The right time to reflect on racism in PR

By Anita Sauaga-Singh

New Zealand: Is this really “us”?

When you’re Polynesian, you never forget the sacrifices your ancestors made for you. They left the comforts of the motherland, jumped on a plane and through hoops to move the family to New Zealand – the land of milk, honey and better opportunities.

Despite the promises offered by a new country, I’ve learnt that being brown and different doesn’t come without its barriers in the land of the long white cloud.

Recent events have also encouraged many of us to consider our position and impact on racial equity in our everyday lives, especially within the workplace.

Truth bomb: “It’s nice to finally see some brown faces around here…”

At one communications event I attended, someone approached me and another woman of colour in excitement - “It’s nice to finally see some brown faces around here…” Although this was said with enthusiasm, the sentiment is sadly true.

Despite being a profession that draws from and speaks to a multicultural New Zealand society, there is limited representation of ethnic and minority groups within the communications industry. A Commercial Communications Council (CCC) diversity and inclusiveness survey showed that 87% of the industry is led by European/Pakeha.*

While the figures tell a dire story, the Public Relations industry is in a position of privilege to voice and advocate for equality, justice and human rights.

Not only is it our responsibility, this is also where we thrive, excel and deliver for our clients every day.

When I told my mum I wanted to study communications after high school, she just looked at me oddly. In Polynesian culture there is strong pressure to become a lawyer or doctor because those careers end up in the family headlines, but I was determined to tell my own story and lend a voice to others through PR.

The climate is right for communicators to become more accountable and positively influence behaviour change. As a profession, we take pride in building relationships and understanding the case for increased diversity within the workforce. So why not walk the walk?

First the issue requires advocacy, then we should be bold enough to act, be accountable and make sustainable investment for change.

Achieving racial equity in the workplace

When looking at racism in the workplace, it’s so easy to get overwhelmed.

Even I admit feeling at a loss around my own experience and those endured by others working within communications.

For example, my writing may not be the sharpest as English isn’t my first language. So much of what I know and have learnt is from school and education - not inherited from my parents and family. This wasn’t even considered at university where I had a horrible tutor who made me feel like my writing was worthless.

Consider the introduction of Tikanga Māori in the workplace and casual tokenism of Māori staff. The importance of pronunciation when it comes to Te Reo and usage of macrons when writing this beautiful language are often ignored or overlooked. The issue faced by those with ethnic first and last names which aren’t appropriately pronounced or those with accents that aren’t equally accepted as intelligent or effective communicators.

While it may seem like a lot to consider, this shouldn’t leave us complacent, because the issue of racial equity is a reality for many in the industry.

Here are five ways organisations can work towards racial equity:

  1. Educate yourself: What you don’t know won’t change! If you struggle to identify or find your own bias it might be time to have a look for gaps in your knowledge. Use reputable organisations and sources developed by, and with, minority groups and advocates. Get the history, knowledge and inspiration you need to make an impact.
  2. Lend a voice to those that need it: The troubling issues we’re facing are systemic. Ask questions and give employees, particularly those impacted by racism, a platform. Most importantly – listen! As an agency Wright Communications is proud to be involved in a new focus group that will look at the state of racial equity in the New Zealand PR industry. Spear-heading the conversation around racial equity is the start of our journey towards genuine racial equity.
  3. Don’t appropriate, advocate: Don’t look for credit but seek change. Be honest and transparent with yourself and the way you communicate your response to the issue while actively making changes.
  4. Start inside: You may not be able to change the world, but you can start by changing yours. Consider racial and equity training for your workplace, use what you learn to integrate anti-racism policies and reconsider your company culture. Are you embracing cultural differences or sticking to rigid standards of professionalism? Do your leave policies take into consideration Māori tangi and Pasifika bereavement? Do you hire new staff based on a “cultural fit” that doesn’t allow for diversity?
  5. Join PRINZ’s Diversity and Inclusion workstream
    PRINZ is in the early stages of developing a Diversity and Inclusion workstream to drive positive change for our industry. To be truly reflective of New Zealand’s society, it is clear we need to attract and retain a more diverse range of practitioners at all levels of our profession.
    From an ethnicity perspective, this means we need to:
    • Triple the number of Māori practitioners
    • Quadruple the number of Pasifika practitioners
    • Double the number of Asian practitioners

We also need to increase the number of practitioners that identify as men, particularly among our lower age range, in the industry. And we must ensure gender pay equity at all levels as men are still earning more than women.
If you'd like to participate in this workstream please email


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