Spotlight On: Kiwi-Asians in Media and Communications (KaiMaC)

Spotlight On: Kiwi-Asians in Media and Communications (KaiMaC)

By Chloe Arentz

Kiwi-Asians in Media and Communications (KAiMaC) is a group for professionals working in the media, communications and public relations industries in Aotearoa. We caught up with founders, Victoria Young (Investigations Editor, BusinessDesk) and Chamanthie Sinhalage-Fonseka (Senior Consultant, Baldwin Boyle Group), to find out more about the group and what they do.
How did this initiative start?
Chamanthie: I knew of Victoria by her reputation and work as a journalist for years, but we had never properly sat down socially to talk until we were both at the same party in January this year. Probably unsurprising for a journalist and a PR consultant, our small talk didn’t go for long before we ended up in some very interesting conversational territory around our backgrounds and careers. 
Victoria: The obvious bits were that we were both about similar age, at similar levels of seniority in our respective careers, and obviously Kiwi-Asian. The less obvious and more interesting discovery was how much more we had in common in how we got to this career path and the experiences we’ve had along the way. We both originally trained as lawyers, we both had to somewhat disappoint and confound our families with our changed career paths, and we both spent about a decade in media and PR barely having encountered any other Kiwi-Asian colleagues along the way.
Chamanthie: In fact, until March this year, I had never had a Kiwi-Asian team member in over a decade of working in public relations in Auckland, Wellington and Waikato.
Victoria: One thing we both observed was that the lack of Kiwi-Asian representation in our industries has to do with both a legacy deficit in consciously attracting diversity as much as cultural and family expectations that pushed talented young Kiwi-Asians towards more traditional career paths like medicine, law, engineering, accounting, and teaching.
Chamanthie: We did a small survey at our first event in Auckland a few months later, and we found that people took some fascinating family-directed detours before coming into communications and media, including IT consulting at a Big Four, chemical engineering, management consulting at Big Three, acceptance into medical school, others who had completed law school, and so on. 
Victoria: So really, the lack of Kiwi-Asian representation in our industries isn’t just a diversity problem, it’s also a whole chunk of highly intelligent and talented people that we might be missing out on attracting much earlier in the piece.
Chamanthie: After that initial party, we caught up a few weeks later, having found that we both felt that we had stumbled onto something important - both personally and for our industries. In the months that followed, with the support of both of our employers and the handful of Kiwi-Asian professionals we knew in the industry, we embarked on doing our research across the country, testing interest, and thinking deeply about what could be done. The initiative has taken on a life of its own since then, with people coming on board to participate, commit time and energy, and bring fresh ideas to the table. It’s a very exciting place to be only six months on from that first conversation back in January.
Victoria: Since January, we have:
  • Created a database of 100 media and communications professionals of Kiwi-Asian heritage from around NZ. We believe this is the first and only of its kind to have been done in New Zealand. This was assembled through people recommending others that they know.
  • Organised an event for Auckland-based professionals to get to know each other, garnering 40 professionals, including journalists from all major media outlets, as well as comms professionals from both in-house and consultancies. 
  • Set up a small working committee to take what we are hearing from everyone and turn it into action.

What do you hope to achieve for the Kiwi-Asian media and communications community?
Victoria: Kiwi-Asians in Media and Communications (KAiMaC) is a group for professionals working in industries who make and shape the news, including media, communications and public relations, as well as public commentary.

Our aims are to:
  • Provide a network to support and promote Kiwi-Asian professionals who contribute to shaping the news in NZ.
  • Promote diversity in the media and related industries and facilitate access to Asian perspectives. 
  • Foster a talent pipeline that encourages Kiwi Asians to join these types of professions. 
  • Create a visible critical mass that will hopefully draw more Kiwi-Asians into our professions

Chamanthie: We also tried really hard in the early stages to ensure that what we are trying to achieve is in line with what other Kiwi-Asian professionals actually care about. When we started, we engaged a "brains trust" of Kiwi-Asian professionals to help us sense-check. Then, at our first Auckland event in May, we surveyed the 40 people who attended - the clear message was that we’re on the right track and people want more. That was really pleasing!
What support have you had so far from other groups in communications and journalism?
Chamanthie: The support so far has been really strong and we are really pleased with the number of groups that have reached out, especially employers in media and communications because they play such an important role in enabling the aims of this organisation, so it’s great to see that early support. We are really lucky that our employers Baldwin Boyle Group and BusinessDesk both committed to supporting us to launch this initiative, but also have supported us to incorporate this into our work time.
Victoria: Stuart from Telum was one of the first to get in touch after we launched our first event! In the coming months, we will be working towards a way in which organisations can formally become members.

How often does / will the group meet in person?
Chamanthie: We had our first Auckland event in May, and we were so pleased that we nearly doubled the number that we had expected. We are now working towards our first Wellington event in a couple of months.
Victoria: In between major events, we will look to find more casual ways for people to connect with each other. The hope is that people start finding each other and good things come out of that. At the same time, we have a small committee that is now working on a number of other initiatives that people can get involved with, including how to help younger Kiwi-Asian people choose education pathways that lead to our industries.

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