Stories for a brighter tomorrow | Activist
Wesa Chau is founder and CEO of Cultural Intelligence
Cultural Intelligence is a consulting firm offering training and research to promote cultural diversity and innovative thinking within organisations across Australia.
Wesa Chau is founder and CEO of Cultural Intelligence
Though you may not have guessed it from her present-day success, Wesa’s road to leadership has been far from easy. “I came over to Australia with my parents at the age of seven and had to adapt to a whole new culture,” says Wesa. “I was reticent and withdrawn throughout school, so I would never have dreamed I’d get into politics when I grew up.”
Finding her voice
Wesa describes her childhood as reflecting the experience of many Asian families. “I grew up in a household where you were expected to work hard and never speak back to your parents,” says Wesa. “As a Chinese girl growing up in a totally different environment, I was timid in school and would get really anxious whenever we had to do any public speaking.”
Despite her discomfort, Wesa recognised the personal and professional importance of self-expression and vowed to push herself out of her comfort zone in her university years. “I made a promise to myself that I would find a way to become a successful public speaker,” Wesa explains. “So during my time there, I took every opportunity to put myself out there.”
"I made a promise to myself that I would find a way to become a successful public speaker.”
A few years of brave self-development later, Wesa’s many accolades spoke for themselves. To date, her impressive list of achievements includes:
- Young Victorian of the Year Award 2010
- Australian Leadership Award 2013
- Victorian Student of the Year 2016
- category winner of the 40 under 40 Most Influential Asian-Australians 2020.
Alumni Impact Awards 2021
Wesa Chau was an Innovation Impact Award Finalist for 2021.
A rewarding transition
Originally envisioning a career in commerce or software development, Wesa first studied Engineering and Commerce at the University of Melbourne. “It was the most obvious choice for my younger self as an Asian Australian,” says Wesa. “But I soon realised it wasn’t really what I wanted, and a few months into my graduate management consultancy job, I knew that wasn’t either.”
After getting involved with the international students at her university and becoming more invested in their journeys, Wesa decided to follow her passion for helping others find their voice in the world. “I started the Australian Federation of International Students and began fighting for the rights of international students,” says Wesa. “In order to be a better advocate and pursue what I really loved, I transitioned into the not-for-profit sector. That’s when my cultural diversity work really began.”
Tools for change
In 2011, Wesa decided to complete a Business Management Masters at Swinburne to refine her skillset and become a better advocate for change. “Swinburne had a wonderful multicultural community, and I felt very at home there,” says Wesa. “Learning the skills necessary to build and manage a business gave me confidence in myself as a leader.”
"Learning the skills necessary to build and manage a business gave me confidence in myself as a leader."
Equipped with a multitude of practical skills and newfound confidence, Wesa quickly set to work creating Cultural Intelligence, a specialist consulting company educating organisations on the power of engaging with a culturally diverse audience – a journey that was inspired by my lecturer and mentor at Swinburne Ian Allsop.
“Cultural Intelligence encompasses research, training and consulting, each of which is tailored to helping organisations reach people from all cultural backgrounds,” explains Wesa. “In retrospect, I’m so glad I decided to follow the work I love. It’s gratifying to be a bridge between communities and companies.”
A tireless advocate for multicultural leadership
Wesa has improved the experience of countless international students and other community members through her years as an advocate. According to Wesa, her impressive drive to make an impact comes from a deep desire to build a more inclusive and connected world.
“Because of our unconscious biases, we grow up thinking that leaders should look and behave in a certain way,” Wesa explains. “But our multicultural communities need strong leaders that share our experience to represent us. It’s my personal mission to make that happen.”
"Our multicultural communities need strong leaders that share our experience to represent us. It’s my personal mission to make that happen.”
In 2014, Wesa took that mission a step further by returning to Swinburne, where she is now undertaking her PhD in political skills. “It’s been really interesting to see how important relationship-building skills are in successful political careers,” says Wesa.
“Cultural and personal differences can make that process a much greater challenge, so I’ve been working on initiatives like A+ Influencers that explore how we can hone our leadership skills without compromising our cultural identity.”
From a shy seven-year-old finding her footing in Australia to an influential businesswoman and politician, Wesa has come an incredibly long way, both personally and professionally.
For anyone inspired to begin a similar journey, Wesa shares the following words. “I thought I knew all the answers when I was twenty-five, but now, years after embarking on a huge career change to follow what I loved, I realise that’s rarely the case. So to all the aspiring leaders and innovators out there, I’d say this: follow your heart to discover what you really love and who you really are. It may take time, but there’s nothing more rewarding in the end.”