How I Increased My Portuguese Fluency by Watching a Soap Opera


By:  Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work in London Inc.

It’s 9:00 pm and I have given up my regular date with Peter Mansbridge on the National News preferring to watch the Belmonte family:  Jose, Carlos, Lucas, Joao and Pedro navigate their business deals in the beautiful town of Estremoz, Portugal.  The Belmonte’s came into my life quite by chance one day when I was flipping channels, just wanting to relax.  Alas!  I heard a familiar language spoken on the television –Portuguese.  This was my first language that I have lost due to lack of practice.

Out of curiousity, and out of a deep appreciation for the visually appealing men I saw on the screen, I decided to give it a few minutes of my time.  Before long, I was fully engaged and not superficially either.  It became an intellectual exercise where I challenged myself to understand, by linking linguistic similarities to English.  When I started watching Belmonte about two months ago, I only understood about 60% of what I was hearing.

I have never studied Portuguese formally.  However, I had some exposure in my family of Portuguese immigrants. I decided some time ago that I wanted to learn it better but I am not someone who enjoys taking classes or listening to tapes.  I want it to be fun and not a lot of extra work.  Voila!  Belmonte to the rescue!

Sixty days later of watching 5 hours a week, I understand about 98% of what I am hearing and my vocabulary has expanded exponentially!  This isn’t your average run of the-mill American-style soap opera peppered with affairs botoxed beauties and beaus all living in their massive homes.  Albeit, the Belmonte’s do own a vineyard, a marble quarry, an olive oil business and a park, but not everyone in Estremoz is rich or perfect.

So what have I learned from this captivating, suspenseful, picturesque, award-winning soap opera?  A whole lot such as:

  • Some business vocabulary.
  • Slang expressions.
  • Many similar idioms like:  “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”.
  • Vocabulary related to criminal investigations as one of the major plots has to do with “ o trafico de mulheres” or trafficking of women.
  • How Latin based words like “horrible”, “impossible” “incredible” etc are very similar to the Portuguese words but the “b” gets dropped for a “v”.
  • If you listen carefully many of the verbs have a Latin base and you can easily figure out what they are trying to say.
  • Portuguese is a very formal language and there are higher standards for politeness and respect for hierarchy and status.  Even the Police Sergeant uses formal titles to address suspects.  And when the characters are exchanging insults they still manage to add an:  “Desculpa”  (Sorry)  or “Boa Tarde’  (Good Afternoon)  Imagine that!
  • There are a lot of English words that have become part of the Portuguese lexicon.  For example in business:  “off-shore”; “dealer” (as in drug dealer); “okay”; “strippers” etc.

Besides increasing my vocabulary and comprehension, Belmonte has also given me a greater understanding of contemporary Portuguese issues.  For example, there are many references to how a few of the characters have lost their faith in God and don’t go to church anymore. Portugal has for centuries been one of the bastions of the Catholic faith and now it appears that even that is dying.  Poor Padre Arturo (Father Arthur) himself has decided to give up his vocation after his Italian son got killed in a motorcycle accident and the Bishop wouldn’t let him attend his funeral.  Padre Arturo is no longer counselling his parishioners about holding onto their faith but vice versa.

Then there is the issue of violence against women.  One of the plots has to do with the trafficking of women by a group of English and German investors who engage some of the business men in Estremoz in their dealings.  The show appears to want to highlight the epidemic of human trafficking in Europe but also the different aspects of violence against women.  In Sargento Susanna’s headquarters there are posters which focus on psychological abuse as a form of domestic violence.  You wouldn’t expect a poster like this in a police sergeant’s office but the producers are obviously trying to use these opportunities to disseminate important information.

On a less serious note you see how much the Portuguese love their food.  I swear Sofia Belmonte spends half of her life in front of the dining room table.  I don’t think I have ever seen so much eating in a television production outside the Food Channel!  The Portuguese use food as a cure for many ailments as you see in Belmonte. A chamomile tea is given at bed time for a sore tummy and to calm the nerves.  Victims are encouraged to eat after a trauma to gain their strength.  Sonia eats in the middle of the night to cure her insomnia. Rosario prepares a bountiful breakfast to show her love for Hugo.

Next time you are thinking of brushing up on a language don’t discount the value of actively and analytically watching a television program –even a soap opera.  You may be surprised at how it can be much more than entertainment. The key is to find an immersion activity you enjoy and stick with it.

Mature Workers: Staying Relevant


By: Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work in London Inc.

I hadn’t seen Jeff for over 30 years, since we had worked together as teenagers but somehow we recognized one another as he left the employment centre. Stopping to say hello, he recounted how he was recently laid off as a sales rep from a food manufacturer and was coming from a support group for mature workers. I hesitated for a moment and replied with: “ I can’t believe it Jeff, we are mature workers!”.   “Wow, that makes me feel old and I really don’t understand why we would need a special group!” We both agreed that at our age we were really at our prime, having gained so much knowledge and skills. Why would these assets present such a dilemma for employers?

I guess it has to do with how we perceive mature workers. Are all of those stereotypes really true? Cranky, bitter, burnt-out technology dinosaurs. This seems to be the basis for the majority of complaints. Are they really warranted? While working on an assignment with a call centre, I had a chance to test this out. I noticed first-hand why my client was unable to retain their mature workers. The rapid pace of the computer-training was too stressful and they quickly became disengaged, alienated and embarrassed by the younger trainees. I could see how it would have been beneficial to take more time in the training and “nesting phase” (time before you go live ).

Spending more time on the front end would have actually saved on training costs and protect their reputation as an employer. Having a separate training strategy for mature workers would yield better results : creating higher retention and loyalty. Consistently, I saw mature workers quit  before they were put on the chopping block.

With three generations now working together for the first time, we must find ways to integrate them all for the survival of our organizations. It is estimated that approximately 41% of the working population is between the ages of 45 and 64 (up from 29% in 1991), and this percentage will continue to increase over the coming years.   This is an astounding number we cannot ignore. It requires a new shift in workplace and societal attitudes challenging our perceptions regarding aging.

Given how common is ageism,  mature workers must also do their part to stay relevant and informed about the trends in the changing workplace:

Refrain from being overly judgemental about the younger generation’s work habits and expectations. Taking this approach will automatically distance you from them and this will only make you appear older and resistant to change.

Look for opportunities where you can work with younger employees. Many younger workers often lament a lack of mentors in the workplace. Keeping an open-mind may make you someone they can turn to for advice. Conversely, they may be able to help you acquire or understand some of the latest trends that can be beneficial to your work –including technology and social media.

Familiarize yourself with your rights and obligations as a mature worker. Recognize that in some types of jobs which require physical work you may notice a drop in your ability to perform. You may be asked to perform other work.

Avoid getting pre-screened out of a job interview. Only include the last 10-15 years of your work experience and leave out the dates of your education except for recent courses. If you have 30 years of work experience listed on your resume, the screener can easily do the math!

Be open to learning and taking any required professional development. It demonstrates engagement and your interest in staying with your job and being productive. Be honest about the kind of training you need and what approach works best for you. Many mature workers often benefit more from one-to-one or small group training over larger groups especially when it comes to learning technical skills.

Avoid the temptation to parent your co-workers. As you get older there is an increasing possibility that your supervisor will be younger than you. Taking this approach will only work against you as it undermines their talents as a boss.

Stay in touch with the language trends. If you don’t know what something means ask. Remember the language you use speaks volumes about your ability to adapt. Talking about the “good old days” creates exclusion.

Challenge your own biases about ageing and ageism.   Do you carry biases of your own that may prevent you from being your best at any age? Do you let biases about younger workers get in the way of promoting and hiring them?  Age is increasingly referred to “as just a number” and you can be the inspiration to others who decide to remain in the workplace longer.

Accommodating A.D.H.D. in the Workplace


By:  Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work in London, co-author No-Nonsense Guide to Workplace Inclusion

Little is known about Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and it is not well understood. But for those who have this condition, it is the equivalent of experiencing an average person’s number of thoughts in one day all rolled up into two hours! Because one’s mind is so active it can get exhausting and breaks are needed after feeling the rush or flurry of ideas and intense energy boosts. However at the same time, these very active moments are ones in which you could easily solve a problem because you have considered it from many angles or you can design the most amazing piece of work! It has its positive and negative sides; and it is all a matter of perspective. The true test is how both employers and employees can work around it.

How does an employer leverage all of the good qualities associated with A.D.H.D. while trying to diminish some of the less desirable ones? Here are a few hints:

1. Be prepared to offer the employee a quiet place with as little distraction as possible. Hyperactive minds need subdued surroundings for balance. Writing reports, working with numbers etc. can be especially challenging for people with A.D.H.D. because they require a lot of details which involve concentration. Whatever you can do to help eliminate distractions from their work environment will be important. Working at home on some assignments can be a solution for self-disciplined employees.

2. Anticipate that employees with A.D.H.D. will have more breaks during the day. You can negotiate with them about breaking up their lunch hour over the course of the day. Even a few minutes away from their desk every couple of hours can make a big difference in their productivity. Or, they may prefer to work later when everyone has gone home or earlier in the morning when it is quieter.

3. Routine, monotonous work is not meant for these people. It is torture! If the task involves black and white thinking chances are they will be so bored, silly mistakes are more likely to occur. Details are not their strength because they are more big-picture thinkers. Leaving the details to people who like them and are good at them is a better strategy.

4. People with A.D.H.D. tend to like change and are flexible with it because it keeps them more focused and energized. Whether it is changing parts of their job, getting a new one, transitions are preferable rather than problematic. Remember people with A.D.H.D. get bored easily, so whatever you can do to make their work challenging that plays upon their strengths will make it a “win-win” for all. Look for opportunities where they can learn new creative tasks and get involved in work that allows them to put to good use their communication skills. If there is flexibility to move their desks, arrange or re-arrange pictures, filing cabinets etc., let them know. Changing things up every so often makes work feel new. Physically moving furniture gives them a much needed mental break where they can re-energize and re-focus when they return to their desk.

5. Don’t jump to conclusions. For example, just because someone forgets to put their dishes away in the kitchen lunch room isn’t a sign of disrespect or waiting for someone else to do it. They may have completely forgotten and when they remembered it was too late. People with learning disabilities and conditions like A.D.H.D. know that they sometimes “miss the mark” more often than you think. They can feel badly about it because it makes them look inconsiderate. What may come across as sloppiness because of simple errors is usually unintentional. Don’t assume they don’t take pride in their work; they probably did not notice. It is okay to let them know and you may need to keep reminding them to remind themselves. If the report they gave you was proof-read 10 times but each time they read it they did not see the mistakes you did, they are very likely to feel more upset than you. They will feel that they let themselves and you down. You may want to offer them special proof-reading software when applicable or suggest they give the report to another to read before submission.

6. Give as much notice as possible when it comes to deadlines. This gives the employee more opportunity to check their work before submitting it and they can plan their scheduled breaks more easily.

7. Provide the employee with items to help them organize their work. Filing cabinets, post-it notes, and others are good ideas. If you find their time management or organizational skills are bad, suggest some professional development. You may however, be pleasantly surprised to find many people in senior positions with A.D.H.D. who do not have these issues because they have worked on their executive functioning skills to offset some of the challenges associated with A.D.H.D.

8. Don’t make too many excuses. If your employee has a sloppy desk or is regularly forgetting their deadlines, their disability does not excuse them in this case. They have to take responsibility for following the office rules just as anyone.

If you have A.D.H.D and are currently employed, be mindful of the following:

1. Don’t talk too much. People with A.D.H.D. often love to talk but can easily forget they are hoarding the conversation or they are too hyper to listen to someone’s responses. Practice clearing your mind when someone is speaking with you and learn to be a more active listener, otherwise you will come across as self-centred. People with A.D.H.D. at times can display behaviours which isolate themselves from others such as: excessive talking, interrupting, not paying attention and missing social cues. Clearing you mind and active listening is key to building and maintaining friendships and understanding and delivering exceptional customer service.

2. S.T.P. Stop. Think. Predict. Remember, as adults we have to take responsibility for our actions. If you have a tendency to let the hyper part of you dominate, allow yourself to breath and take your time before you make a rushed decision because you are too impatient to wait. Before you hit the “send” button on your nasty email, think about what could be the consequence.

3. Play up your many strengths, which by the way are in big demand these days when it comes to qualifications employers are seeking. Let your talent for communications shine! Be the problem-solver and the empathetic ear to your customer. Demonstrate to your co-workers how well you have learned to multi-task! And most of all don’t be afraid to show your sensitive side.

4. Align yourself with people who are different from you. If you are on a team or you’re a leader, work with people who are detail oriented and they can learn from your big-picture thinking, while they can be your second set of eyes.

5. Organize and make your work as exciting and interesting as possible. In one of my very first jobs as a teenager, I was asked to do frequency counts on different medical procedures. Not an interesting task! I varied the task by using multi-coloured papers and markers. You can do this with highlighter marker, tabs, file-folders etc. Just because your brain seems like a mess sometimes doesn’t mean you have to project it! The only way to keep on task is to be organized. File frequently. Get rid of anything you don’t use on your desk or in your office. It will only be another distraction for you. Go for minimalist – it is also very chic these days!

6. Write down and store any contacts, special dates and deadlines in your calendar as soon as you get them, preventing you from losing them if your desk happens to get too messy or you misplace the paper. Computer back-ups are a great idea.

7. Make templates, checklists and to-do lists. Templates and checklists will help you to be more detail oriented and provide consistency in your work. Prepare a weekly and daily “To-Do-List” and record what you did each day. Doing so, will help you monitor your performance and productivity. Are there patterns you have noticed? What obstacles might be getting in the way of completing your tasks? What can you do about them?

8. Lastly, try not to beat yourself up too much. Some days will seem like all of your faults are on display to the whole world and you just feel embarrassed and want to crawl into a ball. Nobody’s perfect—really! This usually happens to me after I have spent a load of money on printing only to find I missed a typo. Have a short cry, dust yourself off and pick yourself up, because tomorrow you will dazzle with all of the gifts that A.D.H.D. has bestowed upon you!

If you are seeking a speaker on learning disabilities and A.D.H.D in the workplace, please contact Evelina Silveira at evelina@yourdiversityatwork.com. 519-659-4777

Coaching New Canadians in Soft Skills: How do you do it?


Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work in London Inc.

I am pleased to announce an upcoming workshop that I will be doing in London, Ontario on May 29th. It combines what I have learned over the years in: international education, coaching and mentoring New Canadians in the workplace and working directly with employers regarding their integration. If you are interested in learning how to optimize and retain immigrant talent, this workshop is for you. If you cannot make the workshop in London, we are happy to deliver it to your workplace or community. We travel anywhere, just ask.   For full details, visit our website at http://www.yourdiversityatwork.com/workshops/.

coaching

Rewards & Recognition –Excerpt Chapter 6


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Authors:  Evelina Silveira and Jill Walters

I will never forget one of the first meetings I had when I was just starting my business. I met with a young financial services manager who was rethinking how the company was rewarding its top performers. He noticed that nothing much had changed with their rewards program over the last 20 years, even though the demographics of his sales team were completely different.

He told me that the standard reward for the top performers was an all-expense paid holiday in Las Vegas. No spouses were allowed. Predictably, the week consisted of drinking, gambling and the like. Typically the only people who would attend these events were Canadian-born males.

Eureka! He came to realize that something was not working. His workforce demographics had changed considerably. The same-old-same-old was not going to wash. Not only for him, but also for his top performers who were now comprised of women, single parents, immigrants, religious minorities and those who liked to take a vacation with their spouses instead of leaving them at home.

If he continued with the historical trip to Las Vegas every year, would he really be rewarding all of his top performers? No. Most would not want or be able to attend. And what effect would this have on employee morale and feelings of inclusion?

Bottom line: Critically examine your rewards and recognition program and see if it is truly inclusive.

Rewards & recognition ideas

Special recognition pins, thank you letters, gift cards, time off or a write-up in your company newsletter don’t cost a lot, but they show that you have made an effort to reward your employees. Here are some more ideas:

  •  offer prime parking spaces—free! for a month!
  • hold contests with prizes for the best and most cost-effective reward system
  •  install a diversity & inclusion suggestion box in your workplace for employees where you can post problems or issues you would like to address and employees—even those who may be too shy to speak up or who wish to remain anonymous– can submit their ideas and may even be awarded a prize if theirs is considered the best
  •  ask your top employees what they need to succeed, extending that privilege to all employees, contingent on job performance

In her book, Care Packages for the Workplace- A Dozen Little Things You Can Do to Regenerate Spirit At Work, Barbara Glanz discusses more low cost and no cost ways to make employees feel appreciated valued and respected.

Consider how you would feel if you received the following types of recognition from your boss?

Business Cards
Ensure everyone in the organization has a business card reflecting the uniqueness of the employee it represents. Consider adding a quotation, a motto or a graphic.

Handwritten Notes
Send a handwritten note to at least one employee each week. Pick one consistent day of the week to get it done. You could recognize the special contribution this person has made to the creation of a better workplace.

Success Stories
Collect company success stories on video or audiotape. Interview the people involved. It is a great way to demonstrate company pride and to introduce your organization to a new employee. Put the two-ton policy manual aside. Instead offer them a recorded compilation of your success stories. It makes them feel included right from the beginning and reinforces what a welcoming team they’ll be working with.

The best sources of recognition and rewards are tied specifically to the needs and interests of the recipient. There are a number of online programs and checklists for free that you can use that make a busy manager’s job much easier. Take a look at the following website. It’s filled with alignment tools, worksheets and more.
http://bit.ly/1tZf25z

Evaluating a rewards & recognition program

Imagine for a moment that you are a financial services manager and the time has come to evaluate your rewards program. As a result, you discover how to reward and recognize more employees in more meaningful and perhaps cost-effective ways.

With that in mind, here are five questions to keep in mind when you are putting together a rewards and recognition program:

1. Are the criteria for rewards, incentives and recognition transparent?

Check at least once a year to ensure employees in all divisions are aware of them. Mention them during your employee orientation and in your employee communications.

2. Is the process for recognition well understood by all?

Supervisors and departmental managers can be responsible for this. If people don’t understand the process, then it is not a fair one.

3. Does the staff person still want to be rewarded and recognized in the same way this year as in previous years?

Maybe last year they received a day off, so maybe this year they would prefer a gift certificate.

4. Do you have a yearly plan in place which analyzes the relevancy and fairness of the recognition, incentive and reward programs?

Here is an opportunity for you to check with various departments and staff in different positions to see if the rewards are really what they want, and if they feel that they are truly attainable.

5. Is this the best way staff wishes to be rewarded?

This is an important question to be asked, either when a staff member first comes on board or as part of their orientation package. Some people, for instance, don’t like public displays of recognition. Make a check-list.

One of the biggest morale busters I have seen as a corporate trainer is when an employee felt that he could do the training but the company hired a corporate trainer instead. This can spell disappointment for the employee and may even lead to a sourness that spills into the diversity training session in ways such as discrediting the trainer or hijacking the workshop.

As a result, what could have been a worthwhile experience is spoiled. Trust me, if you don’t want to use an employee, at least give him a reason why or try to involve him in other ways that can help nurture his interest and competencies.

Ultimately, your goal is to create a culture of inclusion where the top talent you’ve hired is engaged and feel they can be themselves, where creativity and innovation are fostered and encouraged, and where the process is effective and yet cost-effective. As we mentioned before, juggling all these balls can be a daunting task.

Copyrighted 2015 Diversity at Work/Diversity Partners

Five Easy Actions for a More Inclusive Workplace


Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work  co-author  No-Nonsense Guide to Workplace Inclusion

Workplace inclusion can seem like an elusive goal. Does it really have to be that way? Whether you have a strategy in place, or take small steps with bolder ones along the way—it will pay off! Here are a few ideas, they don’t take a lot of effort and best of all you can start them today!

1. Add a voluntary self-identification check box in your application process.

Who’s applying? Who is not? Self-identification will provide you with vital statistics for human resources planning. Case in point: if you start to see a pattern that only men are applying for a job, barriers could exist for women. This is worth investigating. Organizations are increasingly expected to reflect the communities they serve. Voluntary self-identification is one way of obtaining this information from the front end. Be sure to outline why you are requesting the information and how it will be used.

2. Add a diversity and inclusion section to each of your staff /leadership meetings.

Injecting awareness and instructional information into your workplace on a regular basis is a significant reminder, diversity and inclusion is an integral part of your operations. It is not an add-on but just as crucial as health and safety awareness.

3. Ask your generation Y (Millennials) for their opinion.

Seems strange? Not really! They are dying to hear from you. These workers have had diversity as a natural part of their landscape. They have expertise and want to be acknowledged for their opinions. Find out what they think you could do to make the workplace better and ask them to help out with building a strategy.

4. Thank an employee.

Each week send a handwritten thank you note to an employee recognizing their work. How long does it take? The busiest person on the planet has two minutes to thank an employee. Isn’t a good employee worth the time? Your recognition will go a long way with boosting morale.
5. Inform all staff about professional development and promotional opportunities.

You are probably thinking we do that already so what’s the big deal? Consistently, research points to the fact that visible minorities, women and immigrants are often left out of the loop when it comes to growing and developing in the organization. Workplace equity begins with giving everyone the same information and organizational opportunities.

Motivated to learn more about workplace inclusion? The No-Nonsense Guide to Workplace Inclusion can show you how to do it. Endorsed by business management schools and diversity practitioners, it’s all you really need.  Visit http://www.yourdiversityatwork.com/ebook/  to preview and purchase.

POTLUCKS AND THE POLITICS OF FOOD IN THE WORKPLACE


Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work   co-author,  The No-Nonsense Guide To Workplace Inclusion

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While splitting the check, B.Y.O.B, potlucks, and eating leftovers from the catered luncheon are routine in a Canadian workplace; by far this experience  is not an international phenomenon. While you may think your welcoming, kind gesture to “break bread” with a New Canadian co-worker is a good idea, don’t be surprised if they have a different interpretation. Food and eating can be a highly political affair. Political? Indeed – political! Let’s take a look at one of our most popular epicurean rituals which has stood the test of time.

Potlucks

Why do we have potlucks in Canadian society? Potlucks offer an inexpensive, easy way to feed large groups of people, while providing an assortment of food the guests may have never sampled. It’s about sharing: food, workload, and preparation.

What are the beliefs that sustain potlucks in Canadian society?

  •  Cooking is a chore and not many people like it and especially when it involves trying to please a number of people whose preferences are unknown.
  • If you want to have a gathering everyone should be “pitching in” financially and effort-wise. Food and entertaining is expensive and it shouldn’t be up to one person to do all of the work.
  • It’s more fun if we all help out and we can share the joy and responsibility.
  • Hospitality doesn’t need to be formal. You can still be hospitable and casual at the same time. Everyone can be a host. It doesn’t take a lot of skill, effort or rules.

How might these beliefs clash with people who are coming from countries which are more hierarchical, formal and collectivist?

In a big way! Although the price of food has increased dramatically, it is still widely accessible and  affordable by comparison to other parts of the world. We don’t have a lot of rituals around eating except for “eating on the run”, “fast food” and “Tim Horton’s”. With a growing acceptance of vegetarian and veganism what we eat these days is less based on social stratification and more inclined to be on preference.

North Americans tend to view food in a “profane” way as the famous sociologist Emile Durkheim would probably conclude. Food is ordinary and nothing special, has no associated rituals or beliefs to preserve its “sacredness”.

This would be in sharp contrast to the many New Canadians who are more likely to view food as “sacred”. They may have grown up learning how to cook with recipes passed down from the generations, or associate foods with symbolism and rich meaning and a wider array of festivals and celebrations. Some foods may be used for medicines or spiritual healing or to bring good luck or fertility. The “sacredness” of food means the act of eating is a“sanctified ritual”. For example, Jews and Muslims will refrain from eating pork products and the meat they eat must conform to “kosher” or “halal” standards. It means that the animals are slaughtered in a religiously prescribed way to enhance the sacredness of the food and thus the sanctity of eating.
Hospitality is a lost art in North America. If you have ever shared a meal for instance with an Afghan, a Portuguese, or an Arab family – the hospitality cannot be compared. You will be treated like royalty and no effort or expense will be spared. The goal is not to make the experience easy for the host, but just the opposite. By contrast, the host wants to show you how much you mean to them by going through lots of trouble and expense. You will not feel obliged to do the dishes nor would they want you to. They want you to relax and have them entertain you. You may actually feel that they have enlisted their whole family to make you feel comfortable. The experience is formal and every action is intentional. Good hosting skills lead to many benefits including: new jobs, connections, elevated status, marriage proposals, a strengthened ability to negotiate, but most of all preserving or enhancing one’s reputation.

Are potlucks a good idea in a North American workplace? It all depends. If you want to celebrate or show appreciation for a job well done you may come across as a cheap manager or employer – an insult to your New Canadian workers. Showing appreciation and respect for employees and especially those from more formalized cultures requires: a demonstration of effort; some expense and conveying their importance in the workplace which is not a bad approach to take with all of your employees. Is it?

“You Just Don’t Fit In!”


By:  Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work in London Inc.  Publisher, Inclusion Quarterly

The interview has ended and you turn to the other members of your selection team and say: “He wouldn’t fit in” and they agree, passing over this candidate in favour of a less qualified one. You site all kinds of reasons like: “he is too old”, “we want people who will be fun to work with and he seems too professional”, he seems to know more than we do”, and his cultural dress wouldn’t fit the corporate image we’ re trying to project. All of these are poor excuses for turning down a candidate especially if they are qualified for the job. Telling someone “they don’t fit in is a proclamation of personal bias. Period. The ideal staff person cultivated in your head does not match the person sitting in front of you. Perhaps you were looking for a man? Someone who is of the same race as you? Or a person who doesn’t have a disability?  Were you specifically seeking a straight candidate?  You wanted someone under the age of 40?  A person who thinks like you? Someone who is less intelligent and won’t challenge you in any way?  Or who seems to lack confidence?

I remember getting hired for a job when my manager was on holidays. Figuring out that she would not want to consider me for the job because of my experience, I later learned the selection team strategically held the interviews while she was away. I was 35 and she was used to working with young women who were fresh out of school. Having been through the trenches of the not-for-profit world, I was full of enthusiasm and ready for the challenge of re-energizing a fledgling program. Introduced to me after coming back from her vacation, she declared: “I wanted someone who was younger and who I could mould”! Can you imagine how I felt? Clearly, I did not “fit” her ideal image of the staff she wanted to have, even though there was absolutely nothing wrong with my work.

Recently, my friend recounted a similar situation about an interviewer. Noting that she liked having young energetic staff, she  conveyed she was impressed by his many years of experience, but  added: I just need to know that you will fit in, because everyone fits in here and I am not so sure about you”. He thought it was an odd comment to make, but decided that he would just forget about it. After getting hired, in his first week, his boss called him into her office and had some peculiar personal comments about him that had nothing to do with his work. He’s a rather introverted man who is reserved until he gets to know people.  She said: I am really not sure you are fitting in”. You keep your door closed and you are not really interacting much with the staff”. You seem really unsociable!” B. had his door closed to block out the noise to accommodate his disability, ADHD.  This was mentioned  during his interview. While he was friendly to all staff,  he wasn’t hanging around in the hallways or in their offices gossiping as so many others were. He had a work ethic! Apparently, that was why he “wasn’t fitting in”?
If you are making hiring and retaining decisions not based on a person’s ability to do the job, but on something about them you don’t really like, (which is really what “not fitting in” is all about) this is a bad move that could end up costing you a bundle in legal fees.

As an employer you could easily be playing with fire when it comes to human rights, legislation protecting people with disabilities in the workplace and laws against bullying and harassment.

Hiring someone because they are the best person to do the job is always the right decision and having standardized documentation to support all phases of the hiring process is the way to go.

Next time, you think “that person doesn’t fit in”, challenge yourself to look at what they do bring to the workplace instead of imposing unnecessary superficial expectations on them. Take the time to understand what is happening for them. After all, a good leader makes everyone feel included no matter how different they are. It is up to you to help them “fit in” and be accepted and respected.

Actions You Can Take To Increase Intercultural Understanding in the Workplace


By:  Evelina Silveira,  President, Diversity at Work

1. Start up a Diversity Book Club or Discussion Group    You can take turns assigning a reading which is pertinent to your work and designate a regular meeting time for your discussions. Tailor it to your industry and the specific knowledge you would like to gain.
For example:
Indian-Style of Leadership – This could help organizations who have a number of New Canadian Indian employees gain an understanding of the differences in leadership style in India. It can give leaders an awareness of what some of the challenges these employees may have based on their previous work experiences and help them become more acclimatized to a Canadian workplace.
Cultural Differences in the Way Disabilities are Communicated. The way cultural groups talk about disabilities tells us a lot about their values and how people with disabilities are treated in their communities.
Plagiarism Around the World – Understanding how different countries feel about and define plagiarism is important in preparing international students for post-secondary education.

2. Spearhead Employee Resource Groups These groups can provide valuable information to advance the goals of your organization. If you happen to have a New Canadians ERG, it can be drawn upon to provide education to the rest of the employees and make suggestions for program development and provide insight into new markets.

3. Infuse Cultural Tidbits Into Existing Vehicles of Communication Whether you have an intranet, a regular newsletter or hang up posters, don’t miss out on an opportunity to encourage cultural learning. What about your staff or departmental meetings? After all, when we learn about other cultures, we learn a lot about ourselves!

4. Examine Your Corporate Social Responsibility Initiatives Is there a way you can increase your interactions with some of the major cultural groups in your community? Volunteer at a settlement agency? Be a mentor? Consider sponsoring cultural events.

5. Increase or Begin to Offer Student Placements/ Co-ops Work with local agencies serving diverse clientele and post-secondary institutions to bring diverse workers to your organization. You will be amazed at how much you learn from the experience!

6. Take a Cultural Competency Inventory Ask employees if they have: knowledge of a second language, experience from work abroad and cross-cultural education. Having this information handy can be a real help when you are considering the appropriate people for foreign assignments or need some emergency assistance with a culturally diverse client who you are having difficulty communicating

Are Your Hiring Practices Really Equitable?


Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work in London Inc. Author of Diversity and Inclusion on a Budget: How to have a more innovative and engaged workforce with little or no dollars.

Equity statements on job postings have become part of the norm, implying the applicant has a fair shot at a job. If the ultimate goal is to hire the best person for the job, then some very common unfair workplace practices may be getting in the way. Let’s take a look at how allowing candidates to circumvent the hiring process throws equity out of the window.

A candidate may have “supporters” in the organization who would like him/her to be hired. The supporters may approach the hiring committee or senior leaders to advocate for the candidate. While this may be advantageous to the candidate and a time-saver for the hiring committee, how might this sit for an applicant who doesn’t have an “in” with the organization? If the supporters are successful, their candidate will be hired.

What happens to the other people who have applied? Your best candidate may have been waiting in the pile of resumes, which did not get your attention because of the “support” one candidate received.

What implication does this have on diversity and workplace inclusion? Immense. You ended up hiring very similar people. What is the effect on innovation? Abysmal. New Canadians, people who live out of town, youth, people with disabilities, aboriginal people and those who may be entering the workforce for the first time don’t stand a chance, unless “they know someone.”

In terms of succession planning you may see very little in the way of diversity, creating huge implications for organizational profitably as well as innovation, not to mention corporate image.

If the situation I have described has become part of your organization’s hiring procedures, there is a good chance it has become well known. Do you want the word out that: “You need to know someone, to get a job”? Or would you prefer applicants have an equitable chance of getting hired as your equity statement would imply.

The hiring process should be transparent all of the way. If you don’t feel comfortable with writing down the specifics of your hiring process and making it public, there is a good chance it may be inequitable and even illegal.

You can argue that it has always been this way! In the past, we did not include equity statements, but now we do. Consequently, more than ever we need to be accountable for applicants who take the time to answer job ads and treat the process fairly out of respect to them and to the integrity of the organization.
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