SIETAR USA members in good standing will be featured in The Interculturalist: A Periodical of SIETAR USA from time to time in articles based on an interview. You can self-nominate or suggest someone you think is an interesting person you’d like to know more about. Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 2020 marks the 1-year anniversary of the publication of her recent book, so it is fitting that we are highlighting Fiona Citkin. We are all familiar with the advice to writers that they should write about what they know. Fiona did just that in How They Made It in America: Success Stories and Strategies of Immigrant Women: from Isabel Allende to Ivana Trump, to Fashion Designer Natori, Plus More. Rarely when you are living something, do you have much perspective on the process or the experience. And yet, Arianna Huffington, an immigrant herself, told Fiona about the importance of describing how immigrant women do in America—so that “those who come after us will have support.”
In her 25 years in the United States, Fiona had reached a point in her life when she knew she had something to say to immigrant—and other—women about becoming successful in America. But how did she reach that point? She had a successful academic career in her native Ukraine: earned two doctorate degrees and reached the position of full professor and chair of the English Department at the Uzhgorod National University. After publishing Terminology and Translation, she was frequently invited to speak in European universities, which introduced her to the quality of life in the West. As a result, she wanted for her daughter Helen to “grow up in a country where she could fulfil her potential through her own efforts—not because of bribery, conformism, or her parents’ connections.” When a Fulbright Scholarship she had applied for was granted, Fiona started research at Kent State University in Ohio. After being selected as a lead interpreter for 3 Russian-American Artificial Intelligence conferences, she realized that whatever you learn is not wasted—it makes you prepared for the next step. This realization made her more confident about reframing her experience, and when her husband obtained work in New York, she followed him—and her academic career became history. But she never looked back.
In her first year in America, Fiona felt like she was walking in the dark not knowing where to step. She decided to try something different: she used the PR skills she learned on the job at CSI (Complex Systems, Inc.). These led to Director positions at Berlitz and then FGI, a Toronto-based company. All these moves were possible because she was well-prepared with her managerial, multicultural and multi-language competencies and Fiona accumulated enough experience to start her own intercultural consulting, to train and coach for global multinationals. You can see a pattern emerging of her willingness to try something new, something that was a stretch, something that would prepare her even better for what might come next. She said, “do not be afraid to put yourself in difficult situations, for it builds your character.”
In 2011, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) published Fiona’s first book in America: Transformational Diversity: Why and How Intercultural Competencies Can Help Organization to Survive and Thrive. Rooted in her consulting practice, the book became popular with corporate Diversity Directors. Still, Fiona knew she could do more, something for a broader audience and for a bigger impact. After Arianna Huffington invited her to cover the hot topics of immigration and women for the Huffpost blogs, the idea struck her to write a book based on the immigrant women experiences. She interviewed and researched over 100 prominent women. Her interviews were conducted in a conversational style with many follow-up contacts, supported by research and an extensive 18-page Questionnaire. The initial write-up of the stories of selected women had over 700 pages. She had to tighten that up too, and the resulting book is 288 pages in which she met her goal: scores of immigrant women as well as native-born can now benefit from the accumulated know-how of her subjects.
As Fiona analyzed her material, she looked for shared patterns, and distilled 7 success values, such as Character Building; Communication Skills and Creativity; Perseverance, etc. The last part of her book, which she called “The Achiever’s Handbook” includes her success takeaways. Her empirical analysis of the experiences of successful immigrant women led her to recommend strategies such as mapping opportunities, developing open-mindedness and creativity, tapping into your passion, turning differences into assets.
When asked what her own greatest insight was from writing the book she said it was that her data confirmed her instincts. Hearing the women’s stories, she realized that character building is the key and it happens step by step throughout your life. And it is perhaps her own greatest strength.
You can visit Fiona at http://fionacitkin.com/. You can also access her ideas and join in a conversation on her soon-to-go-live video-blog (available live and on her YouTube channel, called WWW Bridge (meaning WomenWorldWide Bridge).
Portions of this article are based on an interview with Fiona Citkin as well as her book.
Join Fiona Citkin for the 2020 May Webinar