By Pat Shaver
Photo by Rachel Jessen
CORALVILLE—Helen Jameson’s 25-year career working with international students across the country led her to start her own business in the Corridor.
Her company, Culture Friendly Consulting, offers services to businesses and organizations focused on helping them assess levels of cultural competency, and provide the support for intentional forward movement through targeted consulting, training and/or coaching.
For example, an Iowa City bank may need help training staff on how to best assist an international student from the University of Iowa set up a bank account. Ms. Jameson would help train the bank employees on how to do that.
“If you’re going to another country, you want to make a good impression. For example, there’s a company in northern Iowa opening a branch in China and we talked a lot about negotiations,” she said. “To know some of those (cultural etiquette) things could be really helpful.”
Previously a manager of Intercultural Training and Programs at the University of Iowa (2001-2013), she has also held positions in the International Student Office at Edgewood College, the Madison English as a Second Language School, and the Office of International Students and Scholars at the University of Arizona.
Ms. Jameson, who launched her company in March, gained much of her experience from her years at the UI. In 2006, for example, she received the UI Year of Public Engagement seed grant to develop “Going Global in Iowa” program, which is still used today and offers cross-cultural consultation and training to Iowa businesses, colleges and community organizations.
Through that, she saw there was a need and interest within the business community for cultural consulting. She began crafting a business plan for her idea.
“My job in a very short way, is helping people connect across differences. Sometimes when meeting people across cultures we try to find similarities, but the differences are important, too,” she said.
Ms. Jameson joined the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce and connected with the Iowa City Area Development Group.
“I’ve had a lot of good mentors. The entrepreneurial community here I think is amazing. Once I started getting out and meeting people, I saw that there’s a real support network,” she said. “There’s great resources here, it really just takes reaching out.”
The company focuses on creating welcoming environments for diverse people from around the world, increasing knowledge about specific countries and cultures, assessing levels of cultural competency and intercultural awareness, communicating effectively across cultures and building diverse and productive teams.
“I really loved what I’ve done at the university the last 11 years, I’m really grateful for that experience. I think that gave me the confidence to start a business,” she said.
Other services offered by Ms. Jameson’s company include preventing and resolving cross-cultural conflicts, cultural negotiation styles, orientation services for internationals, preparations for a trip abroad, how to pronounce “foreign names,” and design of a customized cultural competency training, among others.
According to the most recent U.S. Census data, about 30 percent of the nation’s population is now Asian American, one of the fastest growing groups.
“Of children under 5, children of color are almost the majority at 49 percent,” Ms. Jameson noted.
The differential birth rates are a major factor in the changing demographics both in Iowa and across the U.S. This contributes to dramatic changes in demographics for kids younger than 5 years old, Ms. Jameson said.
In Iowa, about 5 percent of the population is Latino, she said.
“The university international student population has grown substantially over the last five years,” Ms. Jameson said.
Because of the many changing demographics in Iowa and the U.S., Ms. Jameson said services like hers are becoming increasingly important.
“My primary experience is in the international area, but I’ve really been a diversity advocate my whole life,” she said.
She has a bachelor of arts degree in international relations from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., a master’s in intercultural administration from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vt., and a master of arts education degree focused on counselor education and college student development from the UI.
With the changes in demographics, Ms. Jameson isn’t sure where her business will go, but said she sees an increase in requests for cross-cultural conflict mediation work.
“I’d love to hire more staff as soon as I can afford it,” she said. “In part, I have to see where interest lie, that’s part of the fun of it.”
Culture Friendly Consulting, providing instruction and insights on connecting across cultural differences, is hosting a lunch-and-learn workshop July 23, at the IC CoLab in Iowa City, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Seating is limited to 20 and tickets are $25 per person, including all materials and lunch. Registration is open at the website: culturefriendly.eventbrite.com.
The topic “Creating Self-Aware and Welcoming Communities” is presented in partnership with Culture Friendly Consulting, Diversity Focus and the Iowa City Area Development Group, and will link directly to the findings in the 2013 Creative Corridor Community Survey from Diversity Focus.