Navigating unconscious bias

Time Out Australia MD Michael Rodrigues reflects on biases overcome, and the value of recognising the biases Australian media faces today

“Little Boggy.”

That’s how I was greeted on my first day of high school, by my older brother’s mates.

The “little” part I understood. My diminutive 12-year-old frame explained that, especially in comparison to these 16-year-old hulks. But the “boggy” part, I wasn’t so sure about. Was I standing in mud? Or had I pooed my pants?

As I looked forlornly to my older brother for clarity, the thought occurred to me that if I was “little boggy” he might be “boggy”. But this only led to more questions. Was he standing in mud? Had he pooed his pants?

High school playgrounds can be cruel. My parents, in either an attempt to reform my primary school recalcitrance or with the forethought to subject me to intensive character building, had sent me to an agricultural high school on Sydney’s outskirts. Suffice to say that my Indian skin tone (while a perfect complement to my maroon blazer) made me an easy target for the fair-skinned crew gift me all manner of nicknames: Brownie, Blackie and Chocko, or my personal favourite, Suntan – a constant verbal reminder of the difference in my outward appearance.

And so I was proud to walk boldly in the footsteps of my older bro, the original (and still the best) Boggy, so named all those years ago because his skin colour bore a passing resemblance to shit.

These monikers, bestowed originally in derision, evolved into terms of affection. One by one our classmates would get to know us, like us, and eventually become friends – that friendship perhaps all the stronger due to the rawness of its formation. Bias, once named, could be corrected. One-time adversaries became advocates.

Wind the clock forward a few decades and while, due to immigration from all corners, the tonal balance of the playground has corrected somewhat, imbalance remains at leadership levels among our corporate citizens, civic and cultural institutions, media houses and in adland.

Skin colour notwithstanding, I’d hate to think what the schoolyard would have been like for Boggy and me if we were not native English speakers. A common language at least gave us a means by which to communicate – to persuade our aggressors to see us in a different light.

It’s hard to gain equal footing or be made to feel at home when a language gap exists. As a publisher that celebrates the best that cities have to offer, we need to do a better job of reaching audiences, irrespective of race or language preference.

So, starting with our key markets of Sydney and Melbourne, we will be publishing select Time Out products in both English and simplified Chinese. This will make Time Out content more accessible to the large Chinese-speaking populations in these centres, many being students and new Australians. And with sister titles in cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, our Australian content will be ready, willing and visible, as we welcome more visitors from these cities in the coming years.

We have recognised difference in our midst and we are making an effort to understand it and embrace it. In doing so we can correct a bias that we’ve been guilty of, here in the schoolyard of Australian media.

To learn more about our move towards a dual language publication in Sydney and Melbourne, contact Michael Rodrigues (MD Australia, Time Out), on 02 8239 5990 or michael.rodrigues@au.timeout.com, and connect with him on LinkedIn.