Welcome to The Bicultural Podcast.
- Tiffany’s story about being bicultural
- Advantages of being bicultural
- Differences between British and Australian audiences
- The importance of diversity in STEM
Janina Neumann (00:31):
Hi Tiffany, how are you?
Tiffany Dawson (00:33):
Hi, I’m good. Thank you. How are you today?
Janina Neumann (00:35):
I’m very well, thank you. I’m really happy to have you on my podcast today.
Tiffany Dawson (00:40):
Oh, I’m so excited to be here.
Janina Neumann (00:42):
Would you like to give us a short introduction about yourself and your business?
Tiffany Dawson (00:48):
Yeah, of course. So, I am a career strategist for women in STEM. So STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and maths. And my main thing is to give women in STEM the vision and confidence to create wildly fulfilling careers without compromising their family and social lives. Now I’m really, really passionate about promoting women in STEM because I used to be one. So I was a mechanical engineer in the construction industry for about eight years and I went through all the usual struggles that women in male-dominated workplaces face.
Tiffany Dawson (01:31):
And I was really lucky that I was able to get help with that. I became so passionate about it, that I decided that that is something that I want to do full time and dedicate my career to. So that’s how I got to starting up Tiffany Dawson Coaching.
Janina Neumann (01:47):
Wow, that’s fantastic. And I’m really looking forward to hearing more about that.
So how did you become bicultural?
Tiffany Dawson (01:58):
So I guess heritage is Chinese. I was born in Hong Kong, but my mum and dad and I moved to Australia when I was just eight months old. So I guess I was born into a Chinese family and grew up in Australia. So I kind of, I guess I looked different to most of my school friends. I had different food at home compared to other people, so that was kind of my childhood all the way up until university and the start of my working life. And then I guess another layer on top of that is that I now live in the UK. So, I’m also adjusting between Australian and British culture as well.
Janina Neumann (02:51):
That’s really cool.
So you touched upon the importance of food, and how that sometimes can make you feel like a bit of an outcast. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?
Tiffany Dawson (03:06):
Yeah, definitely. So I guess the classic thing is being embarrassed about what your mum and dad pack you for lunch to take to school. So you know, my friends at school, they’d usually have a peanut butter and jam sandwich or, for us Australians, have Vegemite sandwich to take to school, the pretty usual stock standard lunches that you’d see in most people’s lunchboxes there. But sometimes I would get all sorts of weird and wonderful Chinese delicacies to eat at lunch, which, you know, if that happened to me now, I’d be over the moon about it. But back then, all I wanted to do was be like my school friends and not stand out from the crowd. So it was sometimes a bit embarrassing when I’d open up my lunch box and I’d have something completely different and people were asking me, “Oh, what’s that? What is that brown thing?”.
Janina Neumann (04:09):
Well, that is really interesting. And I can definitely relate to sometimes feeling that you need to fit in all the time as a child. But funnily enough, as soon as we’re older, we always want to stand out. And it’s just really interesting to hear your story about that.
Tiffany Dawson (04:29):
Yeah, for sure. And I guess, you know, as I’ve become older, I have definitely grown my appreciation for delicious Chinese food. It’s probably one of the best cuisines in the world, in my opinion now. But back then it was, yeah, it’s definitely all about trying to fit in and be like your friends and not stand out. But as you said, growing up, and especially in the workplace, you do need to find a way to stand out from the crowd, not just based on what you look like and what you eat, but, obviously to do with your strengths and, you know, the diverse background that you do bring to work.
Janina Neumann (05:11):
So what advantages has biculturalism given you?
Tiffany Dawson (05:18):
So, I probably didn’t really realise what the advantages were until I was a grown up, but definitely one of the main things was, I guess my appreciation of other people’s cultures and things that they do day-to-day. So maybe I am able to be more empathetic to people who have a different culture to the norm, based on wherever we live. And therefore, if someone says something that other people might feel is harsh or rude or they’ve, you know, worded it did in a way that doesn’t seem normal compared to other people. Instead of getting offended or feeling like that person’s rude, I’m more able to, I guess, realise that, you know, they do actually come from a different culture and they probably didn’t mean to be rude. They’re just trying to get their point across in the way that they would usually say it in their own culture. So I guess, there’s a better understanding and I guess, open-mindedness about how other people behave. I don’t know if you find the same thing as well?
Janina Neumann (06:34):
Yes, definitely. I would also think that sometimes it’s about asking more questions and perhaps not directly asking the question of, “Where’s your heritage from?”, or “Where’s that accent from?”, sometimes it’s just about, you know, “What are your hobbies?”, or “What do you find interesting?”, or “How did that make you feel?”, and to find some common ground.
Do you have some tips about how to connect with other people who are different from you?
Tiffany Dawson (07:11):
I guess, you know, much of what you’ve just said there, be curious about what their lives are like, what they do day to day, what they enjoy doing, what they do in their spare time, what books they’re reading at the moment, I guess, finding common ground, but then also learning about their differences compared to you is also really interesting. So definitely having a mind of curiosity that helps.
Tiffany Dawson (07:47):
I wanted to share an example about how I realised that different cultures do things differently and not to get offended by it. So I actually spent one semester of my university studies in Malaysia. So I did most of my university studies in Australia, but I got to do an exchange program for half a year. So I went off to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia for half a year. And the culture there is very, very different to Australian culture. The one thing that kind of stood out was, it was kind of a bit of a silly thing, but I feel like I learned a lot from it. When I was sitting in lectures with other students, I would often hear other students, like if they had a cold, instead of blowing their nose, that’d snort up whatever disgusting phlegm was in their system.
Tiffany Dawson (08:47):
So kind of took me a few months ago, like, “Oh, why are they doing that? So disgusting”. But again, it wasn’t until I, you know, became friends with some of the Malaysian, you know, the local Malaysian students there that I realised and found out that in Malaysian culture, it was more polite to snort up whatever it was then to blow your nose. So like blowing your nose audibly was really rude. So then I was like, “Oh my goodness, they must have been thinking the same thing of me, every time I was blowing my nose in class and thinking about how disgusting I was”. So even though that was kind of like a bit of a silly exchange, I feel like that taught me a lot in the fact that the way that I do things is not always right. It’s just that different cultures do things differently. So I think I really learned to be a lot more open-minded and empathetic because of that, I guess, silly observation.
Janina Neumann (09:54):
That’s a great story. And also, I guess, in a business environment that’s really important because you want to make the other person feel as comfortable as possible. And if, for example, you’re blowing your nose and you make the other person feel uncomfortable, it’s probably not the best way to build a business relationship.
Tiffany Dawson (10:18):
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, other little things such as, you know, when you point to something. So if, if you’re ordering something or you’re pointing towards a direction pointing with your index finger is rude, everyone points with their thumb there, so that’s something I had to learn as well. So again, when I found out that I was pointing incorrectly, I was just horrified at how rude people must’ve thought I was.
Janina Neumann (10:47):
That’s really interesting because it’s just so natural to us, about how we point, but also I know that there are differences in how you say, with your fingers “two” in England and also “two” in Germany. So you can actually distinguish where people are from.
Tiffany Dawson (11:05):
Janina Neumann (11:07):
Yes. So that’s really interesting that you give the example about pointing because sometimes you’re so passionate about pointing somewhere, you couldn’t actually think about how you point.
Tiffany Dawson (11:21):
Yeah, definitely. I actually learned a good trick for, you know, facilitating workshops. So sometimes I speak to my clients about, you know, running, doing talks and running workshops. And I think one of the best tips in terms of pointing is, you know, sometimes you might have to group people in a workshop to work together and instead of pointing at them because, you know, pointing is such a, seems like a very culturally, you know, scandalous thing to do. So instead of pointing with your index finger or thumb, you kind of just lay out your whole hand and like with your palm facing upwards and point your hand towards the person, because that seems to be the least offensive way to point to people.
Janina Neumann (12:11):
That’s an excellent point. I’ll keep that in mind.
So you touched upon that there are differences between British and Australian audiences. Would you like to tell us a little bit more about how you’ve found both audiences?
Tiffany Dawson (12:30):
Yeah, for sure. I guess my biggest learning ground for this was when I got my first job in the UK I had, so I started my career in Australia and worked for just over a year. Then I was lucky enough to get transferred to their London office. So I put up my hand right away. I was like, yes, take me there. So that’s probably where I learned the most about it. I honestly thought before I moved that there would be no cultural differences whatsoever. I just thought, you know, I’m moving to another English speaking country. There’s lots of British people in my current workplace in Australia and, you know, I don’t see anything too different about working with them.
Tiffany Dawson (13:16):
But I guess the longer I worked there, the more I realised there were some pretty big differences actually in the workplace. I think the first, well, the biggest thing really was how we communicate with each other. So obviously the speaking language is the same, but the way that we communicate is quite different. So in Australia, we are pretty direct in how we say things. So there’s not much beating around the bush. We really just get to the point straightaway. So if there is constructive feedback to be given it, you know, you just go straight into it and you just don’t get offended by that, because that is just how we communicate normally, that’s fine. In the UK, it seems that you do need to be a bit more polite about how you go about giving constructive feedback and you know, really trying to create a great relationship with a person first and make sure, you know, they’re okay that, you know, speak a bit about the general topic first, then talk a little bit about what the issue might be and how to solve it.
Tiffany Dawson (14:36):
Then talk about something positive again. So when I first moved to the UK, I found this very frustrating because I just wanted to get my point across quickly. But again, I had to remember that, you know, the way that British people do things isn’t incorrect. It’s just a different culture and I am now in their culture. So I need to be able to communicate in the way that fits in there. So I think that was probably the biggest thing I noticed changing from Australia and the UK is just the directness of speaking. I found that at times I had to actually ask some of my British colleagues to read over my emails before I sent them. So as an engineer and project manager, I often had to tell people off for not doing their jobs. So, I would write an email that was probably quite direct telling them, you know, what I needed them to do and when I needed them to do it by and where they might’ve failed at some point and what we can do moving forward. I had to ask some of my British colleagues to re-read those emails and help me Britishise them, if I can make up that word. So that I wasn’t getting on the wrong side of these people, because I did need to work with these people. I didn’t want to offend them, but I also needed them to do their jobs. So it was a bit of a fine balancing act. So that’s probably one of the best things that I did was just to lean on my colleagues who could actually help me with my communication there.
Janina Neumann (16:26):
That’s a really interesting story. And thank you for sharing some tips on how to overcome cultural barriers when you’re aware of them.
So do you think that in a group environment, there are differences to how group harmony is preserved in Australia or in the UK?
Tiffany Dawson (16:48):
That’s a good question. I guess for me, humour is a really important part to my life and to my friendships and relationships. And I guess, luckily, British humour does come across quite well in Australia where I think the humour there is, in both countries, are quite dry, maybe a bit self-deprecating and sarcastic. So that works quite well. I know speaking with some other cultures, that type of humour doesn’t work. So I think actually in terms of keeping group harmony, it’s probably quite similar, there’s, you know, love of sports and, similar topics of conversation.
Janina Neumann (17:34):
How fantastic, that’s really interesting to hear.
So tell us more about cultural diversity and how it affects working in STEM.
Tiffany Dawson (17:50):
Yeah, so I guess in STEM, you know, if we think about all four fields, science, tech, engineering, and maths, all of the fields are based on either solving problems or finding out more about what problems are in the world. So when you’re solving problems or working with problems in general, it’s really important to have a team of people working on the problem, who all have very diverse ways of thinking, because if everyone thought the same way, you wouldn’t identify problems, new problems in the world, or you might not be able to come up with great solutions. So in these workplaces, in STEM workplaces, it is so important to have diversity so that we can solve problems quicker, in more innovative ways, and I guess, come up with better solutions for things.
Tiffany Dawson (18:50):
And there’s lots of research that’s been done about diverse teams solving problems. So I can’t remember when this piece of research was done, but there was one example of where they got two groups of people to solve the same problem. Now, one group was homogenous. So they were all kind of similar background, probably the same gender. And the other group was all from diverse backgrounds. So different cultures, different genders, different sexual orientations, all these different people, all in one group. Now, the homogenous group, so that first group, they made more mistakes than the second group. And the theory is that when everyone is similar, they don’t question each other as much. So they might not do as much kind of checking of work and actually asking people why they’ve come up with that solution, whereas the diverse group, because everyone’s so different, it forces people to be more curious as to why someone’s thought a certain way or put a solution forward in that way. So I think that shows a pretty clear example of why diverse teams in STEM is so important.
Janina Neumann (20:14):
That’s really interesting to hear.
So in terms of solving problems, have you got any examples that you’ve experienced, how culture really helped solve a problem?
Tiffany Dawson (20:33):
I don’t know if I’ve got a specific one to do with how culture solved a problem, but I guess, in some ways it’s really important have diverse teams because then you can actually have a team of people solving a problem that represents the people who need that problem solved. So for example, I mean not to do with culture, but to do with gender. Most of the buying power in the UK, so people who buy holidays, cars, clothes, food, there’s lots of research that’s been done that there’s a high, like super high, percentage of the people who have the buying power are female. And when all the people who are solving those problems and creating, you know, new bits of software or apps or services, when all the people who are creating those things are mostly male, they miss out on being able to provide a solution that maybe a female would like to use, or that is more suitable for females to use. So in the same way, culture, especially in engineering projects, sometimes you do have projects in different countries. So I know my previous workplace, we did quite a bit of work in Singapore, but there was no one in my team who knew Singapore very well. So I do sometimes wonder whether we missed out on being able to provide the best solution because we didn’t have that cultural awareness.
Janina Neumann (22:24):
Yes, exactly. It’s always a hurdle sometimes to overcome.
So, what would you say to people, how to overcome these barriers in STEM?
Tiffany Dawson (22:39):
I guess in STEM, it’s quite a tricky thing to solve. So, if anyone is listening who does work in STEM, you’ll probably know that we do have quite a difficult challenge with diversity. So the majority of people who work in STEM are Caucasian and male, there are obviously people from other cultures and genders as well, but not quite enough to represent the people who need the problem solved. So in overcoming the issue, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. So lots of people in workplaces who are, especially people who hire in new candidates, they’ll say that the issue is because there aren’t enough diverse people choosing to study STEM subjects. And therefore, there are less diverse range of people actually graduating from STEM and being able to enter the workforce.
Tiffany Dawson (23:42):
But then if you speak to people who work in schools and universities, they’ll say that the issue is that there aren’t enough diverse role models in senior positions, i.e. those in workplaces to encourage them to study STEM in the workplace. So you can see how both parties are pointing the finger at each other, and you can’t really fix one without the other. So I think really work needs to be done at school age and in the workplace at senior levels as well. We can’t keep blaming each other for the issue. I think both parties need to do something about it. So there’s heaps of amazing work being done at schools right now for STEM outreach. So they’ll have people from industry come into schools and do some really cool projects with school kids in classtime to encourage them to be interested in STEM and to teach them about what they would do day to day as a worker in STEM.
Tiffany Dawson (24:48):
So there’s so much work being done there already. And I think, you know, if that keeps going on that will really encourage more kids to take up STEM subjects. The problem I see is when they reach the stage where they enter a workplace, if there aren’t many diverse people within the leadership team above them, then we’re almost setting them up to fail. So we really do need to do more work in increasing diversity in leadership and in, you know, mid to senior levels in STEM companies in order to make all of that hard work worthwhile.
Janina Neumann (25:34):
Yeah, so those are great observations.
And I was just thinking, could you just clarify for us what diversity means to you?
Tiffany Dawson (25:43):
Sure. I guess diversity doesn’t necessarily mean, you know, different genders or different racial backgrounds. The important thing about diversity really is diversity of thought. So, you know, I was talking about solving problems earlier, in more diverse ways that people think, the better that problem is going to be solved and the better the solution. I guess, in terms of trying to guarantee that we have diversity of thought is to create cultural diversity and gender diversity within those workplaces. So it’s really about, you know, also different education backgrounds. I know most engineering companies will only allow people who have graduated from university with an engineering degree to enter the workforce. But I’ve also worked with people who didn’t have an engineering degree who are amazing engineers and they solve problems in completely different ways. So it’s important to note that diversity is sometimes not something you can see.
Janina Neumann (27:01):
That’s really interesting.
So are there particular traits that make a good engineer?
Tiffany Dawson (27:08):
I guess, in terms of being an engineer, not necessarily. I think that lots of people will think that, you know, you have to be good at maths or you have to be maybe a little bit nerdy or I guess, that there are things that people think an engineer should look like or act like, but I really think, you know, if a good engineer just loves to look at problems and solve them, I think, and no matter what way you do it in whether that is through great knowledge of maths or not, I think, yeah, maybe just a passion of solving problems is the only thing you would need.
Janina Neumann (28:02):
It’s been fantastic to listen to you, Tiffany.
So, how can people connect with you if they loved hearing from you and would like to work with you?
Tiffany Dawson (28:11):
Great. Yeah, it’s been amazing to be on this show. I listened to your other episodes as well, so I’ve been so excited to be here and it’s yeah, it’s definitely blown my mind being your guests. Thank you very much for having me. The best way to connect with me is probably through my website, which is www.tiffanydawson.co. There you can find links to my LinkedIn account, to my email address, and also my Instagram account. I also have a Facebook community, especially for women in STEM. So if you are a woman in STEM, I would love for you to join in, the Facebook group is called, ‘Wonder Women in STEM‘. So you can search that in the Facebook groups bar. And that’s where we talk about all things, career strategy and yeah, women are really open to sharing their challenges and getting support from each other, so it’s a really supportive place there. I also have my very own podcast, which is called, ‘How to be a STEMinist‘, and that is all about how women in STEM can, I guess, take back control of their own career progression and learn a bit about, I guess, gender diversity issues in the workplace as well. So I would love if anyone would like to check that out.
Janina Neumann (29:40):
Oh, fantastic. It’s been so good to have you on Tiffany. Thank you very much for being my guest. Thank you for sharing your stories and opening up the world to STEM to us. It’s been great.
Tiffany Dawson (29:51):
Oh, thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
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