ADVICE: Building a career with resilience and how to shift a company mindset to agile

Hema Kangeson has a diverse career, spanning a decade in banking and finance and another decade in agile, lean and digital transformation consulting. She’s worked in Malaysia, the UK, and Australia, and now provides a range of career, agile and lean, and business consulting for professionals and businesses.

Hema’s international experiences were varied and along the way she experienced a lot of challenges, particularly after arriving in Australia and needing to take “three steps down” in her career.

After this experience, Hema switched industries and has been dedicated to supporting other professionals of diverse backgrounds with navigating the corporate sector ever since.

Overcoming stereotypes

In Hema’s experience, there are multiple challenges to thriving in the corporate sector due to preconceived stereotypes. For example, in Australia, she observed, “Brown women in tech are assumed to be from India. I’m actually not Indian, I’m Malaysian and my background is actually Sri Lankan.”

For the diverse professionals she coaches, the common challenges they are finding are linked to self-confidence and needing to work towards a certain ideal of what leadership looks like, which often doesn’t align with their natural tendencies.

For professionals who are struggling in the workplace, Hema advises, “Listen to feedback. Instead of asking, ‘Why is this happening to me?’, ask ‘What can I do about it?’. Increase your self-awareness and understand your talents through external tools, such as Gallup. When I did this, I realised what activities were sucking my energy and what was energising me.”

She continues, “There is always a way. Don’t give up. A lot of people feel stuck and freeze, but it’s important to reach out. There are so many people out there who can pull you forward and support you and guide you. Reach out to people who have gone through lived experiences.”

Shifting mindsets to lead in agile

Switching to agile workforces, processes and ways of working is regularly cited as being critical to business survival long-term. In Hema’s experience, though, the agile mindset needs to be the first step and biggest ongoing priority.

She explains, “There is a fear of the change that is happening. People are not ready to move forward. With agile and lean, the mindset in Australia is tactical rather than strategic. That’s because of the exposure of the people here – you’re as good as the five people around you. In Australia, it’s likely you’ve been in the same company for the past five years and are likely to never have been challenged. And people who join the company and challenge the status quo are considered a threat.”

Taking a top down approach

Hema recommends businesses start the organisation-wide mindset shift from the leadership level.

She says, “It has to start from top down. Leaders need to start shedding all of the things they’re worried about, like power and control. They need to be able to have honest conversations about how they’re going to ensure change.

“So many companies are doing multiple digital transformation efforts with multiple consultancies focusing on different areas, but these are based on tactical approaches. To succeed, it needs to be about embedded behaviours that are embraced by staff.”

Getting the right talent

As well as nurturing the right mindset with existing staff, the end-to-end recruitment process needs to be reviewed to ensure agile and lean processes are continuously practiced and improved. Hema believes it’s important for employers to allow for “psychological safety, flexibility, and inclusivity”, which is what talent are looking for.

The skills recruiters are looking for also need to change. Hema recommends shifting the focus from tech skills to assessing abilities around collaboration, communication and curiosity.

She also believes the current “tick-the-box exercise” of job interviews can be detrimental to businesses being able to explore the full talent pool. She says, “This cuts out a whole group of people who are curious, keen to learn, and might have experiences from outside Australia which may be very powerful.”

One way to shake up the system, Hema suggests, is to “have a one or two week paid test period. Make it more like a trial and be very clear and honest on what it is.”

About the expert

Hema, is a vibrant change catalyst with optimistic energy and an authentic drive, leaning to shift the balance in the corporate world by empowering culturally diverse individuals design their ideal careers. She utilises her past struggles to illuminate a desirable career path for culturally diverse individuals and works with organisations to recognise the need to optimise their human capital to meet challenges and thrive in the future of work that is changing rapidly through her company inSpur.

Hema has the distinct honour of having worked across three continents (Asia | Europe | Australia), and she possesses the wit, knowledge and the acute experience to lead as an example for her clients. She is a Chartered Accountant (ICAEW) who qualified in PwC and  was disappointed when her recent years of experience in a top-tier firm in London was not even considered in the Australian market. Despite this, she pushed through all obstacles and thrived, achieving the highest success in her career. As an accredited coach, agile and lean trainer and Gallup Strengths expert, Hema aims to use her insights, her personal job experience of 20 years across continents, her wide ranging skills and the corporate network she has established over the years to ensure individuals from culturally diverse communities are no longer underutilised and craft the career of their dreams. Hema also works in conjunction with growth minded, people focused organisations wanting to activate the potential of their leaders and teams, improve their culture and successfully implement sustainable change across the workplace.

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