The Complicated Dynamic of Racism in Long Term Care


Holding Hands with Elderly Patient

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planning Inclusive Meetings and Special Events


ImageEvelina Silveira, President, Diversity At Work in London Inc.  Publisher of the Inclusion Quarterly

Recently, I was perusing a business magazine that had a section dedicated to meeting planning. It was written by a professional in the field yet I could have sworn that the article was at least 20 years old. There was no attention to the new realities of planning business
meetings that host a wide range of guests from different cultures, religions and abilities. It was the same old same old. Someone reading this article may have thought that they had all of the information they needed to make their next event a success — but they didn’t.

No doubt, the business world is more complicated these days. It can be very intimidating, especially if you feel forced into thinking outside the box for the first time.

Don’t fret. Guess what? A lot of the ideas won’t cost you much or nothing at all, but they really make a world of difference when it comes to making your staff, co-workers and guests more comfortable with participating. Before you know it, it will become
just a regular way of doing business.

1. CROSS-CHECK THE PROPOSED DATE OF YOUR MEETING.
Does it coincide with any religious or cultural events? Are the dates of your meetings scheduled on days when children are off from school?  Tip: Keep a religious/ cultural calendar handy along with elementary school calendars.

2. INVITE ACCOMMODATION REQUESTS.
Ask participants well before the meeting to place their accommodation  requests in by a certain date.

3. CHOOSE AN ACCESSIBLE LOCATION.
Your venue should be equipped with ramps, elevators, accessible bathrooms etc. However, you will also want to consider having your event or meeting in an area that is easily accessible by public transportation.

4. CHOOSE A CATERER/MENU PLANNING.
Depending on your group of participants you may want to consider halal or kosher catering if you know that you will be having Jewish or Muslim guests. If in doubt always ensure that you have lots of vegetarian options.  Sit down meals are best if you are expecting guests with mobility challenges. If you choose to have a buffet, assign a volunteer to assist the participant with getting their meal.

5. IF POSSIBLE PROVIDE MEETING MATERIALS IN ADVANCE.
By doing so, you give participants an opportunity to ask any questions, obtain translations if required or just give them more time to absorb the information if they have challenges with reading comprehension.

6. PROVIDE CLEAR SIGNAGE AND NAME TAGS AND MATERIALS.
Use large print contrasting colour signs and high contrast name tags. Each  participant should have a name tag if there is a new member to the meeting. Consider the above with your PowerPoint presentations and handouts. Opt  for a larger font size like 18 and fonts like Verdana and Arial that are sans serif.

7. ALLERGY ALERT.
Ensure that your promotional materials indicate a scent-free environment. If you are planning to use balloons , choose a non-latex brand. Food allergies should be taken care of early on in the planning stages when you invite requests for accommodations.

8. CHAIRING THE MEETING.
Remember to indicate any changes in topic, break times and adjournments. Whenever possible, try to stay on schedule as some of your guests may have medical issues that they need to take care of during a break at a certain time.

9. KEEP ISSUES ABOVE BOARD.
While it is nice to get support for your position, trying to create a lobby group outside of the meeting spells exclusion. As a practice, strive to keep all related discussions within the meeting to avoid some members having an unfair advantage over others.

10. ADDITIONAL GUIDELINES.
While it is sometimes difficult to do, challenge participants who are trying to “pull rank in the room”. Remind meeting participants of simple rules like speaking one at a time, attentive listening, respect for different opinions and for confidentiality.

While these suggestions may not seem like a lot, by following these tips you will have opened the door to many more people to participate and enjoy your event more freely.  Creating inclusive events requires us to put ourselves in the shoes of many other people and look at the barriers that might be present and seek solutions.

 

 

 

 

Is Your Team Building Inclusive?


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

Imagine. What would it be like to be escorted into an auditorium en masse to spend endless hours listening to speeches from your leader? Maybe the leader is feared or respected. The theme of his/her talks emphasize the importance of collaboration, discipline and commitment to collective values. You have no choice but to attend or you might be penalized in some shape or form.   For many people who were raised in communist countries they have had these experiences of attending mandatory events to demonstrate their solidarity with the mission and values of the State. They were given updates on the progress that had been made, the work that still needed to be done, and what they could do as a group to advance the State goals.

Could any comparisons be made to our Western-style of team building? You might say that it is not possible:  How can you make the comparison? While not all leaders are feared nor are the penalties for not buying-in so harsh, there are definitely consequences if you don’t “tow the Party line”.

I have been told by many people who grew up in communist countries, that aspects of our North American team building remind them of some of the unpleasant experiences of their country of origin where there was little opportunity for individual expression. The retreats or games, border on superficial and stressful because of the endless amount of small talk in a culture that still seems new. Team building is challenged if you have people in your group who feel that this is yet another exercise in “group think”.

Rock climbing, boot camps, bowling and a whole load of other physical activities that may be on the list for  team building.  I recall one of my workshop participants telling me that her husband dreaded their annual team building event because it involved all kinds of physical competitions and he used a wheelchair. The company never considered his feelings or tried to figure out a way that he could participate. You cannot build a team by excluding some of its members.

What about events that involve drinking alcohol and partying? I once had a client who confessed that now that his team was comprised of more women, people of other faiths and cultures, he was not so sure that the yearly drinking and partying fest in Las Vegas would be such a great reward for everyone! I had to agree. I encouraged him to look at other ways to build his team and consider more inclusive rewards programs like gift cards, cleaning services, and a monetary bonus.

Do you feel like playing Ker Plunk on a Friday afternoon to build a stronger team? Or does playing video games sound like a better idea? With four generation working together for the first time, we need to choose activities that everyone will enjoy or be willing to try.

Team building organizers must consider: cultural perceptions, accessibility, gender, religious obligations, and generational differences. It  is not a single event each year but must be cultivated on a daily basis. One of the easiest ways to build an inclusive team is to ask the individual members for feedback and ideas. Be prepared to implement them and show the progress of their ideas along the way.

 

Communicating Over the Telephone When There Is A Language Barrier


Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work in London

Talking over the phone can be hard enough when you cannot analyze the body language; but what is it like when you have a difficult time understanding English? The stress, frustration and feelings of helplessness can be magnified, unless you have a patient person on the other end of the line who is willing to go the extra mile to be attentive.

Sometimes both “fluency” and “accent” can create barriers over the telephone. In the first case the person may have an inadequate vocabulary to express themselves and in the latter they may have an accent but be very fluent. Quite frequently, you will get both an issue of fluency as well as accent.

Eliminate distractions like background noise.

In any case, when you are dealing with someone over the phone that you cannot understand you will need to eliminate as many distractions as possible where you are and where they are. This call will require a lot more out of you so you will have to “hyper-focus” on what the person is saying.  If you have any background noise where you are, move to another spot to take the call. If the noise is coming from the other person’s place say: “I am sorry, but I am having a hard time hearing you. I hear noises and I cannot hear you very well. Would you please move to an area which is quieter?” Usually this works, or if they cannot move to a quieter place they will call you back when things have settled. Or you may find that you have to make the best out of communicating with background noise.

Remember to speak slowly.

While you are speaking the other person may be trying to translate what you are saying in their head. They could also be trying to write things down. It takes time to make the mental transition, so give them time. Even though you are speaking slowly, try not to be patronizing, people can tell when they are being disrespected even over the phone. Just because someone has a language barrier doesn’t mean they lack intelligence.

Speak at a normal volume.

It always surprises me that when we are faced with language barriers there seems to be an almost automatic response to speak more loudly.  That doesn’t work, and could actually backfire on the phone making the other person agitated.

Speak in short sentences.

If you speak in short sentences you will likely pause more and speak more slowly. This will help the other person interpret what you are saying more easily.

Enunciate clearly.

If you are sloppy with your enunciation, this is the time to speak very clearly. Make your consonants shine! It is easy to say: “Whad’ya wanna do?”; But it will be hard to understand. Instead you will want to say: “What would you like to do?”

Get rid of the jargon.

Choose words carefully. But also remember that abbreviations, acronyms and others can be very culturally specific and confusing. Say the whole word and not a short version of it.

Take the call in steps.

Sometimes people will ramble on especially if they are emotional. You may find that they are giving you lots of information and you are feeling overwhelmed. If you can find a break in the conversation say something like this: “Can we stop here for a moment? I would like to make sure that I understand what you are asking?” Repeat what you believe you have heard and clarify. What you are doing is paraphrasing what was said. This allows you to check in every so often to make sure that you understand before you ask the caller to continue with what they are trying to communicate. It also shows your caller that you are interested in his/her message because you are checking the message. If you have only understood part of the message than you can ask more questions to obtain the information that you need.

Try again.

If you think that the person on the other end of the line does not understand what you are saying, instead of repeating what you said in the same way, try different combinations of words or descriptions. I usually find that this helps. Similarly, if you don’t understand what the other person is saying on the other end of the line you can say: “I am sorry but I do not understand, could you explain this again to me in a different way?”

Seek Help.

In the worse case scenario, when you don’t think you are getting through and if a face-to-face meeting is impossible you may want to get another person involved who is familiar with one of the languages. It could be someone that you work with or alternatively, you could ask the caller if he/she can have a friend or family member call you back that you can speak to.

It is important at all times to convey to the person with the English language barrier that you want to help them and want to give them good service. For most English as a Second Language Speakers they find the telephone to be a huge barrier and communication can be very stressful. Having a patient person on the other end of the line, who is willing to go slowly with them, and communicates a sincere interest in wanting to help them, goes a long way in making the call smoother for everyone involved.

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