance of the individual story. Be aware of those narrative tropes. We saw it with coronavirus in how South East Asian communities are being positioned as dangerous or unhygienic. Or “African gang youths” [in the Black Lives Matter movement]. How can we focus on inclusion? I recently heard someone describe it as balance. Who’s in the room, who’s overrepresented, who’s underrepresented. In terms of organisational stuff, inclusion means who’s got social capital and who doesn’t; really trying to make sure that’s balanced out. A lot of work in football, again well-intentioned, centres around marginalised groups changing a bit to look and sound like everyone else. That’s when people feel accepted. ‘As long as you walk [this way] you can be here.’ You [should be able to] bring your whole self to work and still feel like you belong. That’s what we should be aiming for. How can we learn more about these issues?

Listen to marginalised voices. Through Black Lives Matter so many voices that have been around for a long time [are highlighted]. Follow them on social media. [Adjust] your culture intake with diverse voices and perspective. We all need to get better at diversifying our cultural diet. Even as diverse people we get very used to Hollywood and whatever is on offer. It’s a trap we all fall into. That’s where [content agencies] have a great opportunity to find diverse content and push it through.

Antoinette a Lattouf, Director Media Diversity Australia and senior journalist at Network 10.

What measures are effective in changing cultural diversity in media?

We believe our increasingly culturally diverse population will connect and engage more with content that speaks to them rather than just about them. Only a couple of the major media players actually have a policy or plan in place to address this gaping cultural hole… And it doesn’t have to be quotas or targets. It can be a mentorship or scholarship program to begin with.

What are some key diversity strategies relevant to content marketing?

It’s important to have diverse voices and perspectives in your teams because they will influence an organisation’s output ­– be it a podcast or a feature article. If your team is mono-cultural, you will have blind spots, or miss some angles entirely.

As well as having culturally diverse staff in decision-making roles, when it comes to who you interview, it is often a middle-aged white man who is out as an expert. So, in looking for talent, it is important to cast the net wider with both experts and case studies. Whether it’s a news audience or a customer base, try not to forget that almost half of all Australians were born overseas or have a parent born overseas, and one in five speaks another language.

Marlee Silva is the host of Always Our Stories podcast, founder of Tiddas for Tiddas social media movement, and author of My Tidda, My Sister (Hardie Grant Books). She is a Gamilaroi and Dunghutti woman.

What does cultural diversity in media mean to you?

It means there’s a media landscape of editors, writers and content that reflects society and that it’s not all in the hands of majority white people. It means opportunity for voices of colour to be heard and be spoken of or told in their own voices. For a long time, particularly with Indigenous stories, we’ve been spoken of rather than had the space to speak for ourselves.

Why is it important?

When we aren’t telling our own stories there is a lot of space for expectations or stereotypes to be perpetuated. There’s a lack of truth that comes with it. There’s a lack of opportunity for self-determination and for us to take control of the way that we are not only portrayed, but of what we strive for moving forward. Those stories being told of us rather than by us, I think that limits our opportunity to do more, be more. People don't fully understand who we are and our situation because we're not the ones telling the story.

Recently, a disturbing report was released about many Australians holding implicit bias against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. How do you think that plays out in our industry?

It used to mean that we were excluded from particular ads or marketing. Now, because I think it’s a bit trendy to express diversity on a face value, we are typecast. From personal experience, I got approached to do a campaign for a big women’s clothing brand. Someone pitched me to be involved in that campaign but the person doing the casting came back and said I didn’t look Aboriginal enough for them to do it. Yes, there are more opportunities for people of colour to be in a space but you still have to fit in the stereotype or the expectation of whatever your race or cultural background is.

So how can we improve cultural diversity in media in an authentic way?

It has to start with building voices of colour in from the get go. Start a little bit further back by looking at current employment pathways for people of colour and the ties you have to those communities in the place you're operating in.

Listen to us because as much as I can speak to my personal experience, there are so many other different experiences that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have or that people of colour have. You have to understand that it's as multifaceted as society in general. You always have to listen more. Have a lot more flexibility. This industry has been around for a long time and operated the same way for a long time. Up until a couple of decades ago it wasn't even a space that you saw women when it came to advertising and marketing. So it's a little bit further behind than some industries. There needs to be an exploration of new ways of working and maybe dismantling certain procedures and starting again. Be more open-minded. I've found that, a lot of the time, big corporates [in particular] say, ‘This is how we’ve done things and that's how it has to stay’. We need to move away from that and be flexible in bringing different voices in; maybe voices that don't have the same level as experience in the room but have lived experience.

What do we need to keep in mind when representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples or sharing their stories?

Make the space that they come into to share those stories a safe one. People I know personally would only want to share a story if they knew they had the safety net of being able to have editorial review of how their story looks at the end of it. The cultural competence of your team members across the board has to be at a certain level. There is implicit stuff that might happen in a workplace or certain ways people might speak that it’s hard to pick up on if you don’t have the ability to see that stuff and that can play on the comfort of people.

A big thing is there can be a white saviour complex. Another thing that needs to come at the forefront is that it’s not this paternalistic thing that whatever entity you are is the saviour helping Aboriginal people. That's a mindset you really need to stay away from. It's more we’re grateful to enrich our experience by bringing these stories forward rather than the other way around. It's a two-way street.

Key points

  • Aim for diverse imagery, stories and source

  • Use best practice language

  • Consider the power balances in your business relationships

  • Aim for diverse hiring in all levels of your business

  • Collaborate with the appropriate communities

  • Reflect the audience you’re aiming to engage

  • Consider narrative truths: avoid stereotypes

  • Listen to marginalised voices

  • Check your implicit bias

  • Be flexible in your process to bring different voices in

  • Raise your team’s cultural competence

Resources for improving your diversity and inclusion

Diversity Council Australia, particularly their Perspectives page Reporting on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and Issues, Media Diversity Australia Adjust the Contrast podcast with Adam Liaw Towards a Racially Just Workplace Although it is about the US, the “Leading Change” section in particular is relevant everywhere How to Reduce Personal Bias When Hiring Writers, It’s Time to Talk About Diversifying Our Sources How to Do Diverse and Inclusive Content Marketing That Matters Anti-racism Resources from Australia and Beyond, Victorian Women’s Trust An extensive list of books, podcasts, social media accounts, videos and more to support anti-racism self-education.

Sophie Al-Bassam, senior managing editor


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