Offense: The Price Of Diversity?


Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work

This past year has been particularly challenging for people like me: media/political junkies, who feverishly skim the international news trying to find the truth in a web of misinformation, lies and fake news.  My Twitter newsfeed supplies me with a variety of political viewpoints on diversity issues.  I take all of it in, recognizing that each point may have some validity.  I am open to different points of view and I welcome them.  I especially love factually- based debates.

Why do I like it when people argue about diversity?  Because it means we are part of a free society.

My husband and most of my friends have not lived in democratic countries.  They lived under communism where dissent could not be expressed.  If you have ever heard firsthand the stories of people who feared to say the wrong thing or going against the grain – you would certainly have a better appreciation for how we in the West have been afforded so many freedoms like free speech.

Increasingly, I see freedom of speech is only allowed if you express a certain opinion.  If for example, you go against a liberal opinion there can be severe consequences.

Let’s be very clear before I go any further.  I am not for hate speech — that is very different and our laws seem adequate in that regard. Disagreeing and hate are not the same.

American and Canadian universities have been host to violent protests where audiences thirsting for a  different point of view were hurt.  Campuses were set on fire and a lot of other nasty stuff happened.  You would think that university campuses would be the bastions of free speech and critical thinking? But, apparently not.  What impact does that have on education if what we must always be concerned with not offending others?

I remember sitting through my anthropology classes in university and hearing students rhyme off a very different version of history than the one I was taught. Disparaging remarks were made about believers of my faith and their historically oppressive role.  The professor did not stop the discussion, nor was that the expectation. (Probably these days that would be different.)  I sat and listened to what the student said and decided I would not oppose the remarks. Because the student exchange was deeply emotional for me, it left an imprint.  Decades later, I was able to understand my fellow student’s opinion and would agree with her in part and glad the professor did not shut down the conversation because she was concerned it “would offend someone”.

One of the ways I like to set myself apart from other practitioners is that I encourage the free flow of discussion about various diversity issues from a number of sources which is reflected in my Twitter and Facebook presence.  It reminds me of when teachers would explain that you should use a number of sources to substantiate your argument and present both sides.  That’s a really honest approach – and one I support.

Unfortunately, I have found that my need to present a diversity of opinions is not always met very well on social media.  And despite having a private business, some Tweeters feel that I should stick to the same predictable perspectives on issues all of the time.  For me, if I only present one side of an argument I am just another agent of propaganda.  I also feel that I am insulting my followers/ readers believing that they are not entitled to other views and can make their own decisions.  Diversity for me also spells diversity of ideas and opinions.

What I do know is that the lines between expressing a different point of view and hate speech are becoming frightfully blurred.  The best way to shut down a dissenting argument is to say it is “hateful” or “offensive”. Calling someone a racist in Western society is one of the worst accusations and is hurled left, right and centre at people who are often expressing a different view which has nothing to do with hate.

Diversity, free speech, and offense go hand in hand.  If we are going to be a welcoming society to a diversity of people, their values, and beliefs we all need to make peace with the fact that at times we will be challenged and that can be very emotional.  We cannot legislate hurt feelings or thoughts so why are we even trying?  We either grow a tougher skin or live in an Orwellian thought-controlled society:  what would you prefer?

 

 

 

 

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.

Tips for Avoiding Subconscious Bias In the Hiring Process


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

Let’s face it — we are human!  But when it comes to equitable hiring practices, our “humanness” can get in the way of hiring the best candidates.  There is a growing body of research that says that we are more likely to hire attractive people for certain jobs based on their appearance and not their qualifications.  Research shows that even small children think that people of colour are less trustworthy and not as friendly , and these biases continue on into adulthood and influence hiring practices.

The unfortunate reality is that the best people are often not chosen for a job because our subconscious bias gets in the way.

As a small business owner, I am conscious of this now more than ever.  I want to hire the best people, because if I don’t , I lose money and the reputation of my business.   Good people make me good as well. Business owners see and immediate connection with the bottom-line and are no doubt more likely to choose qualified people than looking for only “fit”.

It would be so easy if more people felt this way but they often don’t.   That’s why we need to build in processes to help reduce the occurrences of bias. When it comes to fair hiring practices, the key word is “structure”.  Structure allows for all members of the hiring committee to keep on track.  Problems arise when committee members “go off the script”.

Here are some tips to support the integrity of your hiring processes.

Check you biases at the door.  Remember the focus needs to be on skill rather than “fitting in”. If your goal is to hire “someone who will fit into the organizational culture” you will undoubtedly hire people who are the same as the rest and not necessarily the best employees.  Certain cultures and age groups and those with a diversity of thoughts and opinions, will be out of the running. Sometimes interviewers are afraid to hire the best because they fear losing their job to the candidate. But hiring the best people is a good indication of a progressive leadership team.

Map out your hiring process.  It is a good idea to use a flow chart or another kind of chart to identify who will be responsible for each stage in the process. Having a visual to work from will help you to see what links may need strengthening to increase the fairness of the process.  For example, one way to reduce beauty bias is to start with a preliminary online or standardized interview which removes the possibility of subjectivity.

Zoom in on the key competencies for the job, and structure the processes around it.  If your job posting requires an advanced level of technical skills in a particular area, be sure to have this tested within your screening process.

Involve multiple people in the interview process.  The screening committee should be made aware of fair hiring practices and be committed to getting the best candidate possible.

Ask the same questions of everyone.  Avoid asking extra questions of some and not of others.  You  give a candidate an unfair advantage.

Included a weighted scoring sheet.  Keep to the most important competencies and weigh them according to the job.  Relying on written responses alone is not enough.  This makes the process far too open to interpretation, bias and illegal hiring practices.  If your interview process is ever questioned by the candidate or authorities you can at least show that you had some structure in place.  Having a scoring sheet throughout the process:  recruitment, interviewing, and reference checking will cut down on the bias.  You owe it to the candidate and to the reputation of your organization to follow a structured system.

Focus on the key issues.  Can the candidate do the job? Based on their responses and prior work history, will they do the job?  If they have not done the job before, what qualities have they demonstrated in the interview process or skills have they obtained from other experiences that make the case that they can do the job.

Conduct reference checks.  Ensure that all candidates referees are asked the same questions.

Don’t forget empathy.  Looking for a job these days is harder than ever and there are so many people in need of one. Always keep in mind how you would like to be treated.  Think about how you would feel if someone less qualified got a job that should have been yours.

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.

 

Signs the Political Correctness Police Has Taken Over Your Workplace


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.

 

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“When I grow up, I’m gonna marry a tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, doctor, lawyer or Indian chief”.

In the 70’s, this was the skipping song we chanted as little girls. The goal was to land on the “rich man” or the “doctor”. Any other kind of a husband signaled a doomsday marriage. Fortunately, a lot has changed for the better and our evolving language has captured the humanness, equality and the need for all people to be included.

In this effort to restore equity to groups which have been on the margins forever, have we in the process gone too far with creating other inequities in the workplace? I think that we have. We are a long way from having a balanced workforce. Let’s take a look at some typical examples you find in the workplace. Is your workplace guilty of any of these?

• You don’t have a Christmas celebration in the workplace even though over half of Canadians identify themselves as Christian and even those who don’t still celebrate some aspects of Christmas.
• You appease the demands of one group in the workplace at the expense of the other, because you don’t want to be labelled as a _______.
• You withhold information that could advance social change or contribute to the betterment of the community because your findings shed a negative light on a group or groups of people.
• You allow behaviours from certain groups of people who you would never allow from others.
• You ignore performance issues from people of designated groups because you don’t want to ruffle any feathers.
• Diversity of thought and politics are not permitted.

In these cases, we are talking about “Fear” which seems to be the norm in organizations that have swung too far on the left of the pendulum when it comes to political correctness. Legislation for sure makes people scared; there is more of it now than ever before. Many organizations let too many behaviours slide because of the fear of law suits and complaints. It is better to take proactive steps at creating workplaces that everyone can work in, instead of trying to police everyone’s thoughts, words and actions.

 

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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