In this edition of Careers Insights, YAIA Careers Officer Bayan Yazdani explores the unique challenges and opportunities for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) Australians interested in pursuing a career in international affairs.
Australia is a proudly multicultural nation, with over half the population either born overseas or having at least one parent who was. However, it is no secret that the diversity of the Australian population is not yet fully reflected in its political establishment and some other mainstream institutions. While many private firms and agencies within the Australian Public Service alike are increasingly appreciative of diversity in all its forms, and many such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have developed relevant strategies to attract, include, and celebrate Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) employees, it is understandable that some Australians of migrant background may question or be uncertain of their place in our nation’s international relations architecture.
Representing Our Nation as CALD Australians
The YAIA Careers Team recently highlighted the countless opportunities available for both volunteering roles and graduate programs related to international affairs, but Australians from a migrant background may nonetheless feel imposter syndrome when applying for relevant positions. After all, we cannot help that some people, not just at home but also overseas, still largely associate Australian identity with European ancestry and features. In fact, we may have come to internalise such viewpoints as true within ourselves; this is partly an intergenerational consequence of our notorious White Australia Policy. Having been officially dismantled for good in 1973 by the Whitlam Government, we have since come to understand the serious shortcomings of a racist immigration policy and no longer discriminate on the basis of applicants’ skin colour, ethnicity, cultural background, religion or other social markers for professional recruitment. It is for this exact reason my family migrated to Australia from Iran when I was a toddler; belief in the heavily persecuted Baha’i Faith means that Baha’is in Iran are not allowed to represent their own country in any official capacity, somewhat aligning with the barriers faced by First Nations Australians and other minority groups over the course of Australian history.
Australia has come a very long way since the 1970s and today is a vibrant, cosmopolitan, and cohesive society. In fact, ours has often been described as “the most successful multicultural nation in the world” – with research to back it up. This does not mean, however, that racial prejudice has been completely eliminated from our society. Unfortunately, segments of the population still hold rather outdated views as to what it means to be an Australian and to represent Australia. Thankfully, though, most people now understand that Australian identity relates to adherence to our shared values much more than our ethnicity or cultural background. Notwithstanding, many first and second-generation Australians can justifiably feel stuck between two worlds – neither fully Australian nor *insert exotic demonym*, and this dynamic is particularly complicated for those of us who originate from authoritarian countries which do not adhere to the international rules-based order.
Despite our families leaving those countries to escape the same oppression and autocratic systems of governance Australia often holds to account, we might sometimes feel that our loyalty to this nation and all it stands for is questioned due to the way bilateral disputes and other issues are represented by the media and influential personalities. This is particularly concerning in the context of rising regional tensions when, for example, large numbers of Chinese-Australians have reported being discriminated against.
Leveraging Your Cultural Diversity in Your Job Search
It is vital for us to recognise the unique perspective and value CALD individuals can bring to teams and organisations, thereby enhancing their operations and public relations. In addition to our generic skills and qualifications, we can often provide a much-needed bridge for negotiations on diplomatic or trade disputes. Some of us possess language skills, inherited from our parents or grandparents (and perhaps strengthened through additional study), which we can utilise to provide interpreting or translating services for others. Our strong intercultural understanding can help attract and integrate new migrants and international students to contribute to Australia’s economic prosperity, or support new partnerships for mutual benefit. Perhaps our business engagements run more smoothly because of our wider connections, useful language skills, and deep understanding of notions like ‘face’ and eastern etiquette.
Indeed, our different and unique analytical toolkit is an asset in protecting Australia’s national security in the face of compounding threats such as foreign cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns. There are several interpersonal and practical skills that our multicultural identities can evoke in an internationally-focused career, and this is true for Indigenous Australians and Australians from relatively recent European or American origin as much as it is for those with roots in Africa, Asia, the Pacific or the Middle East.
Being in my final year of studies, I am currently undertaking the arduous graduate recruitment process myself. This stressful period, with its many responses to selection criteria, demanding cognitive testing and interviews, has provided me with several opportunities to share my diverse experiences, accumulated through internship, volunteering and part-time roles, with potential employers. I have learnt that internationally-facing organisations are frequently looking for skills such as intercultural understanding, collaboration, communication, problem solving, and an appreciation for human diversity. Therefore, it is crucial to highlight these skills and associated qualities throughout your CV and cover letters in order to stand out from the crowd. Do not underestimate their value or think that they are irrelevant in the Australian market.
So, What Now?
Practically speaking, some aspects of your CALD identity that you can consider including in your next job application include:
The foreign languages you speak, to whatever extent. These can demonstrate your ability to communicate and relate to a wide variety of people and cultures;
The strategies you used when you established yourself in Australia, or travelled elsewhere. This can provide a clear example of your adaptability and problem solving ability under challenging circumstances, which are traits highly sought-after by many employers;
The strategies you used when finding a new community network upon moving to Australia. This can align with how you might quickly form and maintain new business relationships and networks, which is a critical skill in many industries;
Experiences in leadership, collaboration, organisation, or managing events that you have had from your membership with your cultural or religious community. These are perfectly acceptable examples for a job application that can demonstrate how you meet key selection criteria; and
Any experiences that you have had in resolving a miscommunication in any context. This can demonstrate your ability to work well with others, or provide quality customer/client service.
It is exactly these skills and experiences that have contributed to who you are today and can differentiate you from others. Employers are generally looking to understand what makes you unique and, often, how your cultural identity in particular has shaped the person you have become. For further tips and ideas, check out Annelies Coessens’s piece on what Third-Culture Kids can bring to the foreign affairs profession.
I Am, You Are, We Are Australian (Thanks Qantas!)
The next time we question whether we are qualified to represent Australia in an international capacity, we must remind ourselves that despite some ongoing challenges, the trajectory is certainly improving. It doesn’t matter where our ancestors or parents came from, where we were born, or what non-English languages we speak, as long as we identify ourselves as Australians and believe in upholding Australia’s values, then we are just as suited to represent our nation as other Australians. Whether that be for a government department, university, civil society institution, think-tank, multinational NGO, consultancy, business firm, or even as New Colombo Plan Scholars – of whom about a quarter speak a language other than English at home!
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