I took the plunge after years in corporate life, study and lecturing to start my own practice. I expected it to be hard, but did not expect the response to my personal brand that I got. My constructive feedback was not that my pricing was wrong or my content was off the mark but that I was the wrong FIT for the audience. I took this on the chin for the first few rejections, because I am acutely aware that I am different. I look different, I sound different, I am not born in Australia (although my three children are), I was not educated here (well not my previous 2 degrees, but I do have a Masters of HRM from Monash, that does that qualify?). I understand that for coaching, leadership, organisation development, facilitation and change management, that maybe I would not be received as well by senior leadership, compared to say a sports psychologist ex-St Kevin’s boy. Yes, I am different, I acknowledge that. So on I plodded, getting more savvy with my content, accrediting myself, learning more and making my pitch perfect. I got out there, networked in a strategic way, still the same feedback of FIT came to bite me.
So I got tired, what was the FIT really? So I asked an ex-colleague who actually rejected by proposal based on the wrong FIT. She was honest enough to say the labels I did not want to hear: “Indian, female, young looking, not enough Australian experience” was the feedback she got overtly and covertly from senior leaders. These labels were not unfamiliar – most of them were my barrier to opportunity in my early career in South Africa and I fought against them with hard work and higher education just like my parents role modeled.
This time around the labels stopped me in my tracks, maybe because I was tired of proving myself beyond my brown skin and gender. Coming up for air, my research brain kicked in, maybe this was a one off? Seeking validation, I rang up and talked face to face with six HR senior leaders (a mix of male and female, yet all of them not brown) where I had sent a proposal previously to humbly ask why not me? I got the usual, skating around and then the FIT word came like a crystal bell or a 1000 deafening screams…probing more I asked and got confirmation that it was at least 1 or 2 labels: “Indian, female, young looking and not enough Australian experience”.
Option 1: Cry about it?
Option 2: Go back to being an employee in HR and hiding in an organisation (11 years of working in Australia, seemed to hide my labels effectively)?
Option 3: Or launch a practice working with an audience that needed my labels?
There was little deliberation, Option 3 was my turning point, coupled with a deep reflection of where in my career I was the happiest. It was when I was at Optus as a Business Relationship Manager for Offshore, working with India – I was highly valued for my mix masala of a background. India loved my South Indian heritage, I got them and they got me. Optus loved my South African work ethic that made my Indian-ness just the right flavor to drive performance and my Australian experience was more than enough to get the Aussie customer experience…aaah FIT, I was the perfect size!
And so am I now leading my practice, working with Australian clients doing business offshore with Asia and Africa.
Div Pillay is a cross cultural expert and Co-Founder of MindTribes – a Telstra Business Award Finalist & Westpac Businesses of Tomorrow company that, optimises performance by realigning people and leaders, when working across different country and organisation cultures.