What the Brits’ Telly Can Teach Us About Diversity Dialogues


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Evelina Silveira,  President, Diversity at Work

When you think about British television, what comes to mind?  Well, if you are not British most of us would probably say Coronation Street  because it has been around forever on Canadian televisions. But there is so much more to discover!  Deciding to join the cable cutting crowd, I have opted for YouTube instead, for my nightly viewing. And British TV is it!

I have been so impressed with the wide range of British television programs devoted to social experiments in the form of reality TV.  To their credit, it appears the Brits are sincerely trying to understand “the other” through their programs of cultural exchanges of various sorts.  They’re not your regular run-of-the-mill low budget reality programs but thoughtful, out-of-the-box productions that are not afraid to ask the tough questions.

Why do I find the programs to be so remarkable?  Because the participants in the social experiments get a chance to “walk in the other person’s shoes” and freely ask questions without being afraid of a label of “homophobe”, “racist”, “islamaphone” “xenophobe” etc.  You get to see the good, the bad and the ugly.  Nothing is held back and I like that.  At least, when everyone has their preconceptions on the table you have something to work with instead being terminally superficial and polite.

What I began to notice in British television was delightfully refreshing.  The Brits actually engage others in a conversation about diversity.   I don’t see that happening in Canadian television.  All  we ever see is one side of a story and you either accept it or you don’t.  There is rarely an opportunity for two groups to come together and learn about one another and gain sensitivity, empathy and insight into the other group’s world.  The Brits seem to love programs devoted to “social experiments” and I have to tell you as a lover of sociology and anthropology — these types of programs score high for me.

It must have been a television genius who came up with the subject matter.  I have watched at least one  episode with the following themes:

  • A small group of Brits who have to live like a Muslim for a designated period of time.
  • Six men from a variety of backgrounds and lifestyles who go to live in a Benedictine monastery and must follow their rules
  • Nasty British teenagers who are sent to live with an American Amish family to help them reform their ways
  • Bad behaving British teenagers who are sent to live with another family in a foreign country which is known to be “very strict”
  • Several English citizens who feel they have been negatively impacted by immigration are matched with immigrants to challenge some of their assumptions

What so good about these experiments? What do participants often learn from the experience?

  • There is greater understanding that can come from honest and often challenging conversations. You might either become stronger in your conviction or  more empathetic to the other’s experience.
  • There is value and meaning in learning about other people’s rituals even if they seem far off.
  • We can be enriched by others’ experiences and might find adopting aspects of their lives to our own.
  • Having your assumptions challenged is not a bad thing and it contributes to your own personal growth.  You can also help others grow by letting them express their biases/stereotypes and prejudices and work with them.
  • You can’t live in a liberal democracy without expecting to be offended occasionally: a price of freedom of expression.

For example, in the BBC documentary a young British-born  worker is matched to a Polish immigrant who owns his own construction business.  The young man contends foreigners are taking all of the jobs.  He gets to meet Mariuscz  a business owner and notices that his whole shop is full of only Polish workers which fuels his negative perception.   However, when he has a conversation with Mariuscz he realizes that these workers have a starting wage which is much lower than he would accept.  Mariuscz says he started at a low salary and worked his way up in a shop and finally decided to open his own business.  Mariuscz however is challenged to see that hiring only Polish workers is discriminatory and that he could benefit from English-speaking employees.  He is open to accepting this criticism and comes to see that his workers would learn English if there was someone around who would be prepared to speak it.  The result of this dialogue?  I would say a win-win for both participants.  Each was open to hearing the other’s point of view and challenge their own thinking.

British television shows me how much we Canadians have in common  However, I would have to say a few programs that I watched momentarily would never survive in Canada.  They are just too mean! Programs like Fat Families and Life on the DoleLife on the Dole  does not seem balanced at all.  Most of the cast consists of drug addicts, people who don’t want to work and ex-cons.  We don’t see many examples of the working poor.  If the purpose of Life on the Dole  is to make working people angry about the poor, than it succeeds in that regard.  If this program was filmed in Canada the slant would be different.  It would be aired to bring about empathy and awareness of the poor and set in a more compassionate light and with less of a classist tone.

All in all, British television rocks!  I need to run —-  Wife Swap UK is on!

 

 

The Guide to Workplace Inclusion


Preview and Purchase at www.yourdiversityatwork.com/ebook/

Read  below what others have said about our book:

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ENDORSEMENTS:

This is an important and timely book for those who want more inclusive workplaces. It moves seamlessly from concepts and terminology and translates them into practical and actionable ideas. All readers, no matter where they are on their diversity and inclusive journey, will find something valuable in this book. Evelina Silveira and Jill Walters have created an impressive resource that includes examples of promising practices from across the globe. This should be every HR professional’s companion!

~Ratna Omidvar, executive director, Global Diversity Exchange, Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University

The No-Nonsense Guide to Workplace Inclusion provides a thorough and engaging roadmap of the journey toward organizational inclusion. The authors write from a position of rich, credible experience, with the result that this Guide can help companies capitalize on opportunities and skirt problems on the road to fuller inclusion of an increasingly diverse workplace. Filled with examples and evidence-based solutions, this Guide is a valuable tool for any organization working on building and strengthening its culture of inclusiveness.

~Alison Konrad, PhD, professor of organizational behaviour, Ivey Business School, London, Canada

Managing diversity and creating inclusive workplaces can seem like a daunting challenge for many organisations, but Evelina and Jill have produced a really accessible, highly practical guide to help organisations get going. What we particularly liked was that it was packed full of real examples and illustrations and lots of useful links and tools.

~Tracy Powley, director, Focal Point Training and Consultancy Ltd, United Kingdom

Because inclusion is one of the core values of the USTA, it is important for me to lead, motivate and work well with individuals of diverse backgrounds, capabilities and interests in order to achieve the outcomes we’ve set for ourselves. This book is a great resource for any organization looking to create a successful culture of inclusion.

~D.A. Abrams, chief diversity & inclusion officer, United States Tennis Association/ author, Diversity & Inclusion: The Big Six Formula for Success

This book goes a long way in addressing the systemic discrimination faced by the LGBTQ2 community in the workplace. It tells you what you need to do and gives you the resources to do it. It makes it easy for any workplace to become more inclusive in their hiring, recruitment and retention practices. I highly recommend it for every workplace.

~ Deb Al-Hamza, past president, Pride London Festival/ diversity social worker, Children’s Aid Society of London & Middlesex

I think this book is very comprehensive! There is very valuable information from ‘Foundations for creating an Inclusive Business Environment’ to ‘Best Practices in Diversity.’ I see the value for small to medium businesses that lack a dedicated human resources professional or lack the experience with implementing policies and procedures to promote an inclusive environment; however, larger businesses can also benefit greatly from the examples, detail and strategy offered. I will continue to visit many of the resources offered in the future and have made note of some of the examples.

~Lesley Oliver, diversity & accessibility coordinator, Equity & Human Rights Services, University of Western Ontario

The book is strategic, concrete and to the point. The various examples make it relevant to readers and practical. I also like the fact it is rooted in personal experiences and takes a holistic approach. The book makes one reflect on what is not obvious, helps avoid assumptions and discusses unconscious bias.

~Magali Toussaint, international career and cross-cultural coach/ diversity professional, Netherlands, http://about.me/magali.toussaint

 

 

 

 

Political Correctness: Haven’t We Gone Too Far?


By:  Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work

“Evelina, I don’t know how to say it, because I don’t want to sound bad or offend anyone but…”   “Just say it!”  I declare.   “You don’t have to be politically correct with me, if I don’t know what the problem is, I can’t help you!”  The tension automatically dissipates; and a looser more relaxed tone settles in and then the client begins to tell me an uncensored version of what is happening.

This happens regularly to me when I receive a call from a client. Usually they are stressed about a situation and they want answers but they don’t want to be judged.  They have learned they cannot criticize certain groups because they will have a label hurled at them or get slapped with a human rights complaint –-the biggest threat and silencer of all.

I am writing this article because I believe in truth and fairness. I believe in a balanced approach to diversity and workplace inclusion.  Political correctness is not always “correct” when it comes to truth and fairness.

Politically correct language is not a bad thing. I don’t want to be referred to as a “girl” “chick” or “bitch” but a woman.  Using the “right words” is positive.  It demonstrates the progress we have made in our understanding of the equality of human beings.  I like that!  Perhaps we should have left it at that.

Political correctness is responsible for:

  • Creating animosity amongst different groups and perpetuating all of the “isms” where none have existed.
  • Suppressing the truth.
  • Removing ourselves from our moral obligations to help marginalized groups.
  • Perpetuating a double-standard when it comes to acceptable  behaviour.
  • Preventing us from talking to one another.

 

How Political Correctness Creates Animosity Amongst Groups

The Christmas holidays are a prime example. I have never met a Jew or a Muslim in Canada who was “offended” by celebrating Christmas in the workplace.  Yet, each year there is a rush to plan a holiday festivity which sounds like a Christmas one – but  it isn’t supposed to be. Or the gathering is cancelled altogether because the organization has just hired a Jew or a Muslim, or any other non-Christian.  The end result: dislike for those of minority faiths and the cancellation of a celebration which would have otherwise brought employees together. In our effort to please everyone –we please no one. Instead, “well-meaning”, “religiously-sensitive”  gestures spring into micro-aggressions in the workplace where none has previously existed.

How Political Correctness Suppresses the Truth

It’s seems like it wasn’t that long ago when CBC’s Marketplace made a formal apology  for publishing inaccurate test results  about vitamin supplements.  But I am unaware of any such apology with the Fifth Estates’ problematic reporting of the incidents which lead to the death of little Aylan Kurdi.  His precious life could have been saved. Instead, they aired a report which infers that the Canadian government was responsible  for Aylan’s death since his family’s application  wasn’t approved in time to immigrate to Canada!   Around the same time, European and Turkish papers had reported about Aylan’s father’s disregard for his own son’s life (did not give him a life jacket but wore one himself) and that he was actually a human smuggler who was trying to get to Germany to get the State to pay for very expensive dental work. And to make matters worse, Aylan  wasn’t the only member of his family who perished as a result of his father’s negligence it was also his mother and siblings. The last I read his father was going to prison.  I don’t recall a correction notice on the Fifth Estate or any other media sources for that matter. It’s not politically correct and it certainly wouldn’t fit in with Liberal politics.

Canadians have been led to believe that we are saving thousands of people from Syrian refugee camps, but sadly we are not. According to the April 13, 2016 edition of Hill Times confirms that “very few are coming from refugee camps”.  Rushing to bring in thousands of people into the country without a good plan and then saying we are saving lives is deceptive. Stop leading Canadians to believe that we are helping more people than we actually are  — we are not!

My friends from former communist countries have noted that the CBC is no different than the propaganda they had to put up with back in their country of origin. It seems that our media on the whole has a disdain for simultaneously broadcasting opposing points of view.  There’s a name for that:  media bias.

Internationally and at home, journalists, police officers, and government officials are not allowed to report what is going on because they are afraid of an uprising and backlash against refugees and migrants. Since when is censorship a part of living in a democratic country?  I ask myself: What must it be like to be a muzzled journalist these days?

Yet the sexual abuse of children at the hands of Catholic priests seems to be okay to broadcast around the world. Christian-bashing has becoming so acceptable in our modern society that we hardly notice it.  Rarely do you ever hear anyone sticking up for Christians. So who makes the decision of what truths can be disclosed and which will be suppressed? Political correctness does.

Political correctness slaps a “xenophobe” or “racist” label whenever you disagree with a leftist mentality. Very strong words, improperly used when citizens start asking questions about the politics of their country.  I would argue by using these words so regularly  actually takes away from the experiences of those who truly live them each day.

How Political Correctness Removes Us From Our Moral Responsibility

Where are the voices of Western feminists when it comes to advocating for the rights of women globally?   In some ways, today’s feminists haven’t evolved much from the 1960’s.  Female genital mutilation, child marriage and honour killings are off-bounds.  I would encourage any feminist who thinks it is culturally insensitive to challenge the violent practices of other cultures to meet the women who have endured them.  In my work with immigrant women, I have met those who have suffered these horrendous, traumatic practices and who have been marred physically and psychologically for the rest of their lives.  If we don’t try to help our sisters globally we are making the statement that their lives are less valuable.  Is the life of a Yemenite, Sudanese, Indian girl or other any less than a Western life?  Of course not. It is not racist to advocate for the rights of people who are often voiceless. It is the right thing to do!

How Political Correctness Makes Us Accept Intolerable Behaviour 

When we accept poor work performance or belligerent behaviour from a person of a designated group we are being unjust.   We are telling  ourselves that we cannot expect better behaviour because of “x” number of reasons and consequently we reduce them to a lower level of expectations. Translation:  we don’t feel they can attain our standards.  Isn’t this kind of like the “racism of lower expectations”?

What would happen if you walked naked down the street? There is a good chance the police would be called and you would be arrested for violating the public decency laws.  Most people I say don’t really care if there is a Pride Parade, but they do care if there is nudity involved.  Why do the Toronto police turn a blind eye to nudity at the Pride Parade when it is unlawful?  Since when does one group of people get to break the law without consequence and others can’t?  No one can argue that the LGBT community has a lot to celebrate and they have had a long history of oppression but that does not give them the right to be naked on the street.  One law for everyone, please! No exceptions.

Political Correctness Prevents Us From Talking To One Another

Many years ago, I had a wonderful opportunity to bring Jewish and Arab-Muslim women together for a dialogue group. These forward-thinking women through mutual learning wanted to “create a pocket of peace” in the city they lived in, by reducing hate and stereotypes.  It was one of the most difficult and rewarding groups I have ever facilitated as it  was so emotionally charged.  At the outset, these women denounced “terminal politeness”.  We all understood what it meant:  no phoniness and no political correctness.   Consequently, these women spent many weeks together, shared meals and prayers of peace.  As the facilitator, I can recount how the women expressed similar feelings about the impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  It was interesting to know how each group felt the newspapers were biased against them.  Did long-lasting friendships happen?  Not really, but respect did.  These were bold woman who were willing to ask and speak without judgment and fear and consequently they got the answers they were seeking.  This wouldn’t have happened if they had been politically correct.

What can we do as individuals?

1. Accept diversity of opinion. With embracing diversity comes the expectation of accepting  differences of opinion, even when it doesn’t suit you. . You cannot have one without the other.

2. Don’t accept one truth only. There are different sides to every story. Challenge bias when you see it. Whether it’s the media,  the authors of your children’s textbooks, or institutions and even yourself.

3.  Stop the silence and take a chance and speak out against political correctness.  I can guarantee that you’ll be a hero.  You won’t be alone.

 

“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.

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 a 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.

 

 

 

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.  

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.

 

Religious Accommodations Need Limits


Dr. Grayson of York University in Toronto, Canada should be commended for the brave action he took by denying a student’s request for religious accommodation.  According to his beliefs, the student could not meet with his fellow female classmates to work on a school project.

I sent Dr. Grayson an e-mail of support and so did many others, championing his commitment to women’s equality and his respect for secularism. In his article in The Globe and Mail, Dr. Grayson defends York University noting that their decisions were based on on what was dictated by the Ontario Human Rights Code — even if  flawed.

I have a question for the Ontario Human Rights Commission: Since when is it acceptable to perpetuate sexism in the name of religious accommodation in Canada?  Let’s not forget that women in this country have fought for equality and it was less than 100 years ago that we were legally recognized as “persons”. This is a secular country, attracting immigrants fleeing theocracies who don’t want religion to control every aspect of their life.  Why are we even entertaining the idea that segregation of the sexes is acceptable when it can have such a negative impact on a huge demographic?

Dr. Grayson points out that since many elementary schools are making these concessions,  students will naturally expect the same when they attend a post-secondary institution.   Allowing this to happen in public funded institutions is wrong and problematic from many perspectives.

If we agree that the goals of post-secondary institutions are to prepare students for critical thinking, career exploration and finding employment, then we are doing these students a disservice.  Giving them the impression that we are prepared to segregate our workplaces along the lines of sex to accommodate one person; we cannot blame them for thinking this is possible if it has been done all along.

 Here are a few examples of religious accommodation that I have come across in my work with post-secondary institutions:

  • Female students with face-coverings who can only work in female groups.
  • Male co-op students who insist that they can only work in male workplace settings.
  • Nursing students who cannot follow through on in-class demonstrations that require touching students of the opposite sex.

Unless the labour shortages become extremely intense, I really doubt that the average Canadian employer would be able to accommodate the above requests. By doing so, could spell disaster for both the employees and employers in both monetary and human terms.  It tears at the very soul of this country which values equality.  And while workplaces are trying to becoming more inclusive,  accommodating one of these requests will only have ripple effects, negatively impacting many employees and ultimately the one initiating the request. Resentment and vilification will spread.  We only need to look at the reaction the York University student has received.

 Those working in employment services with religious minorities should discuss workplace accommodations.  Be very honest about the impact their request may have on their ability to obtain a job and retain one. For example, I may say:  “Yes, it is your right to not shake the hand of the opposite sex”.  But add:  “In Canadian culture, shaking hands is a standard greeting and expected business practices, it in no way has any sexual connotation”,    “If you don’t shake someone’s hand when they offer it, there is a good chance they will feel offended that you didn’t think they were worthy of this greeting.  Or, that you are arrogant”.  I also add that they have to ultimately make the decision whether they will carry on with some of their practices in public because of the effect they can have on employment and forming relationships outside their religious groups.

 I am not entirely against religious accommodations. Dietary accommodations, and days off for observance are reasonable requests which have little impact on others especially when they are anticipated.  But, the Ontario Human Rights Commission needs to have a better pulse on what is happening in our workplaces when its values conflict with those of most Canadians.

Majority Rules: Christmas in the Workplace


 By:  Evelina Silveira, President Diversity At Work in London

Have you checked out the stats lately?  Statistics Canada 2005 Census on Religion shows    that at least 21  out of 29 million Canadians self-identify as Christians.  And in “Faith on the Move“, Independent Panel Forum on Religious Life, reports that 6 out of the 10 immigrants that are coming to Canada self-identify as Christians.

So who are we kidding when we try to rid the workplace of the word “Christmas” and Christmas decorations?  And who are we exactly trying to appease when we call it “Xmas”?  With these types of statistics who are we trying to include or exclude?  When  over half of the Canadian population identifies itself as Christian why are we having debates as to whether you can sing religious Christmas carols in a public school?  To make it even more confusing, how many atheists out there celebrate Christmas on some level? Why are we afraid to call the staff party that happens in November or December a Christmas party?  After, all that is what it is, isn’t it?

Who are you afraid of  offending?  Surely not me.  I am not a part of the majority but I absolutely have no desire to deny anyone some  festivities that they look forward to all year long.  Christians have so few holidays in comparison to other faith groups and they should be allowed to enjoy them.  I know people of many other faith groups who willingly enjoy attending the annual Christmas party, and like decorating the Christmas tree etc.  I’ve known Muslim families whose children want a Christmas tree and they put one up as a way of integrating into the culture and sharing of the season, and I have also heard that some of the most famous Christmas carols were written by Jews.  Go figure!

 I honestly believe that there is such a small minority of people who are upset by Christmas festivities that you are better off just trying to appease the majority.

 I base a lot of my decisions on facts and the reality is, most Canadians are Christians and if we keep on trying to eat away at everything that is dear to them, there is bound to be a backlash.

I have seen it already starting to happen.

 I am speaking about what I see as a growing trend in the workplace.  Christians who feel jilted by a new diversity strategy that includes celebrating everyone’s faith except theirs.  The result is staff who feel resentment at a time where they should be feeling joy.  What often happens is that these religious minorities (who most often do not have a problem with Christians celebrating their holidays or showing their religious symbols) start to get the cold shoulder from their Christian co-workers.  They then become the scapegoat and object of contempt.  Who is responsible for this conundrum?  It is not the average staff person, but often bureaucrats or HR leaders who think that the road to inclusion is by silencing the rights of the majority.  It doesn’t work that way!  By trying to please everyone, you probably don’t please anyone and especially not the majority.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t  include other people’s faiths in our schools or workplaces — quite the contrary.  Our communities and workplaces are full of religiously diverse people, so we should try to learn about their beliefs.  I  have been enriched by learning about other faiths.  Out of all of the  one-on-one after the workshop conversations that I have,  this issue seems to be the most troubling and divisive . That’s why, I  like to use facts to support my arguments and perhaps others who are making these decisions based on religious ignorance  should use them as well. A demographical analysis is in order.

 Instead of creating policies based on trying not to offend anyone, create them based on the religious  composition of your workplace or school. There is a good chance for instance that an organization in Brampton, Ontario will have a profoundly different religious composition than one in North London, Ontario.  Have conversations, provide confidential employee surveys and poll them about religious expression in the workplace. Don’t make assumptions that your Christian staff does not want any acknowledgement of their beliefs.

Religion indeed is a slippery slope and no one wants to be labelled a bigot.  Take a look at your current practices in your organization.  Who are you really accommodating?  Depending on your demographics you could be pandering to the requests of a very small minority.

Share your thoughts and let’s have a conversation about what has worked well within your organization about religious accommodation. Leave your comments below.

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