Tina Varughese

Tina Varughese

Cross-Cultural Communication and Diversity Expert

An Indo-Canadian daughter of first generation East Indian parents, Varughese says her cultural background allows her to find “the best of both worlds” and shed light, knowledge, and, most importantly, universal humour into the changing workplace. Her highly entertaining, interactive, and practical keynotes leave attendees inspired to think, behave, act, and communicate with intention.

For fifteen years Varughese worked with immigrants in her roles with the Province of Alberta’s immigration office. She also ran her own successful relocation and settlement firm. Varughese draws from her experiences as an entrepreneur, mother, daughter, wife, sister, and friend when delivering keynotes on diversity and inclusion — topics that resonate with her both professionally and personally.

Varughese has been named one of “Canada’s Top 10 Notable Speakers” by Ignite Magazine for her ability to break down barriers and create a comfortable, inclusive, and fun space for attendees. She was the face of diversity, literally, having been chosen to participate in Dove’s campaign for Real Beauty, representing beauty in diversity.

The past-president of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (Calgary), Varughese is a contributing writer for the Human Resource Institute of Alberta’s Network magazine, Calgary Real Estate News, and Home to Home magazine. She was also profiled in Alberta’s Venture Magazine.


50 Shades of Beige: Communicate with the Cross-Cultural Advantage

Are issues like these causing stress, conflict, and confusion in the workplace?

  • Why does this client/co-worker constantly interrupt the conversation? Is he not interested in what I’m saying?
  • He never looks me in the eye. Clearly, he does not respect me.
  • Hua said she’d complete the proposal last week, yet she still hasn’t. Does she not understand it’s important?
  • Gustavo never has an opinion during meetings. Was he the best candidate for this job?

Why this topic?

Successful organizations understand that being able to communicate cross-culturally in the workplace leads to enhanced productivity, performance, and employee engagement. Managing diversity drives profitability, leads to innovation, and promotes an inspiring workplace culture.

Target audience

Everybody and anybody! Everybody can benefit from communicating more effectively, however, when 20% of Canada’s population is foreign-born (and much higher in urban centres), communicating with a cross-cultural advantage is arguably one of the most important types of communication to understand and benefit from in the 21st century. Any organization with a culturally diverse client base or increasingly multicultural workforce would benefit greatly from this topic.

Key takeaways:

  • Cultural differences in communication: Indirect vs. direct speaking styles.
  • Individualistic and collective cultures: How values change the way we communicate.
  • Effective day-to-day communication when English is a second language.
  • Non-verbal communication: Why the “unspoken” word is the most important of all.
  • How global companies lose millions in revenue due to a lack of understanding of cultural differences.
  • How to use the VAK model of nommunication (visual/audio/kinesthetic communication styles) using the cross-cultural advantage.

The Human Side of Unconscious Bias

Are issues like these causing stress, conflict, and confusion in the workplace?

  • Emily is 30 years old. This role involves a lot of travel — should she promoted? What if she decides to have children?
  • Manuel has such a strong accent that I’m just not sure if he’s a good cultural fit for our organization.
  • As an ambitious white male, I am the minority these days! I can’t check any of the boxes. Will I be passed over for this promotion yet again? I’m ready to quit.
  • Should Morton really lead the charge of the IT department? He just seems ancient to me.

Why this topic?

First impressions, positive or negative, are made in seven seconds or less. We all make quick assessments of others without even realizing it. We are not born with bias. Biases are formed by past situations, experiences, background, and culture. Unconscious biases typically exist towards gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability (both physical and mental), and weight. Most of us will say “I see people for who they are” but do we? Unconscious biases affect and impact decision making both professionally and personally with real impact. Recognizing, managing, and mitigating unconscious bias promotes diversity and inclusion; diversity and inclusion drives innovation, increases productivity, and stimulates creativity while promoting a healthy, happy, and engaging workplace culture.

Target audience

Anyone from any organization wanting to increase productivity, stimulate creativity, drive innovation, and create a healthier, happier workplace by promoting a more diverse and inclusive environment, would benefit greatly from this topic.

Key takeaways:

  • The neuroscience behind Unconscious Bias (“No blame, no shame”).
  • Managing and mitigating Unconscious Bias in recruitment, retention, and employee engagement.
  • Breaking bias — strategies for gender, maternal, affinity, and ageism.
  • Sesame Street 2.0 — one of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong… or does it? How diversity drives innovation, creativity, and productivity.
  • Why creating a culture of inclusion affects positivity, profits, and purpose.

Thriving Through Uncertainty: Where Communication, Connection, and Compassion Intersect

With the onset and ongoing turbulence of COVID-19, organizations were forced to pivot, adapt, and plunge into uncharted waters while facing overwhelming uncertainty. Despite title, rank, or position we are all leaders at work and at home and have the capacity to impact, influence, and inspire others through intentional actions. To put people first effective communication, collaboration, empathy, inclusion, and understanding is imperative.

Employees are becoming increasingly demotivated and disengaged coupled with experiencing a lack of work-life balance. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and addiction are on the rise hence it is integral to lead with compassion, transparency, integrity, and most of all resiliency as we stand together apart. Additionally, with remote work companies need to lead inclusively where they realize diversity reflects who’s on the team, yet inclusion reflects who gets to play. Great organizations recognize operating in silos create cultural barriers. Creating a sense of belonging promotes healthier, happier, inclusive, and innovative workplaces.

Key takeaways

  • How to actively listen, empathize, and empower others towards a positive paradigm.
  • Retraining the brain for positivity for optimal work-life blend.
  • Balanced boundaries: You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.
  • Psychological safety: The key to diversity, inclusion, and creating a sense of belonging at the workplace.
  • Cultivate inclusion at virtual and in-person meetings.
  • The power of surrendering to circumstance: Why letting go strengthens resilience.

Maximizing Workforce Diversity: Communicate, Collaborate, and Cooperate in the Changing Workplace

Are issues like these causing stress, conflict, and confusion in the workplace?

  • Trevor is always on his iPhone? How does he get any work done!?
  • I wish Mei-Wen would contribute more in meetings. When I hired her she seemed so bright.
  • Jacqueline is so shy. How can she take on the role of VP of Marketing? Who would respect and listen to her?
  • George is always in my office. We have Outlook for a reason. He’s seriously wasting my time.

Why this topic?

Successful leaders understand today’s increasingly multigenerational, multicultural, and multifaceted workforce brings both opportunities and challenges if not managed effectively. To create trust, collaboration, and creative work environments, inclusive leaders need to effectively communicate, understand, and listen to their fellow employees. Everybody wants to be seen, wants to be heard, and wants to be acknowledged. Learning how to communicate and cooperate in the workplace leads to a healthier, happier, motivating, and inspiring workplace where everybody benefits.

Target audience

Leaders, managers, skilled professionals, or anybody that works in a multigenerational, multicultural, and multifaceted workplace.

Key takeaways:

  • Are you generationally “savvy”?
  • Does your leadership style reflect “gen zen”?
  • Play nice in the sandbox — team building through collaboration and understanding.
  • Empowering introverts in the workplace.
  • Individualistic and collectivist cultures: how values change the way we communicate.
  • What time is it? The difference between monochromic and polychromic cultures and why it matters to the workplace.

Inclusive Leadership: From Silos to Safety

Creating a great organization isn’t just about breaking down cultural barriers. It’s about building a workplace where everyone works towards a common purpose; feels a sense of belonging (not a sense of longing to be), and feels included despite title, rank, or position. Inclusive leaders understand people do not leave jobs; they leave people. Today’s inclusive leaders believe not only in investing in themselves, but encouraging others to grow, to learn, and to build inclusivity and trust. Why? To breakdown silos, foster employee engagement, encourage open lines of communication, promote creativity, offer a safe place to land, and create a healthy, happy, and inspiring workplace.

Key takeaways:

  • Psychological safety is the key to belonging and inclusion at the workplace.
  • Microaggressions: Intention and impact.
  • Constructive, continuous, influential, inclusive, and solution-based feedback.
  • Death by meeting: Five key steps to inclusive and effective meetings.
  • Tokenism takes a toll: Why optical allyship is damaging.
  • Negative Nellie and nasty Ned: How to actively listen, include, and empathize to change negative behaviours at work.

Successfully Selling and Servicing to All Cultures

Are sales, negotiations, and customer service suffering due to issues like these?

  • Vikram continues to negotiate on the house price even though we have a signed contract. How do I explain I cannot reduce the price anymore?
  • This client shook my hand like a “wet noodle”. Is he not interested in buying insurance through me?
  • My entire team is Caucasian. How can we increase business in multicultural markets?
  • Jennifer is my top performer, yet many prospective male clients won’t look at her. Is it because they do not respect women?

Why this topic?

The population in general is becoming increasingly multicultural. One-fifth of Canada’s population was born outside of Canada (much higher in urban centres) — making it one of the fastest growing niche markets today. Second and third generation immigrants are highly influenced by parental values, beliefs, and cultural nuances. With diversity comes opportunity and potential for growth in sales, brand loyalty, and profitability. By building trust and rapport through understanding, recognizing, and respecting cultural differences, successful companies can capitalize and profit from this often untapped market.

Target audience

Sales and service professionals from any organization with a culturally diverse client base would benefit greatly from this topic.

Key takeaways:

  • Work less, sell more: Increase repeat and referral business cross-culturally.
  • Are we speaking the same language? Successful cross-cultural negotiations.
  • When yes means no: How communication styles differ across cultures.
  • Multicultural marketing: Spending dollars strategically in multicultural markets.
  • Non-verbal communication aka “The Seinfeld Syndrome”: Are you a loud talker and losing business because of it?
  • What women need to know to succeed cross-culturally.
  • I don’t understand: When strong accents inhibit communication and what to do about it.
  • Million-dollar mistakes: How global companies fail due to a lack of understanding cultural differences.

Ctrl-Alt-Del: Give the (Re)Boot to Work-Life Balance

Are issues like these causing stress, anxiety, guilt, weight-gain, sleep-deprivation, and negativity?

  • I have a demanding job often taking work home with me. When am I supposed to find time to exercise?
  • Between work, kids’ activities, cleaning the house, and preparing meals I’m exhausted. Does everyone feel like this?
  • I always take on additional projects at work and at home. I don’t seem to have any time to breathe these days. Why do I say “yes” to everything?
  • I feel like a hamster on a wheel with little to no time for myself.

Why this topic?

Only 23% of working Canadians are highly satisfied with life. In fact, one-third of Canadians feel they have more work to do than time permits. Work-life balance is not a gender issue. Men have the same issues balancing career and family as women do. With technological advances coupled with more women entering the workforce due to economic pressures, work-life balance can seem evasive and unobtainable. But with essential tools, tips, and strategies, employees can minimize stress, maximize efficiency, improve productivity, and boost positivity both at work and at home. Increased work-life balance leads to lower employee absenteeism and turnover rates and higher levels of employee engagement.

Target audience

Anyone struggling to manage their stress and achieve a healthier work-life balance.

Key takeaways

  • 168 hours = 168 hours: Why more time does not mean more balance.
  • Five key stress busters that are essential for a healthier, happier, and more balanced life.
  • Tips and tools for difficult conversations at work and at home.
  • Increasing your work-life balance score with the Japanese concept of “kaizen”.
  • Cultural differences in the perception of work-life balance.
  • The high cost of always saying “yes”.
  • Retrain your brain for positivity.
  • Having it all… or having it all right now?
  • Prioritize your life the way you want your obituary to read.

Recruiting and Retaining Foreign Workers for Success and Sustainability

Are issues like these causing stress, conflict, and confusion in the workplace?

  • During the interview this foreign worker couldn’t engage in small talk and won’t address past achievements and accomplishments yet seems highly qualified. Is he?
  • Zeeshan’s accent is so strong that I can’t understand him when he calls me with off-site with questions.
  • I often offer Pierre constructive feedback, yet he never implements it.
  • Vilma continues to speak Tagalog with Caridad around patients. Will patients feel anxious and confused?

Why this topic?

Successful organizations understand that being able to attract, recruit, and retain a qualified worker with appropriate skills, personality, attitude, and motivation can be challenging at the best of times, let alone when chronic labour shortages exist in both skilled and non-skilled occupations.

A shortage of skilled labour limits the ability to increase sales or production, which is why many successful organizations recruit foreign workers. The top source countries for foreign workers are India, China, Pakistan, and the Philippines, all collective in nature. Collectivists often recommend suitable candidates because of their commitment to family and community, giving employers access to a rich database of potential recruits. However, managerial hiring practices are not standardized globally. Religious practices coupled with English as a second language can also affect productivity and profitability if not managed effectively.

Target audience

Sectors experiencing critical labour shortages including but not limited to oil and gas, healthcare, agriculture, hospitality, tourism, information technology, and trades.

Key takeaways

  • Why Canadian hiring practices sometimes inadvertently screen out suitable candidates.
  • Effective interview techniques with individualistic and collective cultures.
  • Face to face, phone, and email: Effective day-to-day communication when English is a second language.
  • Workplace conflict resolution across all cultures.
  • Death by meeting: How mismanaged global teams waste time and money.
  • Non-verbal communication: To shake hands or not to shake hands… that is the question.
  • Are we speaking the same language? Constructive feedback across cultures.