ADVICE: How to develop and foster cultural intelligence

The business and financial benefits of diverse workforces and leadership teams are evident in the latest research, yet many businesses still struggle with hiring, empowering, and promoting diverse talent.

This is where Wesa Chau, CEO of Cultural Intelligence, intends to make a difference. In this interview, she shares why she started her consultancy, the challenges she faces at work, and her views on unconscious bias and how to manage it in the workplace.

  • Why did you originally start Cultural Intelligence and how have your goals for the consultancy evolved over time?

I started Cultural Intelligence after working in the multicultural Not for Profit (NFP) sector and started to feel frustrated by the lack of innovation in the sector and as I was using my managing consulting hat (that was my first job), there are many more things the sector can learn from the corporate sector on training and using an evidence-based approach to improve. 

When I first started, my clientele was mostly NFP and government organisations because that was where my networks were, however that has shifted to more corporate and University clients. The shift also happened because corporate Australia has started to have the appetite to talk about cultural diversity (extending from gender diversity).

Now Cultural Intelligence spends more effort on evidence-based approaches and data-driven approaches to cultural diversity, rather than “fluffy” talks about the importance of cultural diversity which is hard to get businesses on board. 

For example, last year, we launched our research on Asian-Australian leadership in Australia. The approach we took was not simply about the number of Asian-Australians in leadership roles (or lack thereof), but to understand the natural workstyles of Asian-Australians so we can have a much more nuanced conversation about what skills and contributions Asian-Australians bring into the workplace.

The cultural diversity I see is an imbalance of power structurally and so my consultancy helps organisations create processes and policies to balance out the power imbalance to ensure people from different cultures feel equal.

  • How have your personal experiences impacted the way you manage your business and deliver your services? 

I think personal experience will always impact the way businesses are managed and the services delivered.

For me, I come from an engineering and commerce background, so using data and tools are natural to me and so even for a human related topic such as cultural diversity, I still enjoy looking at data and interpret the data in a human way. What the NFP sector has taught me was the empathy, listening and to always understand things from an individual’s perspective. 

So all my experiences inform my work, the education in engineering and commerce taught me the tools and an analytical mind, whereas my NFP experience taught me the human experience, so I combine the positive aspects of each of the areas and bring a new way to look at cultural diversity – and a different narrative to talk about the topic.

  • When working with professionals and executives to understand the benefits of cultural diversity, what are the biggest challenges and how do you overcome them? 

One of the key challenges to get people to think about cultural diversity is the lack of interest and feeling people are being pressed to do “too much diversity”, because we have just been talking about gender diversity where corporate Australia is finally starting to understand the importance of it, but rather than patting them on the back, some feel like people are slapping on another form of diversity. 

My message to them is always, if you really do diversity well – gender, culture, disability, age and more – then we don’t need this conversation, but simply looking at the face of corporate Australia shows that they still don’t do it well.

Not having people of colour in teams and in senior roles highlights that the team does not value different insights and perspectives, because people born into a different culture have different lived experiences that cannot be replicated by people who have never lived it. For me therefore, diversity is more than just about skin colour, it is about better decision making.

This is one reason why I need a different narrative to talk about the issue. The business case yes, but I wanted to show that Asian-Australians are more natural at certain workstyles and skills compared to others. So our research showed that Asian-Australians are more natural at solving programs (especially in data interpreting). This is critical in the 21st century – the data-driven century and it has just becoming even more important after covid-19 where more and more businesses are shifting their operations online.

  • Is unconscious bias inevitable? Why or why not?

Unconscious bias is normal for humans, it is how our brain works to help us to protect us, so we should not think it’s just bad. However, what we need to do is to understand our own bias and be able to manage our responses, so we do not unintendedly disadvantage a certain group. 

For example, I hear people say “I’m colour blind” (meaning they don’t care about others’ ethnicity), I just look at their work, but what if people behave differently but it is understood by another group in a different way?  For example, some people do not look people in the eye to show respect, but in Australia that would be perceived as shifty or rude. For a “colour blind person”, they are likely to see this person not looking at them as rude, that is the bias of perceiving eye contact to mean rude.

Our biases build from how we were taught as kids, which uses a frame that fits in the society we live in – i.e. rude people do not look at me in the eye – so to remove that takes conscious efforts. We can only overcome the biases when we withhold judgement on another person based on behaviour, assume the best from the other, and probe deeper at every human interaction.

There is also an Implicit Association Test based at Harvard University that everyone can test to check your own unconscious bias. It is a great one, because it helps you understand your own biases. It is only through knowing about them that you can manage your responses. Again I want to stress to not be too hard on yourself, because we all have biases. It is about how you manage your own responses to biases.

  • Have you ever met someone you felt was not open to cultural diversity, and not worth convincing otherwise?

One thing I have learned over the years is not to take things personally.  Even if I feel I’m having tense discussions with people about cultural diversity and do not feel they are open to it, you never know what seed you have planted. 

Whilst there are people with whom I felt was wasting my time at the time, I later found out that our conversations have planted a seed and a few years later they said to me the conversation we had made them think more about it and changed them somewhat. 

I’m much more compassionate about where they are at in their journey nowadays and am willing to engage with anyone (including some tense conversations) about cultural diversity. I would recommend people to have discussions with all people, however I must say to have conversations with people who are totally against cultural diversity are always difficult conversations, because sometimes they trigger my emotional responses and I get angry. I’m much better at it now, so I can still have interesting conversations with people and not make judgements about people too quickly.

  • For those currently struggling with finding an appropriate way to bring up a lack of cultural diversity in their teams or organisations, what’s your advice? 

There is no one way to do it, it depends on the context you are in – who you are talking to, the support networks you have, your workplace, how it impacts on your role, how confident you are, and more. These all impact how you might bring it up.

I ran a session to explore these issues at the Asian-Australian Leadership Summit run by ANU, PwC and Asialink. People within the session suggested all these ways can work depending on the context: having allies, finding mentors and sponsors, having empathy, don’t internalise conversations, finding friends, setup networks within the workplace, educate people by sharing personal stories, try working out their strategic objectives and relate your cause to that, build other alliances (e.g. women networks, LGBTI networks), etc.

Personally, I will assess the power dynamics of the situation you are in as the first step before developing a strategy to get there. One thing that definitely is required is thick skin – keep bringing it up at the right moments and do not give up, because it is a long battle.  Just think how long it took the gender movement to achieve what they have and still not quite fully achieved, we have only started to get some traction, which means we have a while to go. 

Whilst it is hard, it is important to maintain compassion with people who have not yet joined the journey because they never had our lived experiences and some genuinely do not understand it. We need to keep educating them.

About the expert

Wesa Chau is an experienced manager, board director, speaker, trainer and specialist consultant on cultural diversity.

Wesa is the CEO of Cultural Intelligence, a specialist consulting firm that help organisations better understand cultural diversity and its impacts on design, decision making, customer service, messaging and policy setting. In her capacity as Director of Cultural Intelligence, Wesa has worked with clients ranging from government departments, educational institutions, corporations and not for profit organisations.

As a board director, Wesa’s diverse experiences include serving on the boards of Carers Victoria, Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria and InTouch – Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence. She is currently a board member of Glenuc (Holmesglen Foundation), the Victorian Ministerial Council on Women’s Equality and the Multicultural Business Ministerial Council.

Wesa was named as the 2010 Young Victorian of the Year for her commitment to gender equality, cultural diversity and social cohesion has been recognised through the Australian Leadership Award and an inductee of the Victorian Honour Roll of Women.

Wesa is currently undertaking her PhD at Swinburne University understanding what political skills are and how people develop them. She holds a Masters in Business Management, Graduate Diploma in Law and Bachelors of Engineering and Commerce with majors in software engineering and marketing. Wesa is also a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and is a qualified teacher.


ADVICE: How to successfully expand your business to the USA

Many entrepreneurs and startups have international business expansion on their list of dreams and goals, but not many are able to make the leap successfully. One of the most renowned Australian stories of boom and bust when expanding to the US is of Shoes of Prey, which was reportedly preparing to become worth $100 million in revenue, and then suddenly ceased trading, much to the surprise of the retail and corporate industries.

Trena Blair, CEO of FD Global Connections, specialises in consulting Australian businesses on expanding into North America. In this interview, she shares the common misconceptions, watch-outs, and hurdles of expanding into this competitive market, and how entrepreneurs can succeed.

  • As an expert in helping Australian startups and businesses expand into the US, what are some of the most common misconceptions you work with business leaders to overcome during this process?

There are 3 misconceptions (and the response):

1. Launching in the USA is easy!  

The complexity of the USA market is not well understood; every State is different in terms of tax, legislation, culture, language (written and spoken) and business protocols.

2. Business leaders can launch without expert advice

Those businesses which are successful in the USA have had expert advisors working with them. The best analogy is sailing – you can’t sail from A-B without an experienced navigator and it’s the same with expanding globally. You shouldn’t launch into any global market without having an expert navigator advising you of the steps you need to take to achieve your result.

3. Winning contracts is easy! 

Often businesses feel excited by the positive reception they receive at early sales meetings in the USA. Statements such as prospects are “ready to sign” are common! Businesses struggle when they return to Australia with follow-up emails and phone calls not being returned.

However, what businesses experienced during their trips was the positive, encouraging culture for innovation which exists in the USA. Australian businesses don’t appreciate this is the reception which every business receives when they pitch to USA!

What USA prospects are looking for is a local representative for the business – not somebody who plans to return in 4-6 weeks. So, winning contracts takes time, effort, budget and an existing network – it isn’t that easy!

  • What is the hardest part of expanding into the US, and how do you navigate these challenges with business leaders?

For the majority of Australian business leaders, and especially those who have not lived and worked in the USA, the hardest part is building the required network. Businesses initially “fly-in-fly-out”, which will work for approximately 6 months, but then networks and sales pipelines start to dwindle.

What business leaders require is an expert who has an existing network and who can act as their navigator and local representative. This is one of the reasons FD Global Connections now offers “Growth Runway”, where we virtually connect our clients to our USA based growth business partners who have a local network and resources to represent Australian businesses.

  • International expansion typically involves some kind of business plan. Even for business plans that allow for a certain level of potential changes or market disruption, many businesses are completely throwing those plans out the window in the current times of complete uncertainty. How do you recommend entrepreneurs and business leaders approach ‘planning’ in 2020?

I’ve recently held a webinar on this very topic!

In this webinar, I talk about Managing Business Risk across 5 key areas – Strategic Risk, Financial Risk, Operational Risk, Employee Risk, and Reputational Risk.

Whilst traditional business plans have been completely disrupted, those businesses which review their businesses across each of these 5 areas and have plans attached to each of these are more likely to be successful through 2020. Using this framework also gives business leaders a sense that they are taking back some control – something which we have all felt has been lost given the chaos surrounding each aspect of our lives with COVID-19.

  • What’s a process you recommend entrepreneurs follow when assessing how to scale their business internationally? 

FD Global Connections has spent many years fine-tuning a unique methodology to assess whether businesses are ready to scale globally. Our 10 step framework is rigorous – and always highlights areas for businesses to focus, as well as areas of strength.

When we are asked to conduct the assessment, we find that there are often areas that businesses don’t consider, but which are vitally important such as supplier capacity or inventory management systems. Simple areas such as website domain or local currency pricing are also typical areas businesses fail to have ready.  

  • What has been one of your biggest mistakes when launching a business into the US, what did you learn from that and how has it shaped the way you do business today?

A mistake I made when I first started my business in 2014, was relying on a local professional service firm to advise me on an important USA regulatory issue. At the time, my budget was limited so I didn’t think I could afford to engage a USA based professional service firm, but the result was it cost me significantly more than it should have. The advice I give all of my clients is to spend the extra amount to get the right advice from USA qualified experts the first time!

About the expert

Ms.Trena Blair is an expert in expanding business from Australia into the USA, with New York as their market entry point.” (Forbes, 2018). Ms. Blair is a highly accomplished presenter, global businesswoman and professional speaker who effortlessly transverses Corporate and Entrepreneurial communities Transcontinental. A global citizen, Ms. Blair has lived and worked in Australia and the USA during her 20+ year corporate executive career.

In 2014, Ms. Blair founded and is CEO of FD Global Connections, working with Businesses, Government and Universities to create and deliver unique programs to access the USA. FD Global specialises in developing International Go-to-Market strategies to positively influence the high failure rate of global expansion. FD Global also offers a digital service (“Growth Runway”) to access Interim Professionals in USA, Singapore/S.E.Asia and UK/EMEA allowing Australian businesses to have in-market Sales/Business Development representation. Ms Blair has been featured on Television and across Media for her innovative initiatives to showcase Australian innovation.

As well as CEO, Ms. Blair is a qualified Non-Executive Director, serving on the Boards of Bartier Perry and Trade Advisory Boards of AMCHAM and Minnow Designs. She has previously served as Non-Executive Director for Ability Options (not-for-profit) and the Australian Federation of Travel Agents.

ADVICE: Why video is the best way to reach your audience right now, and what to do about it

Video marketing is exploding, with consumers now watching an average of 16 hours of online video per week, leading 85% of businesses to invest in video marketing this year.

So, what makes good video content and how can you make it on a budget?

Paige Wilhide, Video Confidence Coach and YouTube Strategist, shares her advice and experiences based on her career in video marketing.

  • For entrepreneurs and business leaders considering video marketing for the first time, where should they start? 

Video marketing can feel overwhelming if you’re just starting to dip your feet into the pool. You’re inundated with choices: live video or produced, what do I want to say, how do I shoot and edit, where should I upload videos. In that sense, the hardest part of the process is quieting all that noise and just getting started with video. But I’ve got great news for you: once you begin, every video you create will get better and easier with time. 

So where do you begin? You begin by eliminating the overwhelm and creating a path of least resistance. That means doing two things:

  1. Pick ONE platform and commit to mastering video on that platform. You don’t have to be everywhere at once — you just have to pick one road and take small steps to learn everything there is about it. Are you selling B2B services? LinkedIn might be a great place to start. If you’re in an industry that’s very visual, try Instagram! Choose a platform that’s aligned with your message, and commit to doing video on that platform for at least 30 days. 
  2. Use what you have. As a video marketing expert, you’d probably think I have this whole elaborate studio setup with lights hanging from the ceiling and an adjacent live editing room. Nope! I shoot most of my videos with my webcam in front of a big window that gives me a ton of natural light. It’s a good quality webcam that anybody can buy and perch on top of their computer. If you have a phone that takes video, great! Use that. You don’t need a film school degree to make great videos these days. 

Just following these two small steps will get you started. Don’t you feel like you can breathe a little easier now?

  • What kind of resourcing should small business owners be putting behind video marketing to get the most out of this channel?

The wonderful thing about video marketing is that you can do it with a very low budget. Like I said, start by using what you have on hand– sunshine and a cell phone. Then you can build your gear from there. That being said, if you are going to invest in anything, buy a good quality microphone. A video with poor audio is pretty much unwatchable, while a viewer will forgive poor video quality as long as they’re getting some kind of value out of it.   

Most importantly, make sure you have a clear strategy with your video marketing. Before you invest all the time and money into building your collection of gear, get clear on the direction you want to go by outlining some measurable goals for yourself. Ask yourself how video is going to be your best salesperson, and take it from there. The best investment you can make at the beginning is in the strategy and accountability piece, like joining a group program or hiring a video consultant or coach. Once you have that clear roadmap, you’re ready to venture out and grow your visibility.

  • What’s the best way to go about testing whether video is the right channel to reach your target audience? 

Without question, video is the best way to reach your audience right now. If you do it right, you will get leads, you will grow your online visibility, and you will increase your bottom line. The question is understanding whether the strategy works best for reaching your audience.

If you have an engaged audience already, do some market research. Ask them how they like to consume content. Ask them what kind of videos they like to watch and how they interact with those videos. Use your audience! They have the information you’re looking for. 

If you don’t have an engaged audience, you’ll have to do a little more trial and error. Coming back to my earlier advice, pick just one platform and commit to uploading consistently on that platform for at least 30 days. You’ll get a TON of information by doing that. If you don’t have any new leads by the end of those 30 days, you need to shift your strategy: maybe the platform, maybe the type of videos you’re uploading, maybe the scripts. Learn from the data and adapt to the needs of your audience.  

  • What’s your biggest video marketing fail to date? What did you learn from it? 

If you watch any of my videos, you’ll see that I actually keep my bloopers or “failures” in them. Messing up is totally human, and I preach that the best video marketing strategy is filled with imperfect videos. I’ve had a lot of what people may call “failures”: YouTube channels that never became anything, videos that totally bombed, some downright cruel comments on videos I’ve made. But that’s all part of the creative process. If you want to be successful with video, you have to be willing to fail and embrace your messiness. 

  • What’s your top prediction for video marketing in 2020?

Given all that’s happening in the world right now, we’re all consuming more video content than ever before. We’re thirsty to learn new things, to be entertained, to feel connected with other humans. This is the year of video, and it’s only just beginning. I predict that we’ll definitely see a HUGE increase in the number of businesses using video to grow their bottom line. In fact, it’s already happening. So I encourage you to jump on that train!

About the expert

Paige is a comedian, entrepreneur, and content creator who is dedicated to helping you get out of your head and in front of the camera so you can learn to make amazing videos that grow your business. She coaches entrepreneurs, influencers, and YouTube creators in everything from content strategy to at-home videos production to on-camera confidence. Currently based in Los Angeles, Paige loves travel, personal development, lazy beach days, and sharing her imperfectly perfect life on social media.

Instagram: @paigemedia