MELBOURNE — New research finds limited knowledge and inconsistent practices when it comes to building cultural diversity in Australian PR agencies and campaigns, with nearly three quarters of firms failing to regularly recommend that clients consider culturally and linguistically diverse audiences.

The Framework for Agency Inclusion and Representation (FAIR) report study was commissioned by the Scanlon Foundation, with support from Think HQ. The research, which polled 131 agency respondents across the country, was conducted by Dr Marianne D. Sison, an Honorary University Fellow at Melbourne’s RMIT University.

Only 26% of respondents said their agencies recommend that clients consider culturally and linguistically diverse audiences even 'some of the time'. This is despite Australian Bureau of Statistics data which reveals that nearly half of all Australians were either born overseas or had at least one parent who was born overseas, and that one in five Australians speak a language other than English at home.

The report also found that many industry leaders acknowledge they have not consciously done enough to integrate cultural diversity into their business and struggle to estimate the proportion of their employees who come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Respondents were overwhelmingly Anglo-Celtic at 82% (compared to 58% of the Australian population) and only half (50%) said their agency had a diversity and inclusion (D&I) policy.

“Despite great awareness of the importance of diversity and almost universal agreement the industry needs to do more, the fact that half of agency workplaces don’t have a D&I policy reflects a stark gap between awareness, rhetoric and practice,” said Think HQ founder and MD Jen Sharpe.

More than four in 10 (43%) said client briefs only sometimes required engaging with multicultural audiences. And while almost all survey respondents (97%) believed cultural diversity in the communications industry is very or extremely important, almost two-thirds (65%) agreed the sector is not culturally representative of the Australian population. 91% agreed more needs to be done to increase representation.

"The opportunity exists for the communication industry and academia to partner and co-develop resources, checklists and frameworks to guide practitioners in enhancing their cultural diversity competence and capabilities," said Dr Sison. "The results indicated a strong desire for industry practitioners to learn more about the diverse cultures within their agencies, they just need to know how and where to start."

"As one of the world’s most successful multicultural societies the focus should be on more than the direct tangible benefits to agencies and the whole communication industry, a deep commitment to cultural diversity and inclusion contributes to a richer, and socially cohesive Australia," added Dr Sison.

The 2021 report is the first in a planned series of annual reports that aim to benchmark and track these issues over time.