Why we need to ask everyone: What’s your story?
March 5, 2020
Hanna believes culture is less about where we come from, and more about the journey that got us there. She’s taken the best of the many culture’s she’s been exposed to throughout her life and forged her own path. This is her story.
I was born in Indonesia and grew up around South-East Asia. But I landed in Perth when I was ten years old, and that’s where I stayed for 20 years. Culturally, I didn’t feel like I knew who I was.
My ethnicity is Middle Eastern, but I wasn’t exposed to much of that culture. But I also didn’t feel 100% Australian. It was confusing. But the confusion was soon replaced by a feeling of freedom – I didn’t have any cultural expectations imposed on me. I felt like I had a clean slate to decide for myself what I wanted to value and how I wanted to behave.
As a result, I’m not what people expect. When people see my name on an email they make assumptions about me, that I’ll have a particular style of working because of my race or perhaps won’t be a good ‘cultural fit’ in their team. In fact, because of my multi-cultural background, I find it easier to relate to people from all different walks of life.
With my partner - being in an inter-racial relationship has been easy thanks to amazing supportive family and community.
I’m priviledged to work at an organisation like Accenture that values diversity. But in roles I’ve had at previous companies, I’ve dreaded meeting people for the first time. Because instead of being able to walk into a room and get on with my job, I felt like I needed to spend time making people comfortable.
That kind of unconscious bias is so hard to talk about. People don’t realise that they’re acting in a certain way. Or if I try to articulate the experience, it’s dismissed as not a big deal. That’s why I’m so proud to be the lead for Accenture’s cross-cutural group so I can make people aware of small changes they can make that will have a big difference in our workplaces.
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“That’s why I want to hear people’s stories. Because if I understand how you got here – the choices you made, the values you cherish – I can be a better colleague, friend and leader.”
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The key to that is recognising everyone’s culture is unique. Lots of people I’ve spoken to within Accenture and at other companies have had atypical upbringings and come from unique backgrounds. This is something we should openly celebrate! I love this blog from my colleague Sunil who talks about the importance of bringing our whole selves to work. At the end of the day, everyone is a bit of a misfit and I think that’s a great thing.
I love travelling, this is a picture of me in Vietnam.
I’ve come to realise that who you are is about far more than where you’re from. It’s a culmination of everything that’s happened to you – the journey that led you to where you are now... your socio-economic upbringing, the way you were raised, the challenges you’ve overcome... those things can affect you far more than your race.
As the cross-cultural lead with my partner in crime, Claire Hales, I want to spread the idea that being inclusive isn’t about accepting where someone comes from, it’s about appreciating their journey and finding out about their values and mindset.
That’s why I want to hear people’s stories. Because if I understand how you got here – the choices you made, the values you cherish – I can be a better colleague, friend and leader.
I’m excited the traditional ways of the workplace are changing. Corporate work used to be about staying disconnected and ‘professional’. Now we realise the most important thing is to understand each other and be 100% ourselves.
My pet bunny, Monty – just because I love him
Because people do their best work when they’re not hiding parts of themselves. And, for some of us, the only place we can be ourselves is at work! We spend more than half of our lives here. It’s so important that we understand and trust the people we share that time with.
So, I’m encouraging you to be brave and share your story – and to ask others around the business to do the same. My guess is, you’ll be surprised and inspired by the complex, clever, courageous people you work with.