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How to transform cultural differences and challenges into opportunities

Manpreet Kaur Senior Tax Manager, Ausenco
ยท 1050 words, 5 minute read

Looking back, I realise the act of moving from India to Australia at age 18 was a bit brave.

I left behind family and friends, the familiar streets of hometown Amritsar and my comfortable couch for a big city named Brisbane, where I hardly knew anyone. I still remember I was in tears leaving Amritsar Airport with doubts in my mind, “Can I actually do this?”.

In my early days in Brisbane, I discovered a few interesting cultural differences that took me a bit of getting used to. Firstly, strangers say hello in the street! It is not common practice in Amritsar for strangers to talk to you and I did not know how to respond. Secondly, I waited at a bus stop for over 10 minutes, where nearly six buses drove right past me. I wondered why the buses were not stopping for me… what’s wrong? Buses back home stop at every station. Perplexed at how I was going to board a bus, an elderly woman walked over to me and said, “Darl, you need to hail a bus for it to stop”. 

That one lovely gesture made me feel like I was in right place.

In a matter of weeks, I learnt how to hail buses, understand most commuting routes, sell Zinger burgers at KFC, and say “G’day mate” all while studying for my degree in Finance and Accounting at University. I felt a sense of belonging as a migrant.  

Skip forward 12 months, and I was featured on the front page of the Courier Mail as one of the International Student Ambassadors representing all Indian students in Brisbane. This was a personal proud moment for me and one I shared with my family back home. Just when I thought I had found my feet, I had another daunting task of venturing out into the “Real World”.

I will admit, I felt an immense amount of pressure to perform in my job that after my first day, I almost got run over by a bus. Luckily, the bus driver saw me and swiftly applied his brakes. From this experience, I realised I was never going to put anyone under that kind of pressure, including anyone in my team. It is okay to provide healthy challenges, but it is important to make sure you know your people well.

After my first day, I built confidence in my skills and capabilities and managed my time well. With this new mindset, I found that opportunities kept coming my way.

Fast forward 15 years and Brisbane is home. Moving countries has opened a lot of doors I didn’t think were possible, and provided with endless opportunities to support my growing career in the mining industry. I proudly lead the Ausenco Tax Division and Women@Ausenco Committee for APAC and Africa region.

As Vice President in the Women@Ausenco Committee, I am dedicated to championing our differences and giving females in the business a voice. All our initiatives aim to profile our female employees and foster diversity and inclusiveness.

I feel a great sense of accomplishment and have fundamentally grown from that girl who left India all those years ago. Although there were numerous challenges, cultural differences, and obstacles to overcome, a strong sense of persistence and believing in myself helped me get to where I am today.

Manpreet Kaur Headshot.jpg

For those who might be looking to move countries, change careers or shift mindsets, I have collected a few lessons learned that might help you in your journey.
  • It is okay to be different. Being different is your advantage and not the other way around. Coming from a different background allows you to bring a fresh new perspective and knowledge to the table. For example, being from a diverse background can help you unpack some of the cultural aspects when an organisation is required to go to a different jurisdiction for work.

  • You do not need to figure out everything at once. It is okay to know the route to the next stop but not the route to the destination, which is very relevant in the mining industry. There is always some level of uncertainty when your organisation needs to work in a different jurisdiction.

  • Go through your list of tasks on a regular basis and differentiate non value adding work from value adding work. Then find a way to automate the non value adding work.

  • Do not be afraid to do more as long you have the right support system around you. I was very grateful to have managers in my career who hardly micromanaged me. I somehow happened to do manager roles in each of my roles before becoming a manager. I was practising the manager skillsets under way less pressure.

  • Confidence is key. You got to believe in yourself for others to believe in you. This has been tough for me, and I will admit that it wasn’t until last year that I finally got it together. It has taken alot of practice and persistence, trying things outside of my comfort zone, pushing myself every single day, and reminding myself that I can do it.

  • You do not need to be a leader to lead. Start leading early in your career by participating in one of your work committees, joining not-for-profit organisations. You will be surprised how much you can gain from this experience rather than just being turned into a ‘manager’ in your next promotion. You can instantly be a leader by looking after the employee sitting next to you; taking them out for a coffee, sharing a joke in the office, or sharing the accomplishment of a team member in your next meeting.

  • Focus on the Big Picture. What is the team or organisation trying to achieve and then break it down into manageable steps.

  • Building relationships is key. It is important to build trust, which is not done overnight. It takes time and practice. You will need to let go of some wins on certain days to build trust. This is very relevant in the mining industry where collaboration among different teams is required almost daily.

  • Have a life outside of work. There is more to your life than just work. This will allow you to bring your best self to work after you had a great time with your friends and family.

This article was written by Manpreet Kaur,Senior Tax Manager, Ausenco.

Ausenco is a Major Partner for AusIMM's International Women's Day Event Series. For more inspiring stories like Manpreet's, follow AusIMM on social media and the hashtag #CelebratingWomeninMining

Join us for our fifth national International Women's Day Event Series, 3-10 March for inspiring celebratory luncheons and workshops where we will continue the conversation on diversity and inclusion in the resources sector.
Get your tickets here.

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