The Intercultural Profession: An emerging profession with multiple workforce applications (by Anne-Claude Lambelet)

This was the theme of the talk Linda Vignac, President of SIETAR France, and I recently gave at the University of Bourgogne’s ‘Career Opportunities in the Intercultural Sector’ seminar. The audience were participants in the Master of Arts in Intercultural Management program, plus their course leader Alex Frame; interculturalist George Simons; other presenters, including Dr Saila Poutiainen from the University of Helsinki; and several other academics from the University of Bourgogne.

SIETAR Switzerland has a strong connection with the University of Bourgogne M.A. in Intercultural Management program, as the university is one of our corporate members.

The M.A. students come from diverse national cultures, including China, Nepal, Russia and Syria. Whether they are visiting students or long-term residents in France, these individuals represent the diversity and enthusiasm for ‘all things intercultural’ that you would expect to find in such a group.

Our presentation was based on a short survey we had just run on national SIETAR associations and on a study undertaken by Susan Salzbrenner in 2014. Top findings confirmed our own association’s composition, and challenges are representative of a broader picture across the profession.

Findings

Largest SIETAR membership group are trainers, coaches and educators, followed by academics working in the field.

The majority of SIETAR members are self-employed or work for SMEs.
Interculturalists tend to wear multiple hats. Almost all members combine training, coaching and other activities on a day-to-day basis. In general, intercultural training may represent around 65% of their overall professional activity.

Many interculturalists were drawn to the profession because of their personal histories, whether they grew up as Third Culture Kids, have immigrant or refugee origins, are or have been involved in an intercultural partnership or have extensive expatriate experience.

This profession still attracts a majority of women (75% according to the Salzbrenner research).

New areas of work/consulting for interculturalists include science of education programs, diversity departments, therapists working in the field of inter-gender relationships, intercultural mediation, journalism, police and government departments dealing with migrants and refugees, social justice, coaching sports professionals or teams, health care practitioners and the tourism industry.

The challenges faced were also varied. Not surprisingly, finding clients and convincing them that intercultural training is about bottom-line impact is listed at the top of the challenge list. This is because organizations’ approach to intercultural communication trainings/coaching is rarely stand alone but rather part of a change management or M&A context, where specialists are sometimes called in much too late. Intercultural training is often undervalued, with intercultural competence viewed as a soft skill, which can lead to unrealistic demands and/or expectations. There is a lack of the kind of solid research in the area of return on investment (ROI) that would make a solid case for the profession.

One of the closing remarks of the day was a plea addressed to academia for solid research on the business value of intercultural trainings, the ROI and the impact on the bottom line that these trainings represent for organizations.

The students will be looking for project work, internships or CV-enhancing activities, so you might like to keep this in mind!

Anne Claude Lambelet is the President of SIETAR Switzerland. She has lived and worked internationally all her life and has extensive first-hand knowledge and understanding of various cultures and countries in Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa. Anne-Claude has over 20 years’ successful experience in high-level expatriate management, support, and training. She is the founder and director of ACL Consulting.

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