Why representation matters
In this article we discuss why representation matters in the media and in business – and why it matters to us at Moorepay.
In the spirit of this year’s LGBT+ History Month theme, #BehindTheLens, we explore why representation in the media and business matters to us, and why it should matter to you. Read on to think of representation in a new, hairier light, and why it’s so important.
A thought experiment
Imagine if, in the media, you only ever saw 5’8” men with big, bushy moustaches. The only actors in TV shows and films are medium-sized men with moustaches. In magazines, there’s always one on the cover, and inside, there are only interviews with moustachioed men talking about their issues with grooming, or manliness, or being perfectly sized for most doorways, etc. On TV adverts, billboards, promoted social media posts, newspapers, but also red carpets, fashion shows, keynote speakers, it’s all the same. Your CEO even fits that description, as do most of the senior leaders in your workplace.
If you’re someone who fits this description, you might see no issue with it. Everyone’s very familiar, it’s quite comforting actually. But if you were anyone else, whoever you are, wouldn’t you look around and think, ‘Hey, this is odd!”
You would probably say: “This isn’t a good representation of our population. Why aren’t other types of people on TV and in magazines and on talks and stuff?”
And if you were in this situation, wouldn’t it make you think “Can I become a CEO if I’m not 5’8”? Will I be able to progress if my industry seems to favour a man with a lot of lip hair?” You might even consider buying a stick-on moustache to wear for an interview, just to make sure you don’t miss the opportunity.
Of course, I’m using a silly metaphor to try and paint a picture of what a lack of representation feels like, and how it might impact the way someone thinks and behaves when they’re not part of that represented group. Although media representation has come a long way in recent years, as always, there’s still room for improvement.
Just pause to think of how the ‘moustachioed man’ has impacted your life. For example, when my generation was growing up, the only women we saw in the media were tall, stick-thin, blonde models, and now it’s no surprise that so many of my peers have grown up with body confidence issues and an unhealthy relationship with beauty, diets and calorie counting. Simply because we didn’t see real representation of how women look on TV.
Why representation is important
Representing different people – whether that’s a range of cultural backgrounds, nationalities, religions, disabilities, relationship types and genders – is very important for many reasons.
Representation is particularly important for young people when forming perceptions about their identity, and directly impacts self-esteem.
With a lack of representation on-screen – or negative representation, such as stereotypical characters – people can struggle with their identity development, or form negative perceptions of their own groups. They might see their own identity or background as burdensome, unpopular, uncool, embarrassing, or even immoral.
Whereas seeing someone like you being portrayed as successful, kind, vulnerable, or other good qualities would more likely boost your self-esteem, and is hugely validating.
Of course, as an older person our identities become more fixed. However, seeing relevant people in the media is still validating. More so, it makes you feel proud of the people in your community, and proud to be part of it.
The motto “you can’t be what you can’t see” is particularly pertinent when it comes to representation in business. It refers to the fact it can be difficult for people of underrepresented groups to pursue opportunities when they don’t know they’re available. Because if you don’t see people like you in aspirational roles, you might internalise that the position isn’t open to people like you.
Alternatively, think back to a time in your career when you’ve realised someone on the leadership team is similar to you in some way – whether that’s their background, career history or personality. It no doubt gave you some hope or motivation that you could achieve the same thing if you wanted to!
Interpersonal relationships and empathy
Perhaps most importantly, representation helps reduce stereotyping.
After all, we naturally empathise with the people we see in our interpersonal life and in the media. So, exposure to people from underrepresented groups (whether a friend, public figure or a character) helps build that bond and in doing so, embrace the uniqueness of each person rather than the stereotypes associated with their identity.
Once we’ve built that connection, we’re more likely to approach other people with less prejudice. In fact, research shows that positive LGBTQIA+ media representation helped transform public opinions about LGBTQ+ people and feelings about their rights too.
Why does this matter to Moorepay?
At Moorepay we are committed to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in our business. With our colleague networks supporting us, including LGBTQIA+ network Moore Visibility, we’ve renewed our effort to ensure our internal and external content represent the diversity of our colleagues, customers and network. This includes using inclusive language and imagery and reviewing our internal processes to make it a more inclusive culture for all.