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

Pride Is Not For Everyone


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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.

 

Diversity Trainers Need To Be Real


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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.  

Challenging Our Stereotypes


Written by:  Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work in London Inc,   Author of Diversity and Inclusion on a Budget

 

In our early childhood education, we are taught to classify, sort and separate.  We categorize by shape, colour, texture, and by things that we like and do not like.  This early training helps us to sort out large chunks of material into smaller pieces which are more easily understood.  While this system may work with objects, it can be problematic when it comes to trying to categorize people and placing them into labels or stereotypes. Each day we engage in this labelling process whether consciously or unconsciously.

 

 

 I was on the bus one morning travelling through some of the less than desirable parts of town.  A man in his mid-thirties got on the bus with what looked to be his 5 year old daughter.  He seemed a bit rough around the edges, heavily tattooed and on the messy side.  This tough man held a little pink brush in his right hand.  He sat his daughter on his lap and proceeded to brush her hair and make the neatest pig tails.  All the while she was smiling and kissing her father’s hand as he admiringly transformed his little daughter’s tangled hair into a tamed coiffure.

 

While I sat and admired the interaction in front of me, behind me were a couple who regularly attend a methadone clinic in the downtown core.   On the surface they would appear kind of scary.  Dishevelled appearance and missing teeth – people you might want to avoid. However, over the years I have seen this couple who live in government housing show generousity to others on the bus.  Lending others an ear, offering their poverty-stricken neighbours some of their own food.  That day they were engaged in a deep conversation about the upcoming election, and judging by their vocabulary they would have appeared to be well educated.

 

I get to the conference that I was supposed to attend and visit my associate.  After the conference she told me that a woman who was wearing a burka had approached her before her talk to tell her that a man at the conference has stolen the books that she had on display.  My friend who was about to start her talk did not have the time to do anything about it.  As it turns out the woman in the burka chased the man outside the school and demanded that he hand over what he had stolen.  At the end of the conference the woman in the burka handed over the text book to my friend.  

 

I was pleasantly surprised by each of these incidents that I witnessed in one day.  They were a gift to me.  I was challenged by common stereotypes that not only I have but that society has in general.  It is hard for us to imagine a tough looking guy feeling comfortable fixing his daughter’s hair in public.  We don’t expect people who have a problem with addictions and are poor may have a strong depth of political analysis.  And surely, with all of the images of passive women in burkas in the media we would not expect one to stand up to a man and demand stolen merchandise be returned.

 

Multilingualism: An Essential Ingredient of Culturally Competent Healthcare


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

Everyday occurrences and unprocessed feelings usually form the basis of my blogs. Today’s is no different. It is Tuesday, and I am still thinking about the elderly Italian woman I saw over the weekend in a long-term care facility and left wondering: Is there a better way to meet the needs of residents who do not speak English?

I don’t know Rosa (name changed to protect her identity) but I do know that she is Italian as I recognize some of the words she yells or her conversations to imaginary people. No one understands what she is saying and nurses and attendants just continue to speak to her in English, or they ignore her completely because they just don’t know how to communicate with her. Residents will refer to her as “the crazy one” or the “one who is always screaming”. I only know a few words in Italian, but I happened to recall the expression, Che bella ragazza. I decided to look directly at her and say these words to her, checking to see if there was a response. For a moment, she paused as she appeared to hear something familiar and I only had wished I could remember more. I had just referred to her as “a beautiful girl!”  Her face temporary lit up and my heart was warmed. If only, I could have a conversation with her, I thought.

I had to wonder, what was it like for her to be in a home where no one understands her. How frightening to become invisible and voiceless. What a disappointing way to end the remaining years of one’s life.

The need for multilingual staff and volunteers is extremely important in effective healthcare delivery. As more immigrants are entering these facilities, I believe that we could be at a crisis point if we do not do more to address this issue especially in long-term care. Even though the immigrant resident may be fluent in English, for reasons I don’t understand they will often resort back to their mother tongue especially as dementia sets in.

While it may be impossible to have staff who can speak all the languages the residents do, there should be more effort made to provide care to them in their own language.

Here are some recommendations for providing more multilingual services in long-term care.

Employee Recruitment . Research the demographics of your community and include foreign language competencies in job postings based on what you find and on your current service needs.

Libraries and Print Materials. Consider purchasing or asking for donations of multilingual books, periodicals and tapes that residents can enjoy. Add international media.

Foreign Language Training.  There are many low-cost and no-cost ways of learning another language. Conduct a Google search and you’ll find many that are free.

Create a Picture Dictionary With Basic Words and Salutations. These small gestures could go a long way with keeping the resident more stimulated in addition to increasing the competencies of the employees.

We are facing unprecedented changes in healthcare and creating more culturally competent organizations do not have to be costly. Using existing community resources and becoming more innovative in the recruitment, selection and retention of employees can go a long way with developing more inclusive services.

 

 

The Complicated Dynamic of Racism in Long Term Care


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

Go to almost any long term care facility in the London, Ontario area and the racial divide will be very visible when it comes to who is a  front-line worker versus a resident.  Race and ethnicity become very pronounced.  British name plaques sprinkled with a few Southern European ones grace the corridors of the residence.  These facilities are home to a largely female population, and the leadership is usually comprised of women of British origin.

When we look more closely however, we will see that visible minorities form a good part of the staff involved in direct service delivery.  In London, this means primarily Filipino, Sudanese, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Latin American and Eastern European women.  For the most part, the residents have had very little contact with these groups and are unfamiliar with them, and consequently   deep-rooted racism, prejudice and stereotypes are not uncommon.

We have to remember that the cultural and racial demographics did not change much until the mid 1980’s in London, Ontario.  These residents probably did not grow up, live alongside and work with people who looked different, sounded different and did things differently.   It should be expected that they may have feelings of discomfort when they are in such a vulnerable position when they have to rely on these workers for so much of their basic care and sense of safety.

However, this lack of comfort can lead to racism causing devastating consequences for these workers.  False accusations, physical assaults against the workers and racial slurs can all be hurled at the people who are entrusted to look after them.  Feeling powerless, and afraid to report any problems for fear of losing their job, many minority workers have to face the additional brunt of racism while they go about their jobs caring for our family members in low paying positions with little opportunity for advancement.

Administrators will note that while many residents may keep their racial intolerance to themselves, if they are struck with dementia their filter is often lost.  It means that racial minorities who work in dementia services will deal with the effects of racism to an even larger degree.  It is a very slippery slope as we cannot punish people with dementia for what they say, so what do we do?

There is very little in the research about what might be the best solutions to the problem of racism against direct care workers in senior residences.  It can be challenging because long term care is a resident’s home. To complicate matters, residents who are hard of hearing report real challenges understanding those who have heavy accents.  But can long term care facilities be doing more to embrace the diversity of their staff?  The answer is yes.  Here are a few suggestions, but we need more.

 1.   Advertise languages spoken at your long-term care facility. –  Use your website, boast about it in your pamphlets and create a welcome sign for your front lobby that is multi-lingual and showcases the languages spoken.

 2.  Have multicultural displays.  Work with families, residents and employees to showcase various cultures in your lobby.  You might want to designate a multicultural week where you could have display tables that residents and family members could preside.  This is a great way to let everyone know that your home respects and celebrates culture.  Don’t forget to include posters that show respect for diversity and inclusion.  Include a few new food choices.

 3.  Solicit ideas for new recreational activities.  Do you have a resident who enjoys working on a craft project that is unique to     their  country of origin?  Would they be interested in teaching others how to do it?  Your multicultural staff could provide insight into some foods, outings, music and crafts.  The possibilities are endless; all the while learning about one another can be fun.

4.  Intake Assessments.   It is important to let residents and family members know about respect policies that you may have regarding your employees.  Depending on the resident’s health condition they may or may not be able to adhere to them. Ensure that you include some culturally based questions about:  values, end-of life decisions, language spoken.

 5.  Onboarding for New Employees – Ensure that all employees are told about the supports that are available to them when it comes to any bullying, harassment and racism.  Racism can take a toll on a worker’s mental health and performance, and they need to know what it looks like and where they can report it without jeopardizing their job security.   The leadership needs to take reports of racism seriously and be prepared to create a work plan that can protect them that is respectful to the worker and the resident’s rights.

6.  Take a Team Approach.  While little can be done to change the behaviour of elderly residents, a lot can be done to create a supportive team environment for the person who is experiencing the racism, reducing some of the negative effects.  Workers may be assigned to work in pairs to deal with difficult residents or be removed from dealing with the problematic client altogether.  Communication is the key.  Remember to involve the worker in the plan.   Leaders should also take a proactive approach to speak with the resident if they are coherent and finding out what their concerns are.  The resident may have some legitimate concerns that may be wrongfully dismissed as racism.  However, if racism is the issue this is an opportunity for the leaders to demonstrate to the resident that the worker is qualified to do the job just as the rest and should be treated with the same respect.  This is an important action the leader must take to demonstrate to the worker that their concerns are treated seriously and that while he/she may not have the confidence of the resident their boss believes in them.

If your organization has faced similar situations, please leave us your comments about what worked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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