No Flights Needed: How FleishmanHillard Creates Virtual Expatriate Experiences For Up-and-Coming Talent
Expatriate assignments are well-established, pivotal growth experiences that shape talented individuals into global leaders — not something many encounter every day. But this year, FleishmanHillard’s diversity fellows did. After an impressive period of growth and expansion, FleishmanHillard bolstered its Alfred Fleishman Diversity Fellowship program, a U.S.-based internship for diverse young talent, with the Cross-Cultural Connections program, a virtual expatriate experience for industry up-and-comers.
Fellows who opted in were paired with peers from Asia-Pacific on a project of their choosing for three months. These unique collaborations gave participants an all-encompassing experience with a glimpse at PR work beyond their current borders.
The program was designed to help fellows and their partners:
- Understand and appreciate cultural differences
- Learn global PR, communications and media best practices
- Experience the scale of an international network
- Foster growth and connections outside their everyday teams
This year’s Cross-Cultural Connections participants include:
We met with a few to learn more through a little Q&A. These are the highlights:
What excited you about the program?
“I joined the program because my role as a fellow in the Los Angeles area was 100% focused on external client work. I didn’t have a lot of connections to our internal network or DE&I-related work. My client work is primarily on a national scale, so I was looking for an opportunity to work on a global scale.” – Breeahna Dobson, Alfred Fleishman Diversity Fellow, Los Angeles
“I wanted to explore an overseas working culture, and to connect with our U.S. colleagues. I saw that there are many differences, but also that we have things in common.” – Leo Chung, Senior Account Executive, Hong Kong
“I joined the program mostly because I wanted to branch out of my traditional office work and meet other people outside of the country. I knew that this program was the first of its kind and I thought it would be cool to participate.” – Julia Mariano, Assistant Account Executive, Sacramento
How did the program build your experience with international colleagues?
“This is the first time I have had a chance to work with someone from a global office.” – Julia Mariano, Assistant Account Executive, Sacramento
Carmen Fanning studied abroad in college, but this program was her first opportunity to partner with people from other countries in a work setting.
For Cheryl Pan, who has extensive international work experience, the program offered a chance to form deeper connections.
“My work with BlueCurrent and FleishmanHillard has given me the opportunity to work with colleagues across the U.K. and the U.S. and I have always benefited from that work. However, this program was an opportunity to do a deep dive, connect with colleagues in another part of the world, and understand their culture by working on a passion project together.” – Cheryl Pan, Vice President, BlueCurrent Hong Kong
How did you decide your project’s focus?
Breeahna and her partner Cheryl studied the intersection of tech and diversity and inclusion. Coming from two major bay areas, Breeahna from the San Francisco Bay Area and Cheryl from the Hong Kong Bay Area, they presented a ‘bay-to-bay’ comparison between the two regions.
“DE&I is discussed a lot in tech and the industry plays a big role, so we wanted to take a closer look at what they think and see if their perspective would be helpful in our future work.” Breeahna shared her key takeaway, “I learned that as a California Bay Area native, our DE&I initiatives are typically focused on inclusivity, LGBTQ rights, the gender gap, and People of Color. However, in Hong Kong, their DE&I focus in on gender equality and rights. LGBTQ topics are taboo. I learned a lot about the Chinese culture, especially in Hong Kong, and what is driving their conversations about DE&I initiatives.” – Breeahna Dobson, Alfred Fleishman Diversity Fellow, Los Angeles
Cheryl and Breeahna met with colleagues in the tech industry to hear their perspectives first-hand, which taught them an important lesson.
“The biggest takeaway was that context really matters. The historical backgrounds of the two bay areas are quite different, so the DE&I focus in each area is different – rooted in both culture and history. So, if we want to take this to our clients in the future, we need to know the cultural and social context, so that we can provide specific and accurate counsel.” – Cheryl Pan, vice president, BlueCurrent Hong Kong
Julia and Leo examined the different social platforms used in the U.S., China and Hong Kong.
“When there are political issues between countries, I learned how our colleagues in the U.S. receive news and messages from social media, and how we in Hong Kong and China see our own news. We thought we were using the same apps, but actually, we are in a completely different position when we see information.” – Leo Chung, Senior Account Executive, Hong Kong
“I thought it was interesting that a platform like LinkedIn is not used that much in China for marketing, but in the U.S., we use it for thought leadership and ads. Our conversations helped uncover these differences.” – Julia Mariano, Assistant Account Executive, Sacramento
As issues surrounding mental health and well-being continue to take center stage across the globe, many of our program participants focused their research on the importance of work-life balance.
“A lot of people think work-life balance is just shutting off your computer, but there are things that you can do to be productive even in your time off. I learned that activities that you enjoy, like working out, along with getting enough sleep are what give you energy.” – Carmen Fanning, Account Executive Kansas City
“Learning about this topic inspired me to think about how I can add more balance to my schedule. For example, now I pay more attention to scheduling, and using my holidays and annual leave to help me get rest.” – Leo Chung, Senior Account Executive, Hong Kong
How did you manage work across different time zones?
Working in essentially opposite time zones was not without its challenges. However, the teams found a way to make it work. Cheryl and Breeahna took advantage of the time difference, realizing they could each work while the other was sleeping. When asked about working across two vastly different time zones, Leo Chung said, “I think it is about being inclusive. We were willing to invest the time to build that relationship with each other because we know that we each had a lot of work to do outside of this project, so it was important that we invested our own time to work together.” – Leo Chung, Senior Account Executive, Hong Kong
How did this experience shape your view of FleishmanHillard’s global network?
“Sometimes it is easy get stuck in a U.S. mindset, but we are global firm. I also didn’t realize that as a global agency we have a big impact around the world, and that things are just as busy and robust in our global offices as they are in the U.S. and that was great to see.” – Carmen Fanning, Account Executive Kansas City, MO
“This project opened my eyes to the plethora of resources available across our network. There are networking opportunities, and opportunities to connect to others on a global scale. Often, we are just doing our work and we don’t get a chance to see all the global connections and the options that they bring. I want to take advantage of that more as I grow my career at FH.” – Breeahna Dobson, Alfred Fleishman Diversity Fellow, Los Angeles
“The project made me think deeper about what it really means to be the most inclusive agency in the world, and how it is reflected in our daily lives. The way Breeahna and I worked together was so smooth because we respected one another, and we learned from one another. We inspired each other because of our different perspectives. This inclusive culture in our agency is valued by everyone and it is reflected in the different aspects of our work experiences, personal connections, and interactions around the world.” – Cheryl Pan, Vice President, BlueCurrent Hong Kong
We look forward to future iterations of our Cross-Cultural Connections program. No matter how it evolves, it will remain dedicated to connection, inclusivity and growth opportunities for our firm’s future leaders.