'You can't be what you can't see': Why representation matters

What HR can learn from RuPaul's Drag Race Down Under

'You can't be what you can't see': Why representation matters

RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under has captivated Australian fans since it began airing on Stan in May. Bringing a weekly dose of dazzling costumes, gravity-defying hairstyles and the best lip-syncing in the business, our screens will become a little less fun when the series ends next week.

But behind the glittering exterior, RuPaul’s debut in Australia has an important message. When Indigenous Queen Jojo Zaho was eliminated earlier in the series, she said: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” As a proud Biripi and Worimi queen, she used her time on the show to represent Indigenous culture, strutting the runway in an ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’ costume.

It was a timely reminder than representation matters – and it’s a message all businesses would benefit from hearing. So what can HR learn from RuPaul’s Drag Race coming to Australian screens?

HRD spoke to Isa Notermans, Global Head of People and Culture at Linktree, and one of the speakers at the upcoming HR Tech Summit Sydney. Having driven diversity and inclusion at the likes of Google and Spotify, Notermans said fostering representation within leadership is critical in challenging society’s norms. She echoed Jojo’s sentiment, saying ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ perfectly sums up the power of representation.

“It's really important for employees of all genders and backgrounds to know what their career could look like, enable them to reach those upper echelons of the business, and that it is a real, tangible achievement,” she said.

“More specifically for us as a business, representation matters for our audience and our users because we cannot authentically build a product with the insight of those diverse voices, perspectives and backgrounds without having those included in our existing workforce.”

Read more: How to fight xenophobia and racism in the workplace

This diversity of thought is a key pillar of technology and start-up culture, but something that is often lacking in more traditional, hierarchical structures. Notermans said HR needs to focus on equity by design, taking a diversity lens to existing policies and processes. By striving for equity, rather than equality, it acknowledges that employees are not starting on an equal playing field.

“What we're needing to do is critically examine all of the different aspects of the employee experience, from the type of job description we write to the interview experience through to how we promote, develop and advance talent internally and even how we exit people,” Notermans said.

“The design has to be intentional, and it has to be equitable, which means you need to consider everyone's perspective and be inclusive of all different types of employees.”

Read more: Key steps for an inclusive recruitment process

Over time, employers in Australia have taken a more involved role in celebrating and supporting First Nations People, but there is still more work to be done. National Reconciliation Week came to an end earlier this month, urging organisations to take braver and bolder action with this year’s #MoreThanAWord theme.

Notermans said partnering with organisations like Reconciliation Australia and learning from First Nations communities is an important first step. By approaching diversity with genuine curiosity and a desire to do better, people leaders can get a truer picture of the lived-experience of their employees.

To hear more from Notermans, as well as a range of Australia’s leading HR professionals, register for this year’s HR Tech Summit Sydney here.

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