A Community Business Initiative

Book: A World of Difference

DIAN Guest Blog  – A World of Difference by Felicity Menzies

>> Find out more about Felicity Menzies, author of A World of Difference who is hosting a DIAN Member exclusive event, Book Launch: A World of Difference on 8 September in Singapore.  Click here for more details and to register for this event >>



Can you tell us a bit about you and your history?

My name is Felicity Menzies. I was born in Australia but have lived in Singapore for over 9 years. I moved here with my husband, Alex, and our two young daughters, Olivia and Imogen, who are truly ‘third culture kids’. Olivia turned two shortly after we arrived and Imogen was only three months old. In contrast, I was raised in a very culturally homogenous environment, but I had the tremendous opportunity to live in Canada for a year when I was 10-years old. I experienced Canada as vastly different to my childhood home of Adelaide, South Australia. Most notably, for the first time, I was exposed to a new language and two diverse new cultures—Anglo Canadian and French Canadian. I lived in Ottawa, which is the capital of Ontario, the province that borders the ethnically French-Canadian province of Quebec. Half of my day’s schooling was in French.

That short experience of living abroad and learning a new language was formative for me. When I returned to Australia, I was mocked by my classmates for my new accent and my use of different terms such as ‘eraser’, rather than ‘rubber’, and ‘bangs’ rather than ‘fringe’. I felt like an outsider in my own country. The experience of being different was confronting and I did all I could to fit back in. But my worldview had expanded beyond the confines of my birthplace and that triggered a life-long curiosity to learn more about different cultures and people.  

It was not until 13 years later, however, that I was able to indulge my passion for cultural difference. I transferred with my first corporate employer KMPG to London, which became a base for exploring Europe during my mid-twenties after which I settled in Sydney with Swiss-owned Investment Bank, UBS. Working for UBS was an exciting phase of my career because my experience abroad enabled me to successfully negotiate a transfer from a business support role to a revenue-generating position on the dealing floor—an opportunity not often offered to women. I have since worked in a number of senior business roles. My most recent corporate role was Head of Private Bank for Westpac in Singapore.

Why are you passionate about diversity and inclusion?

My passion for diversity and inclusion likely stems back to my childhood and the experience of being different at an early age—first as a foreigner in Canada and then upon returning to my hometown after having acquired new mannerisms through acculturating to my host country.  Also, I was raised by parents with inclusive values and that had a positive influence on my openness to difference.  In my professional life, the challenges of being a female in a heavily male-dominated industry as well as leading a culturally diverse team in an unfamiliar market further drove my passion for diversity and inclusion.

What experiences have led you to do the work you do today?

I took a career break a few years ago to raise my daughters and completed a second degree in Psychology. I became very interested in culture and diversity and inclusion during that time. I witnessed cultural tensions between diverse faculty and students on campus and was curious with regards to with how culture interacted with what I was studying with respect to human behavior and thought, intergroup relations and cognitive neuroscience. I started to reflect on my personal experience leading a culturally diverse team and how I might have improved my effectiveness if I’d better understood cultural differences and the nature and challenges of intergroup relations. I recognised that the business community at large is ill-equipped to manage cultural differences but that managing cultural risk will become increasingly critical for the sustainable success and growth of global businesses.

What is your experience in Asia?

I have lived, worked and studied in Asia for nine years. Three years ago, I set up Culture Plus Consulting to work with local and multinational corporate clients looking to manage diversity globally, My initial area of expertise was cultural intelligence (CQ), but we have since expanded our service offering to provide leadership support, training, diagnostics and coaching and mentoring services across a range of topics including unconscious bias, global diversity management and empowering professional women. We have worked with clients across a broad range of industries. Notable engagements include VISA, Macquarie Bank, World Vision, and NN Investment Partners (formerly ING).

Congratulations on the publication of your book, A World of Difference: Leading in Global Markets with Cultural Intelligence. What led you to write the book?

Thank you. A World of Difference is a labour of love— I collected stories and researched the topic for three years prior to writing the final copy. It is critical to me that my clients experience measurable changes. I achieve that by ensuring that my work is based on rigorous academic research and industry best practices.  Thus, my book began as a research project. While conducting research, I recognised that there was a gap in management texts offering guidance to managers and leaders on how to develop culturally intelligent workforces. I decided to write a text that went beyond suggestions for developing one’s own cultural intelligence to encompass solutions for organisations seeking to increase the cultural intelligence of their human capital so as to unlock the innovative potential of a culturally diverse workforce and succeed across diverse markets.

Can you give us the elevator pitch as to what the book is about?

A World of Difference is written for employees working in global teams, for managers, human resource professionals and leaders of global companies seeking to minimise the risks and unlock the strategic potential of cultural diversity. Readers will learn how to develop their own cultural intelligence and that of their workforce, as well as best-practices for managing and leading effectively across cultures.

What would be the key takeaways for readers?

A key takeaway from the book is that high levels of cultural intelligence develop socially as individuals engage in authentic exchanges with others from diverse cultural backgrounds. Cultural knowledge is largely tacit—information that is not easily documented. Tacit knowledge resides inside a person’s mind: worldviews, know-how, judgments, and cultural values, assumptions, beliefs, and norms. Tacit cultural knowledge is acquired through experience and reflection. Organisations that embrace a global mindset and engage in practices that promote authentic intercultural exchanges at work are best placed to develop a culturally intelligent workforce. Without the right foundation, however, employees who are thrust into a culturally diverse environment with a sink-or-swim approach are likely to suffer the negative consequences of culture-shock for job performance, attitudes and physical and mental health. Arming employees with a foundation level of the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to work effectively in culturally diverse settings helps them to avoid potentially damaging and costly early mistakes and equips them with the skills they need to self-learn from their intercultural experiences and work effectively with diverse colleagues globally.

What do you mean by “Cultural Intelligence”?

Cultural Intelligence is the capability to manage cultural diversity: the set of knowledge, skills, and abilities required to recognise, understand, reflect on, and adapt to cultural differences. Individuals with high Cultural Intelligence (CQ) display four main competencies: CQ Drive is your willingness to work with diverse others; CQ Knowledge is your understanding of culture and cultural differences; CQ Strategy is your ability to flex mentally; CQ Action is your ability to flex verbal and non-verbal behaviour. Studies show that the four competencies that form cultural intelligence predict important measures of performance in diverse cultural settings including enhanced problem solving and decision making, improved well-being, better task performance, greater collaboration and increased innovation and creativity. In fact, Cultural Intelligence is a better predictor of success in diverse settings than cognitive ability, emotional intelligence (EQ), personality, demographics and international experience.

How do individuals and leaders can promote intercultural harmony within teams and organisations, especially within multicultural work groups?

Cultural diversity creates challenges for group-work, but when managed effectively, culturally diverse groups outperform culturally homogenous groups. Managers of multicultural work groups can decrease the risk of tension and cultural subgroups (fault-lines) developing and unlock the strategic potential of cultural diversity by employing eight key practices: creating shared norms; increasing explicit communication; fostering friendships; encouraging information- sharing; strengthening group identity; developing cultural intelligence; undertaking regular progress reviews; and managing conflict cooperatively. Like all diversity and inclusion initiatives, those practices stand a greater chance of success when leadership support for cultural diversity is active and visible. A culturally diverse senior leadership team that models cultural intelligence is important and sends a powerful message to lower level staff.

What is one of your favourite books/TED talks/research relating to D&I - and why?

That’s a great question and I have recently set up a page on my website with a collection of my favourite diversity and inclusion videos. Chimamanda Ngoxi Adichie’s ‘The Danger of the Single Story’ is a highlight. She reflects on discovering her authentic cultural voice and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding of ourselves as well as others.

For books, Managing Diversity and Inclusion: An International Perspective by Jawad Syed and Mustafa Ozbilgin is invaluable. It is one of the few texts written on D&I from a global perspective.

Regarding D&I research, I am fascinated by the increasing body of research supporting the far-ranging negative implications of unconscious bias on workplace equality. For example, the study by Keysar & Lev Ari (2010) showed that individuals are less likely to believe factual information when it is delivered by someone whose accent is different from the dominant accent, even when alerted to the phenomena. In the same year, Sy showed that when Asian Americans were in roles in which they perceived to be more technically competent than Caucasian Americans they will still perceived to be less prototypical leaders than Caucasians.

What do you think is the next big thing in the D&I space in Asia (or any specific country in Asia)?

Obviously, gender is on the radar across Asia and should be a critical focus. But I also feel that organisations operating in Asia are sitting on innovation goldmine in terms of the diversity of thought inherent in the cultural diversity of their Asian workforces. I think that there will be an increasing focus on finding ways to extract that value and cultural intelligence will be instrumental in achieving that goal. There is also a lot of work being done on building a pipeline of local leaders with global mindsets.

Would you like to share any of your recent work with our members?

Over recent months, I’ve experienced an increase in demand from clients on unconscious bias training, particularly from MNC’s operating in the region. In response to demand, I have developed a structured approach to mitigating bias—SPACE (Slow Down, Perspective Taking, Ask Yourself, Cultural Intelligence and Exemplars and Expand). The SPACE acronym prompts participants to engage in five proven techniques for managing bias. SPACE also reinforces a key workshop message—to manage bias, individuals must create space to override their automatic reflexes with mindful responses. Including cultural intelligence is critical and necessary component of D&I training in this region, but cultural inclusion often is not addressed in programs originating out of North America. The SPACE approach ensures that cultural inclusion is addressed alongside traditional foci of race and gender.


Click here to register for Felicity's Book Launch: A World of Difference on 8 September in Singapore. 

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