Div Pillay, CEO of MindTribes

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Div is a strategic champion of diversity and inclusion. As CEO and Co-Founder of MindTribes she shows that there is a business imperative to cultural inclusion.  MindTribes works with Australian and MNC’s to culturally align staff and track performance improvement across 12 months. Div is also the Co-Founder of CDW (Culturally Diverse Women) a social enterprise working to advance culturally different corporate women. Div has a personal touch point with this both struggling and thriving with her cultural and gender diversity.

Prior to founding, she spent 14 years in People and Culture roles in the BPO industry working across South Africa, Malaysia, Australia, India and The Philippines. She has authentically and successfully transformed her brand from a senior employee to a CEO and Co-Founder of a business that has gone from idea to execution to commercialization. She also has a strong social justice approach, giving 10% of revenue to Plan International’s Because I am a Girl campaign, earning her recognition as a Plan International Ambassador.

Can you tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?

Our (my Co-Founder and I) idea was to make cultural inclusion a business imperative.  What made us take the plunge was frustration! We were tired of seeing organisations make a seasonal attempt with Cultural Diversity Week, Harmony Day, sporadic training initiatives or speakers on an unconscious bias.  We were tired of seeing culturally diverse people celebrated as part of a multicultural society in Australia but not represented in positions of influence. We were tired of seeing culturally different offshored workforces utilised by multinationals but not really included in a one team approach.  Being culturally different ourselves we were also passionate having walked our own path of struggle and triumph, immigrating to Australia as South African Indians.

Could you explain your business model to us? 

We have a 4-step framework that leads a client or team from understanding their cultural gaps and what it means to their business goals to leading a business improvement as a result of closing those cultural gaps.  This 4-step framework is executed over 12 months, and has a fixed price that takes into consideration corporate procurement and approval limits of business leaders – we want to get in the door and fast.  We work on selling this first engagement and proving the value we create – then when our clients want to scale, we teach our clients how to fish by running a train the trainer model and licencing our program to them but still provide governance.

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next year? 

I am working on launching our first event for our CDW (Culturally Diverse Women) forum in October.  We are trying to influence change for these women who are stuck in corporate Australia, with less than 1% represented in ASX leadership.  It is a series of 4 events with nominated and selected women who then have the choice to join a more intense development program.  I am excited about the successful stories we will create in 12 months when these women kick their professional and personal goals and their organisations have recognised their talent and taken action to advance them.

How do you make ideas happen?

A new idea is usually bounced off first with our Co-Founder and MD, who is also my husband.  We are powerful together both personally and professionally, and after 17 years of marriage and three kids, there is no one I trust more to support or squash an idea.  If there is merit, I usually go to a trusted group of people to validate some more.  Usually, they are people who will make the idea happen, either a customer, participant, recipient or key stakeholder – who I will be counting on to invest, participate or promote.  I am not afraid to ask for help to move an idea to execution and if that person cannot help directly, I ask for a network of theirs who can.

What role have mentors played in your business life?

A moderate role.  I don’t have one mentor but rather have multiple individuals who have provided great guidance and have taught and championed me along, whether I have succeeded or failed.  I say a moderate role, as ultimately it is up to me to take different perspectives, make a decision and forge ahead.  I see a mentor as a guide, not a coach.

What does your typical day look like? 

As a mother of three, aged 14, 10 and 6 my mornings typically start off waking up our household, feeding and directing a brood whilst scanning emails, watching the news and reviewing my work priorities for the day. If I am organised the night before, I might even be able to cook a dinner amidst all the chaos!  I drop off our eldest at high school and head off to the NAB Village where we have been based for the last 2.5 years – it is a great space and community for entrepreneurs and all you need is a NAB Business Account to use the service.  We don’t need to have bricks and mortar, as we deliver everything onsite at clients, so this community serves us well.  Most work activity in a day involves performance coaching existing clients, sales meetings, design for new clients, some content marketing via social media and some reflection time about goals, short and long term.  At least once a week, I will be involved in either speaking or participating in an event on gender or cultural diversity or in global business.  If I am in Melbourne, I make a point of stopping at around 6pm to get home and have dinner with the family and to make sure everyone in my home has what they need for the next day.  I might pick up some work later that night and always finish up the day with a cuppa, a treat and something on Netflix with my husband.

What challenges have you faced when starting a business in Australia?

Starting was difficult as those initial sales are made on personal brand, something I learnt I needed to build authentically, as I did not have a network to sell into.  While I had spent 14 years in the corporate world working for great brands and building my expertise, it was all internal and job focussed.  I did not work at building my brand outside of these organisations, so no surprises that I had difficulty in taking my expertise to market.  Having a great idea and the knowledge to execute it, just did not cut it.  Potential clients needed to buy into me.  I realised fast that I was really different as a supplier to most in the pack – there just were not many culturally different training, leadership, coaching professionals, most were senior HR folk who had been made redundant, mostly Anglo-Saxon females.  Credit to them, they had built a brand outside their organisations and almost immediately had a revenue stream through old contacts.  My most common reason for rejection on those early proposals was around having the wrong ‘fit’ for the leadership audiences I intended to present to.  For some time, I carried this weight of being the wrong fit and not having the contacts like a ball and chain until I took control of it and who I really was. I started to connect myself and my story more to our business services and started to authentically build my personal brand through every opportunity I had to communicate my message.  This brought the right contacts and the next challenge I overcame was to be able to convert them from leads to sales.  Tough but simple business lessons learnt.

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

Every Year 11 or 12 student and university graduate in a developed country should work for 12 months to solve a problem in a developing country as part of the curriculum.

What people or organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?

Michelle Redfern, Founder of Advancing Women in Business & Sport and Founder of Women Who Get It (WWGI). Michelle has a totally different approach on how to bring women together, to make them feel safe and to mobilise them to make their own change in the ecosystem around them.

Irene Yu, Bank of Melbourne, Director of Asian and Migrant Banking and Victorian Director, Culturally Diversity Leadership, Westpac Group. Irene is not afraid to challenge and to make change. She is helping the bank leverage the diversity it has.

Helen Kapalos, Chair of the Multicultural Commission, Victoria (VMC). Besides being a multi-talented media personality, Helen in her role at the VMC is a change maker, seeing the opportunities and backing them to advance where we are as a multicultural society.

Femeconomy headed by Alanna Bastin-Byrne and Jade Collins. These women have created a market place for women to trade and advance.

What about internationally?

WeConnect, Anne Tesch, Executive Director Australasia.  One of challenges cited earlier was making the contact with decision makers.  WeConnect (specifically Anne) connects multinational companies that have signed up to engage with female led businesses.  These are typically procurement leaders who see the potential in diversifying their suppliers.  WeConnect has global reach and helps women cut through the layers to get that pivotal pitch moment.

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

Really engage their employee audiences to think about the work they do in context of the community they live in.  Then individuals will look for opportunities to affect social change as part and parcel of their jobs and careers.  The odd team building activity to volunteer won’t affect the change we need, it needs to be systemically built into the work we do every day.

Is there a particular charity or social enterprise you support?

Plan International Australia, the “Because I am a Girl” campaign.  We give 10% of our revenue to this campaign which supports girls to access education, make important life decisions, feel safe from gender-based violence and lift themselves, and their families, out of poverty.

Can you recommend 3 websites to our readers?




Which 3 Australians do you think we should follow on Twitter?

Sadhana Smiles @sadhanasmiles

Susanne Legena @susannelegena

Gemma Lloyd @gemllo

Do you have opportunities for people to get involved with your idea?

Specifically for CDW we are looking for the sponsorship of 3 venues to host 100 women. In Melbourne we are looking for celebrity chefs who see the value in cultural diversity and can offer to sponsor one of the four events across the year and for media marketing help to best share our message.

We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, what would it be?

How do I create the right video content to market our business, capture client testimonials and stories so we create transportable collateral?

What’s your favourite bar, café or restaurant?

My favourite bar is the Bar Americano, my favourite Café is the Café Vu, and my favourite restaurant is the Hawker hall


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