Culturally Diverse Leader with Khin Kha

Interview with a "Self Made Leader"!


Overcoming internal and external barriers, Khin Kha truly demonstrates the embodiment of strength. Moving to Australia for a better life at a young age, she stood for herself and carved her path professionally without much support. Like many migrants, she has had her fair share of challenges and continues to embrace them in the current market. She is passionate about supporting women like her who moved here with no support, Khin started her own support group called ‘Phoenix Sisters’. Today I bring to you her story and her learnings.

Thank you Khin for accepting being part of this series with Changewindow,Lets talk little bit about your early arrival to Australia?

I moved to Australia in 2000 with my brother and sister. My parents decided that Australia would offer a great education and the best opportunities for our future.

How was your initial experience here? Culturally and Socially when you arrived?

Australia was a completely new world to us. However, I did my research before the move by watching the ‘Home and Away’ TV show to familiarise myself with Australian culture and the Australian accent.


I also watched a lot of American movies to learn the western school and college culture so it wasn’t a complete shock to my system. I had some mixed feelings about moving here. I loved that I suddenly got the freedom away from my parents’ strict rules. But I had difficulty making or keeping friends back home as we were home-schooled for the few years before moving to Australia.


I looked forward to the move hoping that I’ll get to go to school again and make new friends. It wasn’t that simple and it was especially hard because we didn’t have a close family member or an adult who could guide us through this new world

What was your first role here and what workplace challenges have you felt here as a Culturally Diverse Leader?

My first job was a sales assistant at Woolworths while I was in Year 11. The role taught me customer service and was also a great way to fast-track learning Australian culture through peers and customers.


​The first role in which I realised that there are cultural challenges at the workplace is when I was working as a consultant at a well-known consulting company. I was trying my hardest to be promoted by meeting all the requirements and doing more that I was required to. However, my efforts were continually overlooked because the management team didn’t feel that I was ready. At the same time, there were other candidates who were promoted without having to meet all the requirements but still got promoted because the management felt that s/he was ready. The management used the term ‘the candidate was an exception to the rules’. I started to question why all the rules applied to me when I was trying to get promoted. I wanted to know what made the candidates who were promoted an exception to the rules.


I learned the answer soon after. I was on a project working very hard on a presentation. When I asked the senior manager if I was presenting, he replied that I won’t be because most of the audience will be middle age men with grey hair who wouldn’t listen to me. This hit home for me. It prompted me to start questioning everything. It made me question how many times people have made decisions on my fate based on how I looked.

After this I started sharing my experience with people with similar backgrounds to me and I learned that they have all had similar experience. Since then I started Phoenix Sisters (www.phoenixsisters.org) to support women of a CALD background to overcome challenges and thrive in the Australian workplaces. I’ve managed to keep the momentum and share the message to more and more people by hosting and sharing the stories at the CALD networking events and support group meetings.

Tell me a bit about what you do now in your current role?

I am contracting for the first time with a federal government department

How did you overcome your challenges?

I believe communication is key to overcoming most of the challenges. I’ve learned to share my experience with other people and get advice. Sometimes I can interpret a situation completely differently from what actually happened.
 
I learned to trust and listen to my close peers in addressing work related challenges. It is important to include Australians and people from other cultures in my peers to ensure that I have a balanced point of view. I’ve also learned to talk to the people who have offended me or made me feel uncomfortable.
 
There were times when I have taken individuals aside and let them know how I felt because of their action or comment. Most of the time, they apologised because they didn’t mean the offence or they didn’t realise that their behaviours were offensive.

What would be your biggest advise that you would like to give to CALD Leaders?

Help the newcomers to Australia understand that, if they are planning to live in Australia, they must learn the Australian culture.They must appreciate the Australian ways of life and their customs.

This will help them immensely when they communicate their stories to Australians who wish to understand more about their culture. This doesn’t mean that insensitive behaviour or ignorance should be tolerated – it is incumbent on both sides to try to learn cultural sensitivities. At the same time, we can’t expect everyone to know what the correct behaviour is in dealing with your culture. Sometimes we have educate and inform others because there may not be anyone else who is willing or know enough to do this on your behalf.

Try sharing the message in a positive way if possible. Positive stories empower people more by giving them a sense of hope in their ability to make an impact and change for the better. To make any critical change, you can’t do it alone. You must support others who share the same dreams and try to grow the network. Believe that we can do it together and persistence will pay off one day.

Very true indeed, helping is so important to support and grow in whatever you do. It is amazing to see that you have actually taken a step towards doing the right thing. If you are a new migrant and seeking support, I would highly recommend to reach out to Khin. (www.phoenixsisters.org)


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