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Meet Dr Jean Lau Chin

6 September 2018
Jean is 2018 Fulbright Distinguished Chair at the National Centre for Cultural Competence
Finding time between her research and running for president of the American Psychological Association, the psychologist and author shares her ideas on global and diverse leadership with IH resident and Westpac Future Leaders Scholar, Ishaa Sandhu
Jean and Ishaa facing each other during interview in library

Ishaa: Jean, you’re living at International House, and you’re part of our community. As you know, International House is made up of students from all sorts of backgrounds and disciplines, and I think it’s a really unique place to live. I’m curious to hear what you think an environment like this does for cultural competence?

Jean: I feel it’s been quite a privilege to live here and to mingle and interact with other residents. This has provided a really important dimension to my experience here; to be part of that network, or community within a community, in terms of the University. What this means is quite significant from the standpoint of diversity in terms of leadership, because International House views its mission and goal as to provide a culture with an international mix, and also to support its residents in terms of leadership within that context. I think International House provides an excellent opportunity to operationalise or concretise those kinds of goals and missions. I attended the concert of alumni and resident musical performances. It was pointed out to me that the last performance, which included a Chinese ensemble, was a song that was initially composed in Spain in English, and then ultimately translated into Chinese. The performance included traditional Chinese instruments along with the western guitar. And it all came together in a way that made really beautiful music. I think this symbolises how international House can and does promote diversity and leadership, and operationalises these objectives in creating innovation, and in promoting a climate of exchange, inclusion, and participation. It demonstrates how International House is achieving the broader goal of using leadership to achieve the greater good of improving people’s lives.

It’s not only about representation but what you do when you lead, that reflects an attention to diversity.

Ishaa: The focus of your work is on making leadership diverse; making leaders on boards and leaders in the community a diverse representation of the society we live in. Would you like to tell us a bit more about the value of having diversity in leadership?

Jean: That’s a really important question. When I first looked into leadership, I looked at many leadership models and ended up finding there weren’t any that really looked at the issues of diversity in leadership. There’s two points that I want to make in response to your question. One is that diversity is not just about representation. It’s not how many of x numbers or types of people in particular groups are around the table in the room. Second, it’s not only about representation but what you do when you lead, that reflects an attention to diversity. When someone leads and pays attention to the members of the group as if they’re all the same, then often they represent and reflect the dominant group in society. That often ends up not being very culturally competent or diverse in one’s leadership. It’s not only about who the leader is, although that’s important, but also how the leader goes about engaging, interacting and leading.

Ishaa: What sort of advice would you then give to the students of today, and what role do we play in driving forward leadership in diversity?

Jean: One of the things that I’ve talked about in terms of leadership is the importance of looking at our past, present and future. One statement that’s been made is ‘you need to look at your past to see your future.’ And this has many implications, but in terms of students – you are our future. To recognise this is important. So the message is to look at how to be culturally competent, which is self-awareness, and the reflection and recognition of one’s biases, but also what one brings, and how to use that in what you do in your career and your life. So, I think that one message is: how do you keep that mindset, about who you are and what you bring, to the discussion in terms of your future? And the second message is to prepare yourself with the process of asking “what do I need to do to be prepared to live, to lead, and to work in a future that’s not going to be anything like what we are in right now?”