We all have unconscious bias. But how do you minimise the impact, and look beyond it to tap into your team’s diverse talents?

What’s wrong with the world? Can you see it in this clip?

Watch the clip and see if you can work out what’s wrong with the world…

Recently, while searching for video for our new website, this clip was the best we could find.  I thought I’d found what we’d needed in finally locating a globe that didn’t start and end on the USA or Europe, only to discover some fairly significant issues.  Did you notice them? Tasmania is missing, as is half of Indonesia, and some rather strange things have happened to the Malaysian peninsula. compass_image

It is all too easy to overlook the local, or to define the world in the eyes of the beholder with scant regard to the ‘detail’ on the ground.  What did you do when you looked at the map?  Typically we first locate our home.  Once we have oriented ourselves, only then do we scan the periphery and ‘other’ spaces.  If our home space isn’t accurately defined, recognised, acknowledged and respected we turn off, log off, or react with anger.  Our respect for those who have ignored or misrepresented us is greatly diminished.  We can feel ‘unseen’ and invisible in the eyes of the other.

When operating globally it is critical we recognise, engage with and respect the local.  This does not only require defining the ‘boundaries’ accurately and seeing what is local, but engaging with local perspectives, opinions and ensuring collaborative and two-way engagement.  Such engagement enables honest feedback and the challenging of (mis) perceptions and an essential education on what’s really going on at the local level.

As was discovered by the US forces in Afghanistan, and as is so often discovered by multinational companies attempting to sell standard products in local markets,  the local matters.  The capacity to ensure local participation, engagement, collaboration and partnership can make or break a mission, project or business.  Skills in intercultural collaboration, cross-cultural engagement and partnership are critical and must be front and centre of any effective global/local engagement.

Getting Diversity Right – It’s not just about the numbers

So often, the focus of ‘getting diversity right’ is about the numbers. Yet, we often forget that it’s not just the numbers which matter – it’s the interaction, collaboration and capacity to engage and achieve results among people from diverse backgrounds which matters.

Ian Dalton, Kirrilee Hughes and I at our session

I presented a session yesterday at the Australian International Education Conference, and was fortunate to attend another session on ‘Internationalising the Curriculum’. The conversation was vibrant, and highlighted the risk of just focusing on ‘the numbers’ to demonstrate internationalisation. It’s all too common to have huge numbers of international students from all over the world attending Australian universities, who can complete an entire degree with little or no interaction with fellow local students. The challenge with an internationally diverse group is to ensure we don’t end up with a ‘classroom of tribes’ where the Indian students sit together, the locals from the private school who know each other sit together, the Chinese from Hong Kong are at another table and also separate from the Mainland Chinese, with little or no interaction between groups. In such an ‘international’ classroom, global mobility does little to expand intercultural engagement or understanding, and can actually reinforce stereotypes of other groups.

One of the key challenges of getting diversity right, is to enable and facilitate the expansion of interactions beyond one’s own comfort zone and in-group. It’s not enough to simply reach ‘the numbers’ and assume internationalisation has therefore occurred. Intercultural learning, collaboration and engagement is a process of learning, reflection and challenging of stereotypes and assumptions. Intercultural capability requires the capacity to engage with others, to understand their world-view and perspective, and to demonstrate the behavioural flexibility to negotiate differences and find common-ground. These skills are the ones which make the difference whether working in international business, or with people from diverse backgrounds at home.

Overcoming Unconscious Bias and Getting to Yes

One of the biggest challenges we face when working with diversity is the capacity to engage in dialogue with people we disagree with, without demonising the other.  As demonstrated so clearly by the impasse in the Australian parliament this week regarding the asylum seeker issue, our capacity to negotiate with, and reach agreement with people we may not agree with can be a matter of life and death.

As we learn more about neurology and perception, we know all of us are unconsciously biased in some way towards others who are ‘different’ to us.  Race, gender, sexual preference, disAbility, hair colour, political party – you name it, there is a bias towards it.  Test the theory by taking the Implicit Association Test – www.iat.org . There is always a risk of patronizing lecturing and ‘you should’ in conversations with ‘the other’.  Recent brain research also shows us that we look for reinforcement of our world view and discount evidence to the contrary.  Unfortunately, we are far less rational than we think.

What works to minimise bias, and assist in overcoming difference

  1. The capacity to empathise and relate on a human level, despite disagreement.  Jonothan Haidt in his new book ‘The Righteous Mind’ describes how politicians whose children are at the same school and are required to interact on a personal level are able to better distinguish between the person and their job.  Once the capacity to empathise on a one to one level is removed, politics gets nastier and less functional.
  2. The capacity to resist labeling, demonizing and judging.  To simply be able to say “I disagree with you on this” and accept that it is not necessary to demolish the other person’s credibility or attack their world-view and values is critical.  Attacking the world-view or values (regardless of the evidence base or logic) of the other person serves to reinforce their position.  When under threat, human beings reinforce their position, bunker down, look for allies and may attack in response.
  3. Taking an Appreciative Inquiry approach.  A willingness to put aside partisan perspectives and think rigorously about options often works best when we start with what we agree upon and what could be done. To focus on what doesn’t work, or what can’t be done, or critiquing other options from the beginning shuts down productive problem solving capacity.
  4. Engaging in values based negotiation – In other words, a recognition that if we collaborate together, we can make the pie bigger for all of us, rather than fighting over our half of the pie now.  Either/or win/lose negotiations are destined to be limited in results for all parties.  Values based negotiation takes a long term approach and looks for mutual benefit.
  5. Testing the validity of our approach through reversal.   Would it be appropriate if we were to be recipients of the approach we are recommending others take?  Really?  Think about their political and broader stakeholders.

Of course, for any of these strategies to be implemented or succeed, there must be: the genuine intention to address whatever issue is at hand, the self-esteem to acknowledge that we are not 100% right 100% of the time, and the interest in achieving a mutually beneficial outcome.

BI Update – What we’ve been up to lately…

It’s been a while – our silence has been caused by the busiest two months ever in the history of BI.  A good thing, but we are looking forward to a little time to digest the experiences of the last few months and do some writing and publishing.  The BI team has been constantly travelling and we’re looking forward to the Easter break to spend some time with friends and family.

Tom and his China map!

What we’ve been up to:

– Rolling out ‘Unconscious Bias’ training to the entire staff of a large financial institution focusing on the skills to engage with and leverage diversity –  Delivering ‘Global Virtual Team Effectiveness’ Programs to corporate clients

– Delivering the Parents Understanding  Asia Literacy program around Australia.   I also went to Canberra to meet with Peter Garrett to discuss business needs for an Asia literate workforce.

– Meeting with the Review Team to provide input, and writing our submission into the ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ Government Review.

– Delivering ‘Re-entry’ de-briefings, ‘Pre-posting Training’, ‘Intercultural Effectiveness’ training and ‘Working with Local Staff’ training for internationally engaged government departments

–  Advising the CEO’s and Senior Leadership teams of three large companies who are navigating key challenges in Asia

Tom, Judy, John and Ramona at BI Planning Session


–  Working with the leadership team and staff involved at a corporate client to facilitate transitioning key work to Malaysia

–  Submitting a tender to renew our preferred provider status with the Dept of Immigration & Citizenship

–  Working with a highly diverse team of an International NGO in SEAsia focusing on enabling better intercultural collaboration, dialogue and engagement

–  Planning for the Australia Thailand Business Council key event on 28 May, and the 14th International Conference on Thai Studies

Phew!  I promise our next blog post will be a review of the great books and podcasts we’ve enjoyed over the Easter break.  Hope you have a good one. Tamerlaine

What does it take to be successful in Asia?

Watch Justin Breheny, CEO Asia of IAG Insurance discuss what it takes to be successful in Asia in this brief PwC interview Positioning – investing in the future by getting in now and taking a long term view is emphasised.   I agree – perserverance, patience and building relationships the key.  The process of dedicating time to doing due diligence and ensuring your model is locally customised and appropriate to the specific dynamics of the local context is so important too.  One size does not fit all.  Getting the right partner, and having realistic expectations matters.  The board needs to also understand this is a long-term play.  If you are after short term returns go elsewhere!


Does Diversity Training ‘work’?

The Boston Globe published an interesting article on Diversity training suggesting it simply doesn’t work: Although I don’t agree with all of the sentiments of the author, there is a grain of truth in there. Bad diversity training doesn’t work, and unfortunately poor quality diversity training does exist.  Diversity training which merely focuses on the provision of information or statistics around diversity, and legal imperatives for ‘compliance’ does not necessarily lead to behavioral change, and in many instances may contribute to and reinforce negative stereotyping.   Definitions of cultures which utilize racial profiling, as is commonly the case in the USA, or only focus on defining the characteristics or behaviors of minority group members can also amplify the perception of difference and contribute to further marginalization.

The good news is, good diversity training works and has a significant impact.  The key, however is ensuring diversity programs leverage our understanding of group behavior and change management.  They also need to develop key skills and strategies to enable and facilitate participation and engagement among people from diverse backgrounds.

A globalising, and increasingly diverse workplace

Our workplaces need to change to reflect the changes in our world.  Greater workplace diversity is resulting from globalisation, labour mobility, and an ageing population.  Increasing levels of awareness of the need for greater participation of women, particularly at Board and senior management levels are also contributing to the need to get diversity right.  In Australia, ASX 200 companies are being required to report against gender for the first time.  Yet, change can be challenging, it is easy and comfortable to retain the status quo.  Effective diversity training can make a significant contribution to more effective workplaces, provided it is delivered in the right manner.

What diversity training needs to include

Effective diversity programs go beyond the provision of data regarding this business case, instead they challenge participants to reflect upon their own position and dominant perspectives and develop greater empathy and understanding of the realities of others.  Such reflection can be confronting and challenging, and it is vital diversity programs are delivered by highly competent facilitators, with a focus on organisational change management rather than simply information based training.

At Beasley Intercultural, we deliver diversity training to firstly raise awareness – not only of ‘the other’ but of the self.  Everyone has a complex identity, and has groups to which they belong and ‘cultures’ where they are in their comfort zone.  In our diversity training we explore the ‘cultures’ by which people identify and define themselves, and the spoken and implicit rules in those cultures.  We enable people to experience and reflect upon the unspoken ‘norms’ of participation and engagement in a workplace and reflect upon and the barriers may exist to inclusion and participation.

At Beasley Intercultural, we ensure our diversity training develops skills – skills in the navigation and negotiation of difference, and the ability to find common ground.  These skills are vital, not only in the internal processes within today’s organizations, but in providing service to our clients and penetrating and delivering to new markets.  So often, the key requirements for effective engagement stem from the need for interpersonal and communication skills.   We also draw upon the latest theory of how the brain works, and how people respond to difference to work with clients to expand personal comfort zones and develop greater skills in self-management in stressful or changing workplace environments.

Structural barriers to participation and inclusion need to be addressed

We also acknowledge training is just one element of the process of enabling more effective diversity management within organizations.  While training is effective for developing skills and awareness, it cannot be expected to address structural barriers to participation.  Issues of recruitment, induction, performance rewards, hours, and structure of business participation are also vital.

Change needs to be strategically planned and managed

Simply telling people about diversity is not enough.  Being told something is good for you is rarely an incentive to change.  Just think of the number of times we are told we should eat healthier food and exercise more.  We know it makes sense, we know we would feel better, but it’s just easier to do things as we always do.  If we are serious about making our institutions more inclusive, we need to plan a strategy, set targets and measure performance against these targets.  We must also include quality diversity training as a catalyst for change.  If you are hoping your business is more effective in client service, we don’t simply deliver ‘client service awareness’ – we need to be more thorough.  It is the same with diversity management.  Lets get beyond mere ‘awareness’ of Diversity and get focused on achieving results.

Contact us to request an overview of the Beasley Intercultural one-day ‘Diversity Essentials’ training package.

photo: renjith krishnan

Australia’s future in Asia – understanding cross-cultural complexity

Participating in a diverse or global workplace is no longer a choice.  Australia is connected and culturally diverse now, and our economic future is in the Asian region.  Forty five percent of Australians were born overseas or at least one of their parents were.  The fastest growing languages in Australia are Mandarin, Arabic and Hindi.  Our children are growing up in an interconnected world where Asian economies are having increasing influence.

In my business, a large part of our role is educating our clients about the realities of Asia. When we were engaged by Austrade to research Australian perceptions of Asian markets, we found Asia was often seen ‘a traditional yet poverty stricken region which needs Australian ‘help’’, rather than a business destination.  It’s interesting to look at where these perceptions originate. Due to prolific tourism campaigns, Asian cultures are widely seen as ‘traditional’ with highly evolved local crafts and ‘cultural activities’ such as vegetable carving and local dancing.  Another key source of information about Asia is the news which features footage of frequent natural disasters and a risk of terrorism.  The perspectives of Australia one would receive through similar channels may feature the dangers of sharks, spiders, fires and floods, and oversimplified, or images of swagmen, convicts and aboriginal people throwing boomerangs.  Such imagery does not reflect the daily experience of life in Australia, nor in Asian cultures.  The images of Asia we less frequently see are those of people like you and me living their lives, travelling to work on the train (which in many Asian cities is a far more pleasant and reliable experience than in Sydney) and working in a globally connected environment with high speed internet (far higher speeds than we have in Australia). Asia is a key business destination, and many Asian economies are the fastest growing in the world.

Cultural literacy is not only about recognising the surface symbols and visual cues of cultural difference.  Such symbols can readily lead us astray, and we often hear cultural difference being minimised due to the appearance of sameness “Culture is becoming the same everywhere, people drink Starbucks and wear Levi’s”.  To understand cultural difference, one needs to explore: the difference of values, beliefs and world-views; their origins; and the implications for how people act and interact in the world.  For example, for an Australian engineer to be effective when working on an infrastructure project in China, technical skills are not enough.  Cultural literacy will often make the difference between a bridge being built or significant delays being encountered. To enable a bridge to be built, it’s important to be able to lead a cross-cultural team, to negotiate with senior bureaucrats, and to communicate clearly with key project team members.  Such skills are developed through an understanding of the world-view of counterparts, their cultural origins and ideally, local language capabilities.

Cross-cultural collaboration is increasingly complex.  We are being called upon to assist global teams collaborate in a virtual, online environment.  Last year we worked with the leadership team of a large multinational company which involved key team members from more than ten Asian cultures and one Australian office.  When the team came together, we worked with the team to discuss and agree upon shared process, common goals, and behavioural norms. Behavioural flexibility, an awareness of one’s own cultural preferences, and the ability to develop close working relationships with others are essential skills. The Australian team members committed to listen more than they speak, Japanese colleagues committed to share their opinions when asked, Thais committed to share constructive feedback. Cultural ‘awareness’ is not enough. If someone needs to be a good leader, we don’t invest in ‘leadership awareness’ training. Awareness is essential and the first step, skills development follows.  Extensive research shows, individuals who are most effective across cultures have highly developed people skills, empathy, self awareness and a tolerance for ambiguity.  Such skills make us better citizens and fully contributing members of society.  The ability to recognise the strength and validity of diverse perspectives, to negotiate difference and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes are essential skills for a rapidly changing world.  Deep learning about other cultures is a primary avenue of developing such skills.

The issues we face as Australians can not be solved by technical knowledge, or by ourselves.  Global challenges confront us:  the global economic crisis, global warming, and resource scarcity are just a few examples. Australia’s ability to thrive and prosper as a nation is dependent on our ability to collaborate with our neighbours to work toward solutions on shared issues.  Particularly in post-colonial settings, there is a resistance to outsiders ‘telling’ what should be done, or alternatively a passive acceptance of the aid revenue stream.  As has been so strongly proven through the ineffectiveness of so much international aid, technical ‘skills transfer’ and dollars alone do not effectively enable communities. Multilateral agencies such as APEC are rethinking their models of capacity building.  In 2008, we designed a framework for capacity building in APEC, commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which focuses on ‘Twinning’.  Twinning is a way of developing partnerships for capacity building.  The most effective capacity building, and development happens through incremental approaches which are tailored to the local context and involve partnerships for mutual benefit.  A good example of such partnerships in the education space is the Asia Education Foundation’s School BRIDGE project.  The project will involve 90 Australian and 90 Indonesian educators from 40 Australian and 40 Indonesian schools.  These educators will work together to develop intercultural understanding, improve professional capacity to support implementation of Internet-based collaborative learning and actively support language learning.

Education in Asian cultures is highly valued, and cross-cultural learning and language skills are recognised as the key to guarantee future employability and economic security.  Hundreds of thousands of Asian students are highly literate in the cultures, and languages of the west and also of their home countries and regions, and will be competing in a global workplace with our children. 543 000 international students were studying in Australia in 2008 (Gillard, cited in The Australian, Guy Healey, Feb 26, 2009).  There are over 300 000 Australian alumni in Malaysia, and over 95 000 Indian students currently studying in Australia.  These students become competent at traversing intercultural spaces, expect to have career paths which involve global mobility, and will be able to draw on their international networks to achieve results.

As mother of two children under four years old, I have a vested interest in contributing to the conversation about our future national curriculum.  I don’t envy the National Curriculum Board their task in such a rapidly changing context.  One thing we can be certain of in these times of change is that the world will be radically different by the time our children graduate.  The ability to navigate difference, to find common ground with people from diverse backgrounds, and to deepen our knowledge of our cultural starting point will stand us in good stead.  I truly hope the Australian education system provides my children with the opportunities to develop key Asia skills and language abilities.  I honestly believe these are the skills which they will need for the future.

By Tamerlaine Beasley
Managing Director of Beasley Intercultural

Beasley Intercultural

Build capability, raise cultural awareness and develop a global mindset

For over 20 years, we’ve delivered transformational cross-cultural training to more than 15,000 people around the world.

Whether you’re in business, government or an international agency, our programs, advisory services  and executive coaching can support you and your team to build capability, raise cultural awareness and develop a global mindset.

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High Performing International Teams – The new complexity & key tips

In October, I travelled to York in the UK for a conference on ‘High Performing International Teams’.

Keynote presentations included: Fons Trompenaars discussing,  Servant Leadership and  Terry Brake exploring the key to effectiveness in Global teams.  The conference had some real highlights, including the opportunity to network with professionals from around the globe engaged in similar issues. One rather refreshing session was delivered by Carlos A Gonzalez-Carrasco on ‘Reframing Complexity in International Leadership’ ,

.  I was however, surprised by the ‘old school’ approach to intercultural issues by many presenters, the emphasis of many sessions still on ‘measuring’ cultures, and looking at cultures in isolation from the context and complexity of today’s globalised workplace.  The colonial connotation of the use of terminology such as ‘the Far East’ to refer to Asia also was rather odd.  ‘Far’ from where?  And ‘East’ of what?

It is sometimes very refreshing to be confronted with views you disagree with, and very helpful for defining what it is that we do actually believe, and the values and core approaches we hold true.  As a result of this experience, I have found it beneficial to define our core beliefs about the world we engage in with our clients:

We see:  Complexity, interconnectedness and interdependence, and an increasing reliance on global virtual teams operating in matrix structures.   We also see Increasing engagement with  Asia, particularly with China and India and a rapid increase in Asian investment in Western countries.

Challenges arising include:  negotiation and navigation of difference, issues o f power and systems, rapidity of change, the scale and complexity of issues to resolve, challenges of communication, collaboration and negotiation.

Opportunities include:  extraordinary opportunities to leverage difference of approach to create new, creative and exciting businesses, organisational communities and collaborative responses to the challenges of a changing globe.

A few key techniques to operating effectively:

1.     Develop an awareness of your own culture, perspectives and impact on your environment

Understand ‘where you are coming from’ in relation to people with whom you are engaging in the workplace.  You will be encountering such diversity and change, it is not always possible, to have an in-depth understanding of each and every cultural background of colleagues.  Rather, the one person who will always be present in any encounter is yourself.  To understand how your values, beliefs and cultural approaches may be different to that of others, and the potential impact of your behavior is very important.  Ultimately, you have control over your own interactions, but not necessarily those of others.

2.     Recognise pre-existing systems and leverage strengths

Local networks and systems are complex and embedded and have distinct power networks.  If you can’t, or don’t have the time to understand these, engage specialists for advice.  All communities, cultures and organisations  can have extraordinarily creative  responses to adversity and ways of guaranteeing results.  When working in new contexts, where possible, learn about and leverage local talents and don’t assume things must take longer to achieve.  With an appropriate approach, very limited resources can have viral and highly positive impact.  Quick action without understanding can damage, cost a lot and cause systemic  resistance.

3.     To understand and communicate clearly, observe, engage appropriately  and be strategic

There is a tendency to believe communication skills are all about making noise, rather than developing intuitive listening and watching skills to understand and engage with others.  Emotional intelligence, the ability to intuitively interact and to clearly communicate when necessary, and in an appropriate manner is vital when working in culturally diverse and globally connected workplaces.

4.     Manage risk through expecting and being flexible and adaptable in ‘chaos’ and building connectedness and community

Random events happen, systems and communities are ever changing, especially now due to the rapidity of globalisation.  Change is normal.  Individuals and organisations who  thrive in these environments of change will succeed.  A tolerance for ambiguity, the desire to engage with others, high level people and communication skills are key.

Diversity Matters – The People of Australia

Successful service delivery depends on understanding the market in which one operates, and recognising and adapting to demographic requirements. Australia is an extraordinarily culturally diverse country, and a new report ‘The People of Australia’ provides vital information about the population. The publication, released every five years, draws on Census data to show a range of demographic trends in local government areas including birthplaces, ancestry, languages and religious affiliations.  Some key statistics include:

  • Forty-five per cent of Australians are born overseas or have at least one parent who was born overseas
  • As a nation, we now speak more than 300 languages, and originate from around 230 different countries

Laurie Ferguson, Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Settlement Services said the report highlighted Australia’s massive transformation since its migration program started more than 60 years ago.  

“We should all be immensely proud that this transformation has occurred in a harmonious manner…Cultural diversity is a source of both social and economic wealth. It gives vibrancy and dynamism to Australian life and is essential to the nation’s economic strength.”

The publication shows that between 2001 and 2006:

  • Chinese, Indians and New Zealanders were the most rapidly growing overseasborn groups
  • Greater Dandenong (in outer Melbourne) became the multicultural capital with more than 25 different nationalities represented among its population
  • The number of South African-born people in Western Australia grew by 42 per cent
  • Australia’s fastest growing languages were Mandarin, Arabic and Hindi
  • Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism were our fastest growing religions

Click on link below to read a full copy of the report


Bikinis or burqinis? Islam in Australia

Realities of the diversity of the Muslim community in Australia are rarely represented in the Australian media.  A focus on September 11, Al Qaeda and minority groups within Islam can contribute to prejudice and a lack of awareness in the community.  Beasley Intercultural we are committed to conversations about cultural difference which enable greater understanding.  Later on this year, we will be hosting a panel of Muslim women who will discuss perceptions and realities of Islam.

Muslim women in Australia

Despite media attempts to portray them as such, all Muslim women are not oppressed victims! I had a wonderful opportunity last year to facilitate a session at the APEC Women’s Leaders forum on cross-cultural issues in business.  One of the participants was Aheda Zanetti, the founder and owner of the business Ahiida which manufactures the ‘burqini’ which she describes as “swimwear for the modern active Muslim female”.  What an inspiring woman, and a great business idea.  I loved the testimonial of the customer who wrote in about her new burqini saying “doing laps in it feels no different to wearing boardies and a rash vest”.  Ahiida told me that one of the interesting responses to her product has been the overwhelming support she has received, and particularly the desire for her product from non-Islamic customers.  She has been contacted by women who have been treated for myeloma, Hasidic Jews, and women who would like to swim but prefer more modest attire.  Her swimwear has enabled women of all backgrounds to enjoy the freedom that swimming provides.  

People Like Us

Waleed Aly is a lawyer, Muslim community leader and academic at Monash University, he is also a regular on the conversation hour on Radio National.  Aly’s book ‘People Like Us’ is an essential read for people who want to look beyond the media stereotypes and better understand the world we live in. I recently heard Aly present a session at the Lowy Insistute for International Policy.

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