Communications Sans Frontier? Let’s be honest, Sydney.
Returning to Sydney a few years ago, after working for most of my career in London, I was amazed at the widespread feedback I had about needing to have communications experience in the ‘Sydney market’. Yes, I had learnt my trade in issues management overseas, but I thought that being able to rock and roll daily with Fleet Street would make me an attractive candidate for any company with a challenging public profile.
As part of an interview process for one role, I recall a senior executive asking me how I could possibly represent ‘us’ – meaning people from Australia, given my background in London. I had to point him to my CV, which he clearly hadn’t read, to show I was born, raised and educated in Sydney. This should have been a red flag. I shouldn’t have felt the need to drop to this level. But like many women of my generation I just wanted to get through.
As an Australian, I’m embarrassed about how many true migrants (or scarily, even people from interstate) will face this attitude here. It’s to our loss that companies and institutions will miss out on great talent, experience and a different point of view because of this myopia. I can guarantee you that with all the populist rhetoric about the British class system we like to differentiate ourselves from, not once was my career path blocked in the UK because of my Australian accent or the fact I hadn’t grown up there. For many years I proudly represented one of the most iconic British institutions through some of the most significant national crises during that time, as an official spokesperson for Scotland Yard.
And before someone pipes up with ‘it’s about networks and contacts’ – great communications employees build relationships fast, bridge the right networks, and get across the subject matter at speed. They often benefit from not having ‘history’ in relation to a certain political party, organisation, or point of view. Pressure the candidate for examples of how they have done this in the past, rather than which train line they used to get to school. We will look much more like the global city we say we are when we grow up in this regard.
Felicity Ross is one of Australia’s most senior communications professionals. She is current Director of Advocacy at Jobs for NSW. She has previously worked with organisations such as BT, Serco and the British Home Office.