Audrey Bevan, Founder and Managing Director, Accent HR

In human resources, there are leaders, and then there are visionaries. Audrey Bevan, the founder and managing director of Accent HR, undoubtedly falls into the latter category. Audrey’s journey into HR and cross-cultural leadership was sparked by her profound curiosity about different cultures. Despite being born and raised in a mono-cultural family in France, her upbringing instilled an unquenchable fascination with how people from diverse backgrounds perceive the world around them.

Audrey fondly recollects, “At the tender age of 20, I declared my aspiration to work across cultures, emphasizing that I would not confine myself to my native France.” Her unwavering determination garnered support from her friends and family, propelling her into a life of exploration across various countries.

During her travels, Audrey encountered exceptional mentors who possessed the extraordinary ability to push her beyond her limits, endowing her with skills that continue to serve her admirably. As she advanced in her career, assuming senior HR roles within global organizations, Audrey meticulously honed her leadership abilities and HR expertise. Managing cross-cultural teams evolved into both a challenge and an exhilarating adventure.

Audrey reflects, “As good leadership takes on distinct forms and behaviors in various cultures, I learned to adapt and adopt different styles depending on my audience and location. It became second nature to me.” It became patently clear to Audrey that numerous organizational challenges stem from leaders and organizations failing to adapt to diverse cultural contexts. Audrey states, “I learned through experience how cultural disparities can either undermine a project or organization or provide a competitive advantage. This is when the concept of Accent HR crystallized into a viable business venture.”

Audrey’s global experience now spans over 15 years, during which she immersed herself in diverse cultures across Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. As a seasoned HR Director and a Fellow of the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI), she has confronted a broad spectrum of HR challenges. These challenges ranged from underperforming teams and internal conflicts to frustrated managers and ambitious transformation initiatives that often fell short of expectations.

Audrey points out, “My observation from this extensive experience is that a significant portion of workplace issues, both personnel and performance-related, stems from cultural misunderstandings. Resolving these misunderstandings is my specialty.” In addition to her profound cultural insights, Audrey is bilingual in English and French, a testament to her unwavering commitment to effective cross-cultural communication. She hasn’t merely studied the intricacies of multicultural life and workplaces; she has lived and breathed them, having resided in France, the UK, Singapore, and currently calling Australia her home.

Cultivating Cultural Intelligence

Establishing Accent HR presented Audrey Bevan with a set of initial challenges that tested her determination and strategic acumen. One of the primary hurdles Audrey encountered was effectively articulating the significance of cultural nuances in the business world. She candidly explains, “Cultural nuances profoundly impact various aspects of business, from work processes to problem-solving and even the design of new technologies. At the outset, I often met with perplexed expressions.”

The second challenge Audrey faced was related to lead generation. Initially, she relied on conferences and networking events to connect with potential clients, but this approach proved less effective than anticipated. Audrey recalls, “Everything changed for the better once I addressed these two issues. The core idea and services offered by Accent HR remained the same; I simply learned to pitch them more effectively to the right audience.”

Today, Accent HR is dedicated to addressing the impact of cultural backgrounds on how people engage, manage teams, and assess performance. Audrey recognizes that many organizations seek to standardize HR practices globally, overlooking the cultural diversity within their workforce. She notes, “Even well-regarded HR best practices are culturally homogenous, often rooted in Anglo-Saxon cultures. This leads to a missed opportunity, as the advantages of a culturally diverse workforce and marketplace are not fully realized in HR practices. This is where Accent HR comes in.”

Accent HR’s core mission revolves around empowering organizations to tap into the full potential of their culturally diverse workforce and marketplace. To achieve this, the company provides a range of solutions that focus on developing both individual and organizational cultural intelligence. By enhancing cultural intelligence, organizations can ensure that employees from diverse backgrounds feel engaged, valued, and perform at their best. Audrey elaborates, “We achieve this by utilizing data insights to optimize all processes, policies, and systems for cultural diversity.”

Accent HR doesn’t stop at short-term fixes; the company invests in the long-term capability development of managers and leadership teams. This focus on building cross-cultural competence equips leaders to navigate and excel in cross-cultural environments, whether they are domestic or international. It’s a proactive approach to fostering effective cross-cultural communication and collaboration.

In essence, Accent HR distinguishes itself by recognizing that one-size-fits-all HR practices fall short in a culturally diverse world. By tailoring HR solutions to the specific cultural context of each organization, the company ensures that the wealth of experience within the employee base is leveraged to enhance organizational performance. This approach perfectly aligns with Accent HR’s core values: “All Cultures Are of Equal Value,” “Continuous Improvement and Quality Are Essential,” and “Honesty Is the Only Way Forward.” These values are not mere words; they are the guiding principles shaping every interaction and driving the work of Accent HR.

Unlocking Diversity’s Power

Accent HR’s comprehensive approach to addressing cultural diversity and its influence on HR challenges is both enlightening and forward-thinking. The company commences its journey by employing a combination of data analysis, interviews, and root cause analysis to uncover the underlying issues within an organization. Audrey explains, “Fundamentally, this step involves examining issues people face and questioning whether cultural differences might be at the heart of the matter.” This approach recognizes that many people-related challenges, such as conflicts between managers and employees or underperformance, may indeed stem from cultural misunderstandings.

To prevent the recurrence of such issues, Accent HR collaborates with organizations to construct frameworks, policies, and processes that serve as guardrails against cultural misunderstandings. For example, they question whether traditional tools like CVs are the most effective way for individuals from cultures with strong oral communication traditions to showcase their skills. They also assess whether leave policies align with the cultural norms and obligations of the diverse cultures within the workforce. Additionally, they examine whether performance assessments consider individual objectives within the context of a collective culture.

Accent HR places significant emphasis on nurturing both individual and organizational cultural intelligence. This is accomplished through an array of methods, including training, coaching, and hands-on experience. Audrey underscores the importance of this skill set by stating, “This skill set is essential for the future due to the increasingly interconnected nature of work. It’s no longer the sole domain of managers stationed overseas.”

In today’s world, where remote work has become the norm, the ability to navigate cultural differences is more critical than ever. Remote interactions through screens can pose challenges in reading social cues and adapting to other cultures. Hence, Accent HR underscores the need for heightened effort and focus on developing cultural intelligence in a remote working environment.

Audrey emphasizes the fact that whether organizations operate domestically or internationally, they invariably function within a culturally diverse context. This reality underscores the need for a considerate approach to designing employment solutions that account for and respect cultural diversity. By doing so, organizations can harness the benefits of a diverse workforce while minimizing potential conflicts and misunderstandings.

Transforming Organizations through Cultural Intelligence

Accent HR’s success stories with clients underscore the company’s proficiency in navigating the intricate landscape of cultural diversity within organizations. Let’s explore these stories to witness how Accent HR has truly made a difference:

British Council:

The British Council operates on a global scale, with a significant presence in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region. While they established HR policies in the UK, the challenge arose when these policies needed adaptation to meet local legal requirements and, beyond that, to assess top talent in a culturally intelligent manner. Leaders required support in recognizing and nurturing talent based on a deep understanding of diverse cultural contexts. Accent HR took on this challenge by challenging assessments that appeared biased and probing into leaders’ initial assumptions about what defined good performance in Asian countries.

One of the pivotal realizations was that employees from Anglo-Saxon backgrounds, who often vocalized their achievements, were not always the most effective in local markets or leadership roles. Accent HR addressed this by providing practical demonstrations, reinforcing diversity and inclusion principles within HR processes, and offering constructive feedback. They took proactive steps to enhance leaders’ cultural intelligence, enabling them to effectively lead and leverage culturally diverse teams across Asian markets.

Open Architecture Studio:

Open Architecture Studio specializes in architectural projects associated with education, sports, tourism, and mixed-use communities. Their workforce represents diverse cultural backgrounds from all continents. The challenge in this context was to craft HR policies that struck a balance between being prescriptive enough for effective business operations and respecting the needs and circumstances of employees from various cultural backgrounds.

For instance, Accent HR worked on aligning policies to accommodate an Indonesian employee’s requirement to return to Indonesia for an extended period due to cultural traditions, such as a sister’s wedding. They also addressed the necessity for feedback to be delivered to an Italian employee in a manner that aligned with his cultural background.

Accent HR provided a two-fold solution for Open Architecture Studio. Firstly, they meticulously reviewed and refined policies to minimize the risk of misinterpretation while ensuring flexibility for employees. This approach aimed to establish a shared understanding of the employment environment and cater to both individual and collective performance enhancements. Secondly, Accent HR supported and advised Open’s CEO in developing his cultural intelligence, enabling him to adapt his leadership approach effectively across diverse cultures within the organization.

Guiding the Way with Commitment to Values in Action

Accent HR’s values aren’t mere words on paper; they are the foundational principles that shape the company’s interactions with its clients and the work it undertakes. A vivid example of this commitment is seen in the partnership with AACAFS (Australian Aboriginal Child and Family Services), where Accent HR embarked on a remarkable journey to infuse Aboriginal culture into every facet of their employment practices.

This ambitious undertaking encompassed values and behaviors, organization design, recruitment, reward systems, well-being initiatives, policies, and talent management. Accent HR willingly embraced the challenge of redefining what best practice meant in this unique context and reimagining the essence of “good.”

Audrey eloquently articulates, “I brought my APAC experience to challenge assumptions regarding what constitutes best practice and what ‘good’ genuinely signifies. All HR approaches were meticulously designed with Aboriginal cultures at their core.” Despite the legal and HR context in Australia being grounded in Anglo-Saxon cultures, Accent HR’s approach proved instrumental in harmonizing all aspects of employment with Aboriginal cultures. This alignment not only realized AACAFS’s visionary goals but also ensured that their services were culturally sensitive and relevant to the people they served.

Fostering Cultural Inclusivity for a Diverse World

Accent HR takes immense pride in its industry-agnostic approach. As Audrey states, “We do not target or prefer any specific industry. Instead, our focus lies in assisting organizations that meet specific criteria, including having employees from culturally diverse backgrounds, a commitment to improving cultural diversity, considering different cultural perspectives in their products or services, or expanding into culturally unfamiliar markets.” This inclusive approach positions Accent HR to offer valuable insights and solutions to a diverse array of clients.

In the short term, Accent HR remains dedicated to its core focus areas, which encompass helping organizations harness the wealth of experiences found in culturally diverse employees, enhancing cultural diversity, and integrating diverse cultural perspectives into various facets of business.

Looking into the medium term, the company is actively developing talent management solutions that assess participants’ cultural intelligence, predict their performance in various roles and chart development plans based on key competencies. These applications have the potential to extend to areas such as succession planning, leadership development, selection processes, and expatriation preparation.

In the long term, Accent HR harbors a lofty ambition—contributing to the development of AI solutions that counter human biases regarding cultural diversity. Their vision encompasses collaboration with AI experts and tech solution providers, particularly in the talent and recruitment domain, to ensure that AI technology advances diversity and inclusivity rather than perpetuating existing biases.

Empowering AI for Inclusivity and Equity

In a rapidly evolving HR landscape, technology plays an ever-expanding role, and Audrey remains optimistic about the potential of AI in the professional realm. She observes, “I see AI as an incredible opportunity to achieve greater technical efficiency and eliminate human errors. For example, I can easily envision using it to create content, videos, and training modules that can be easily customized and adapted to our needs.”

Yet, Audrey also harbors concerns regarding AI’s capacity to magnify biases, particularly in contexts such as job recruitment. She elucidates, “Consider a single mom from an underrepresented ethnicity in your country applying for a job. Without meticulous design, the selection AI may automatically exclude her because she doesn’t ‘fit the mold’ of past successful applicants. This is already an issue with human selection, but the truly concerning aspect is the scale at which AI can perpetuate this bias to hire individuals who resemble us in appearance, lifestyle, and educational background.”

Audrey’s perspective extends to the pivotal importance of preserving and reflecting the diversity of cultural perspectives and knowledge within AI systems. She firmly believes that AI can serve as a potent instrument for presenting a broader range of viewpoints and experiences, counteracting the limitations of traditional responses. Audrey states, “This is why professionals developing AI solutions bear the responsibility to educate themselves on cultural differences, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) principles. They should proactively seek input from individuals who can guide them in making their AI less biased. I see an immense opportunity for innovation in how AI can learn from and reflect the wealth of histories, perspectives, and experiences of people across the globe.”

Audrey’s long-term vision is crystal clear: she aspires to make the future less biased, particularly for underrepresented groups. Her ambition is to harness innovative AI solutions that foster fairness, diversity, and inclusivity. In Audrey Bevan’s view, AI holds the potential to be a transformative force for positive change, nurturing a more equitable and inclusive global society.

For More Info:

Content Disclaimer

Related Articles