If you’re hoping to trump last season’s fads, “diversity” and “representation” are the buzzwords to keep you vogue in today’s climate of wokeness. If terms like “cultural competency” have executives foaming at the mouth, current workplace essentials have been reshaped altogether: while one hand familiarly grips the sterile plastic of a computer mouse, the other now wields the bid for heterogeneity as the apparent antidote for healing all ailments — ranging from as subtle as minute micro-aggressions to as loud as disparate living inequalities.
Unfortunately, the lofty words of ambition echoed from the plush confines of leather-rimmed office chairs don’t seem to match our reality. The fabric of Australia — namely in areas of media, entertainment, government, and senior leadership — continues to remain so blindingly white. Australia prides itself on its multicultural identity, with 23% of all Australians coming from a non-European background — yet, non-European individuals comprise a startling 6.6% of 227 Members of Parliament, 6% of television presenters and reporters, and just 2.7% of chief executives. So, why the disconnect?
Let me first highlight that such homogenous industries are notoriously competitive, lucrative, and held in high esteem — working as effective barriers to entry. For example, in the landmark report titled Who Gets To Tell Australian Stories? by Media Diversity Australia, it is noted that recruiters commonly look toward graduate-only pools, often favouring those coming from wealthier backgrounds and elite universities, such as the University of Sydney. Having “insider recommendations” (something less likely for an individual from a culturally diverse background without the same opportunities) or attending a well-funded school that boasts notable alumni networks also helps. If the rise of the nepo-baby and HBO’s Succession taught us anything, it’s that life operates as a game of connections.
While it appears simply as a matter of elitism, the politics of race exist irrevocably inseparable from class. Take, for instance, the Sydney Morning Herald’s article “‘A stark contrast’: the ethnic divides across Sydney’s schools”, which finds more than half of independent schools in Sydney’s wealthiest areas with less than 10% of students coming from culturally diverse backgrounds. Moreover, another SMH article finds that more than one-quarter of students at high-fee paying private schools in Sydney’s east and northern suburbs claim disability provisions in the HSC, compared to just 1% of students at public schools in Sydney’s ethnically dense west — despite the latter having higher rates of students with disability. It’s indicative of a broader issue that suggests individuals from culturally diverse or low-SES backgrounds may not be afforded the necessary access or knowledge of available opportunities.
Such barriers, however, also work as a double-edged sword. The overwhelming uniformity of certain industries means that culturally diverse individuals are discouraged from considering a career in such an area in the first place. This is exacerbated by the perceived economic futility of such fields caused by cuts to government funding – such as in the arts – which further discourage culturally diverse individuals, especially immigrants, who desire financial security. If one does decide to enter into a Anglo-dominated field such as media – and increase their employability by attending a prestigious institution like USyd – one would have to first achieve the 95 ATAR entry, and then pay the maximum $14,500 of university fees in the highest band of the government’s Job-ready Graduates Scheme. A career in a field that lacks diversity simply feels out of reach to many, especially when there is a lack of adequate support.
Most importantly, authentic diversity requires confronting and dismantling the colonial structures we continue to uphold, first and foremost. Despite Queen Elizabeth’s passing, the statues and paintings of our “founders” dotted around Sydney’s CBD means Australia’s colonial spirit is kept alive and well. The Change The Date debate and the Voice referendum have told us that no matter how polarising our views are, a general sentiment continues to see racism and inequality as simply issues of the past — The Australian’s article “Merit not race should rule our arts policy” alone underlines our systems still deeply entrenched in meritocracy.
When looking further into Australia’s history, it’s no wonder that Australia’s industries remain homogeneously white, when most leading executives were born to still see the remnants of the White Australia Policy. When Indigenous and culturally diverse individuals were not given an apt chance in Australia until the mid-to-late 20th century, it becomes imperative to critique how these structures and systems exist. Take Rishi Sunak, Britain’s first Prime Minister of Indian descent, whose staunchly conservative views have been controversial at large — as Marcus Ryder for the Guardian states, “trickle-down diversity doesn’t work”. If diversity means conforming to an inherently flawed system, it only results in cheap tokenism and empty representation.
True diversity requires breaking down the intersectional barriers and colonial structures that allow us to maintain white hierarchies. True diversity requires looking inwards to identify our own prejudices and privileges and actively choosing to recognise them. True diversity holds the power to enrich Australia’s cultural landscape and foster greater creativity, innovation and belonging — but simply wailing for it will not get us there.