POTLUCKS AND THE POLITICS OF FOOD IN THE WORKPLACE


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

potluck[1]

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.
j0438551

Understanding Learning Disabilities in the Workplace | LDAO


Understanding Learning Disabilities in the Workplace | LDAO.

Creating an Employer Brand to Attract New Canadians and Generation Y


Three Smiling Businesswomen

An excerpt from Diversity and Inclusion on a Budget:  How to have a more engaged and innovative workforce with little or no dollars written by Evelina Silveira and Jill Walters.

Let hard-to-reach groups know that there’s an opportunity for employment with your organization by showcasing a broad spectrum of employees in your company literature and on your website. Let your employees know what your goals are in terms of a representative workforce, and that you value their suggestions and help. Ask if they would be willing to share their history with the company. This is a great way to demonstrate that you can be an employer of choice for diverse applicants.

Here’s how to do this:
–  Include the employee’s picture and history with company
–  Post a video on your site
–  Use a written profile, if your budget is really tight

The employees that you include in your staff literature and on your website should represent a cross-section of departments and available positions. If you are confused as to where to begin, bank websites are really great at creating an employer brand, specifically the Royal Bank of Canada (www.rbc.com).

Include employees who have held a number of positions within the organization and have advanced through the company. This demonstrates that there is equal opportunity for all. Note any committee involvement, special assignments, skills or expertise they have acquired as a result of working for your company.

These mini profiles, highlighted on your website and in your literature, go a long way in promoting your company’s image as an employer of choice. Brag about it! Don’t hold back and be humble! Remember, labour shortages are starting to occur in many sectors. Stand out and let it be known who you are as a company, and what employees can expect from working for you.

It’s probably an odd analogy, but think about your company as a potential date. If your company was on the dating scene, what attractive qualities would it promote? What could it offer? Why should a job seeker be interested in you? What could it gain from having you as an employee?
With this in mind, think about all the areas in which your company supports its employees, and include those details on your site. For instance, younger workers are really keen about seeking out employment with companies that are socially responsible, environmentally friendly, flexible and interactive. Having a pool table might be bonus. Include this information!

Do you have an on-site day care? Flex-time opportunities? Cross-training? A mentoring program? Employee Resource Groups? Prayer rooms? Adaptive technology? A women’s leadership group? On-site smudging area? Gym? Pool table? English as a Second Language classes? Pets at  work? All these programs and services demonstrate that an employer supports and cares about the employees; their physical, social, spiritual and psychological well-being, and their need to succeed professionally. List them!

Consider asking those employees with more seniority about the special perks and selling points of working at your organization. Include them on your on your promotional materials as well.

 

 

 

Pride Is Not For Everyone


headerimg_home[1]

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

Change is often a good thing. When it comes to equal rights for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered groups, increased awareness and advocacy has contributed to their greater inclusion in the workplace and in our communities at large.

The Pride Parade in London is not the raucous as it is in other cities notably Toronto. Just like everything in London, Ontario it is far more subdued and conservative focusing more on family, friends and allies and less as a spectacular show or tourist attraction.

Pride is about honesty, sexual expression and having a “safe space”. The parade and its other events support this freedom. But Pride is not for everyone, and participating in these events is  a choice. Agencies and businesses alike often exploit this event to advance their strategic or advocacy agendas with little thought into what it represents and who the right people should be to participate.

My business had a booth a few years ago at Pride in London, and I had a number of disturbing observations.

Arriving early in the morning, I began to set up my booth, with employees from various large and multinational corporations, falling closely behind. Setting up their tables and fleeing for the rest of the day, they only came back at the end when everything was over and ready to pack. Merely, leaving brochures and business cards, there was no intention to engage with the crowd. Yet, I surmised that the representatives were from companies who placed hundreds and thousands of dollars in sponsorship but did not have the decency to stick around. That smacks of a phony commitment to LGBT in my books!

And let’s not forget the young man in the booth next to me who was selling phallic-like hats and similar paraphernalia. Every half an hour or so he would reach over to his girlfriend and start kissing her and more. Do you suppose he might have been a little uncomfortable with attending a gay event? With all of the other opportunities one comes across in a day to safely express one’s heterosexuality, was it so necessary to do so in an event that seeks to stamp out heterosexism? I think not. As they say: “Get a room!”

Finally, a New Canadian spoke to me about the service he was getting at a local agency. He was really pleased with how they were trying to get him out of his house and make him more sociable. He recounted how he was “invited to a ceremony” in which “he was part of a parade” and given “a colourful flag”. The event was Pride in London. The man was not gay. He was a married man from the Middle East and a devout Muslim. He had no idea what he was attending. This televised event could bring a lot of grief for him. What would his family say if they see him? What might his reaction be when he finds out what he attended? Inviting clients to attend Pride Events without fully disclosing its meaning is simply: disrespectful, dishonest, irresponsible, culturally and religiously insensitive. Numbers are not everything!

Pride events often take place on weekends and evenings. Just because you don’t want to be a part of the Pride event doesn’t mean you don’t support LGBT rights. You may prefer to have stricter boundaries between your work and personal time. Additionally, if employers provide no  compensation for attending these events to support agency goals through pay or time off, they should not expect employees to take time away from their existing schedules to do one more thing for their job. Lack of participation should not be interpreted as you don’t care about LGBT rights. It could simply mean that you don’t like attending parades or that you really are pressed for time.

After all, when you compare how abysmal the attendance at Women’s Day events is: Do we interpret this as an expression of our Community’s disinterest in women’s rights? I don’t think so. Some people have different ways of showing support and advocacy. That needs to be respected.

Next time you think about having your company be a part of Pride Events, ask yourself if you are sending the best representative. Give employees a way out without judgement. If they go and feel uncomfortable, they may end up staining your corporate image like the guy in the booth who was compelled to display his heterosexuality. Be honest with what the event represents and if you plan to invite New Canadians to participate, you must take extra steps to ensure cultural sensitivity. We need to be mindful that in a good part of the world, openly gay men are still murdered, tortured and imprisoned. Going to a Pride Event may be a big leap that they are not ready to make as of yet.

 

Turkish women post smiling selfies after deputy PM Bulent Arinc says they should ‘not laugh in public’


Originally posted on National Post | News:

Defiant Turkish women are flooding social media with photos of themselves smiling and laughing to protest “outrageous” comments made by their deputy prime minister.

Bulent Arinc touched off a deluge of smiling selfies when he said women should not laugh out loud in public during a speech about “moral corruption” at a Eid al-Fitr holiday gathering Monday.

“[The woman] will know what is haram and not haram,” Arinc said according to Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News. “She will not laugh in public. She will not be inviting in her attitudes and will protect her chasteness.”

In the past two days, thousands of women from around the world have responded to Arinc’s statement by sharing cheerful photos of themselves under the Turkish hashtags kahkaha (laugh) and direnkahkaha (resist laugh).

“It was an extremely outrageous and conservative statement,” author Ece Temelkuran told the BBC. The political commentator was one of the first…

View original 891 more words

Diversity Trainers Need To Be Real


MP900435893[1]

Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work in London, Publisher the Inclusion Quarterly

Diversity trainers are just like any other people: they have biases. If we are true to the work, we recognize that we need to be constantly evolving as individuals and as trainers. The process involves examining our own biases and trying to understand and reduce/eliminate them; a process which can be very humbling and worthy of sharing with our trainees. Although it makes us vulnerable, we become genuine facilitators.

Preachy diversity trainers are a turn-off for me. In my 20 years in the field of race relations, and diversity I think the worst sessions I have ever attended by trainers were ones in which they tried to make their trainees feel bad about the attitudes that they had, as if that is supposed to help them change! With cries of “Don’t be racist” or “Don’t be sexist”, these types of trainers do a lot of talking, but rarely about themselves and about their own journey when it comes to diversity and inclusion. These scripted trainers don’t appear genuine to me, having created an environment where trainees feel vulnerable if they have dissenting views.

A dynamic diversity trainer will put themselves in the trainee’s shoes, recognizing that trainees might be scared and uncomfortable with working with or serving a group of people they never had to before. There is a lot on the line. Here is an opportunity to share your story and to be authentic. They want to hear from you that it wasn’t always so easy for you either, but that it can be done. And sometimes you may even come to enjoy working in a diverse environment.

Growing up in London, Ontario which has always been considered very WASPY, my experience with diversity was primarily living and going to school with different children of European decent. I attended a Catholic school and I was never exposed to religious debates.

As kids, when we wanted to see exotic looking (non-Whites), we would dash to the school library and take a peak at the National Geographic magazines and marvel and giggle at the differences we saw.

While this may seem insensitive, this was the reality of growing up in a city where most of the people look pretty much like me. My elementary school had one black family and there were no Asians or aboriginal people. In a sea of predominately Italian kids, I was the minority. Later on, when I went to university, I met a Jew for the first time and he did not have a beard or a black hat! I also met a brilliant woman from the Chippewa reserve. That was a different experience hearing her perspective on the First Contact which was diametrically opposite to what I had learned in school.

It was a different kind of experience in which all of my beliefs were challenged for the first time and not always in the most polite way either. Sometimes it was uncomfortable, I soon came to value the ideas of others and gain friends that I would have never have made if I had not branched out into a secular school with students who had different backgrounds.

I reflect on these moments and share them with my trainees.

If we consider that many of our participants may feel uncomfortable asking certain questions that are integral to their work, then it is incumbent upon us to put them on the table and take chances. Anticipate the questions and address the elephant in the room. Again this means that you need to take risks as a trainer by presenting topics that your participants deal with on a daily basis but are afraid that they will be labelled by other trainees if they put those questions forward. Otherwise they may never ask them, and they leave the training feeling dissatisfied and maybe even cheated.

It means putting yourself out there and bringing in genuine examples and abandoning the political correctness. Your trainees will thank you for it and will be surprised that you took the chance – something many other trainers are not willing to do.

By sharing true stories of your experiences confronting bias and engaging trainees with real-life challenging and relevant examples, you will be on your way to creating a memorable, engaging and educational learning experience.

 

Individual Versus Group Rights: The Diversity Challenge


Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work in London

 

Depending on where you work, speaking foreign languages on the job can open up a big can of worms.    While it is an individual’s human right to do so, it can create huge issues of mistrust and cliques which can ultimately lead to racism.  No where is this more pronounced than in the manufacturing sector which is often fuelled by immigrant labour.

 After completing a recent sensitivity training session with a worker who was accused of making insensitive remarks to a group of foreign language speakers in the lunch room, I realized how complex and divisive this topic can be.   The situation becomes intensified when the workers are fluent in English but choose to speak another language over breaks and in their lunch room.   

 When my parents came to Canada in the 1960’s they did not know English and there weren’t any supports for people like there are today.  But English language fluency is much higher these days than in the past for several reasons.  With stricter health and safety standards workers must be more fluent to understand the workplace hazards.   The Canadian government has a fluency standard for immigration and there are more free programs for New Canadians to access to learn English than ever before.

 Breaks are a time to relax.  When you are not completely fluent in English, speaking it during the day becomes very tiring.  It makes sense that you don’t want to continue to make the effort because you need to refuel for the rest of your shift.  But, what if you are fluent in English and choose to speak another language during your lunch hour or breaks?  Indeed you have the right to do so, but this does not always mean it is the best choice and without consequence?  

 In Canada we also have the right to ask for religious and cultural accommodations in the workplace.  But is it always the right thing to do?  You can argue that it is “your right” but sometimes our individual rights clash with what is good for the group.  What if your team has an important deadline to meet and you must leave early from work to accommodate a religious obligation and they really need your help?  Are you going to leave and hold them completely responsible for finishing the task?  This may be your right to do so, but how are your co-workers going to feel about you tomorrow?  It all depends.  For example, did you do whatever you possibly could in advance to help them with the project? Might you be available in case of an emergency? 

 A key component missing from the dialogue on exercising individual rights in the workplace is the impact that it can have on your co-workers.  Creating exclusive lunch rooms segregated by language and shrugging off workplace responsibilities because of cultural/religious obligations do not make a recipe for harmonious  interpersonal relationships.   

 When we exercise our individual rights in the workplace we must also consider the impact it may have on our fellow co-workers and do what we can to alleviate the burden for them.  

  • Subscribe to ‘The Inclusion Quarterly’

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • Get started with Workplace Inclusion Today!

  • Webinar – Diversity Awareness 101: A Canadian Perspective

  • Webinar Understanding Intercultural Communication

  • Soft Skills/Cultural Interpretation Coaching

  • Find us on Facebook

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 395 other followers