By Rupali Ovhal
The media representation of under-represented groups has long been a topic of debate. A non-dominant category, such as people of colour, people with disabilities, people from a lower socio-economic status, people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, people of a non-mainstream religion, and retirees are all considered to be under-represented groups. While there are different definitions of under-represented groups, women make up a substantial part of these who are under-represented.
A recent article revealed data about how the LGTBTQ+ community feels about their representation in advertising. It was found that most brands do not communicate to this community, while there are some who jump on the bandwagon during pride month to encash popularity. Some members of LGBTQ+ also feel that drawing a rainbow on products isn’t enough to make them feel included . Besides #pridemonth cannot be the only time when brands talk about the LGBTQ+ community. This research shows that there is a growing feeling amongst the members of the community that brands should communicate with them as they have a role to play in progression of societal views.
It is important to remember though, media representation is probably the last concern for under-represented people, considering they have to fight so many battles at ground level.
For instance, women’s under-representation in fields like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) has been a significant issue. While there have been studies that provide hypothesis that women are under-represented in these fields due to them lacking raw intellectual talent compared to men, reality is women do not pursue these careers, or advance to leadership positions – not because they lack talent or aspirations – but because they face barriers like bias, sexual harassment, unequal access to funding and resources, pay inequity and limited opportunities, among others.
These issues are not just faced by women but by other under-represented groups such as members of LGBTQ+, people of different race, religion or caste.
Many scholars have researched the various barriers or challenges the under-represented communities have to go through in order to get access to quality education, employment, healthcare and much more. While diversity is considered the cornerstone of good business practice, in practice there are still many fields or areas of work that lack representation.
A research conducted to study the lack of representation of certain racial and ethnic groups in the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) field revealed that their absence leaves these groups to face discrimination and injustice at various levels. As a result, they continue to receive unequal pay and are unable to devote time to up-skill themselves.
These barriers act like a vicious cycle that continues to cause grievances for the under-represented groups that are trying hard to break out of that cycle.
It is hard to eradicate the issues faced by under-represented groups in a day, and might require generations of efforts. However, there are ways in which the work system can be improved. If those with authority, such as employers, can provide opportunities and practice the values they preach in ‘Company Ethics and Values’, the benefits will be shared by everyone.
Under-represented groups in a workplace can be made to feel included if they are treated equal to others and not something special. They want to receive equal opportunities and receive incentives based on what they bring to table and not what race or gender they belong to. It is important they receive guidance, support and a pathway to success within an organisation. Diversity is a win-win situation, it not only helps bring equality to the workplace but also helps bring in different perspectives. This ensures that there is a flow of creativity within the team. This, in the long term, benefits the organisation.
Intent alone isn’t enough fix the biases, it is critical to examine the processes followed by the organisation in terms of hiring and employee engagement, and make amendments based on critical analysis. Under-represented groups, just like other individuals within an organisation, require career growth and leadership opportunities. Therefore, it is critical to redesign the practice of promoting talent and offering opportunities.
For the larger picture to change, and for better representation both in the media and the real world, innumerable changes are required at base level. Continuous and consistent awareness within the hierarchy is requisite to make the world equal in the real sense.