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

 

 

 

 

“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.

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.  

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Quick and Easy Ways To Make Your Staff Meetings More Inclusive


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Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work in London

Do you find yourself engulfed in a monologue that doesn’t seem to end, hoping that your staff will say something?

Staff meetings can be an effective and powerful way to:  communicate information; gain new ideas; and increase morale.  They don’t have to be painful and the sooner you can turn the focus from “me” into “we” the better.  Let’s take a look at a few ideas that will help make things easier for your participants to communicate with one another and with you.

1.  Timing is everything. Your participants need to be available.  Family time is important so please don’t schedule meetings at times that are difficult for staff to attend, for example after work hours or before work.  Remember employees have a lot of extra responsibilities these days with eldercare, childcare and more.  Your staff is not going to be very happy to come to a meeting if they have to rearrange their schedule outside of office hours to come to work.  Check  multi-faith and school calendars to ensure that your meeting time does not present a scheduling conflict for others. Avoid scheduling meetings during peak-hours. Meeting times during a lull will be much more appreciated.

2.  Provide the agenda, minutes and supplementary materials in advance.   With our increasing diversity in the workplace, it is important for us to remember that some people will need more time to read materials in advance to get a background on the subjects discussed.  This is especially true for those with English language barriers or with certain learning disabilities who would find it particularly difficult to read materials on the spot and then comment on them.

3.  Assign a meeting buddy.   Designate one of your staff as a go-to-person to help orientate new employees to the staff meeting topics.  Persons with English language barriers or those who are transferred from other departments, and new hires can really benefit from a meeting buddy.  Taking this step also goes a long way in conveying the message that meetings are important and that their participation is valued. Spending even an hour before the staff person’s first meeting to give them a background on the process as well as the history/background of various topics will be very helpful.

4.  Introductions.  Ensure that each person gets introduced and has a name tag preferably black on white. This is especially good for people who are bad with names.  Printed name tags with a good size font will also help you to identify others who may be sitting further away.  You don’t need to use these all the time, but consider putting them on when you have a guest attending your meeting or when you have new staff.

5.  Try something new.   Add a video or case study for discussion.  Use stories or quotes to inject your point.  With so many possibilities these days with meeting technology and free videos, there is really no excuse anymore for dull meetings!  Be creative and your staff with love you for it.  By changing things around, chances are you will both see a different side of one another and that’s a good thing.

6.  Get a grip on yourself. If you are not sure how your chairing is going and you really want to find out how your meeting style is perceived, all you have to do is:  Ask!  Institute a four or five checkmark  assessment at the end of the meeting and it can tell you how inclusive your meetings really are.  Here are a few quick questions you can ask your participants

1.  Did you feel that you had an opportunity to express your thoughts at the meeting?    YES or NO

2.  Did the chair share the floor?          YES  or NO

3.  Were the participants encouraged to express differences of opinion?   YES or NO

4.  Do you have any ideas for future meetings?    YES  or NO

5.   Additional comments_______________________________________

Here are just a few quick and easy ways to make your workplace more inclusive.  If you would like more information, please check out our other publications:  The Inclusion Quarterly, and Diversity and Inclusion on a Budget:  How to have a more engaged and innovative workforce for little or no dollars.  Visit  http://www.yourdiversityatwork.com.

 

The Do’s and Don’ts of Using Foreign Languages in the Workplace


How do you promote inclusion in a workplace where employees are speaking a multiple of languages?  How do you create policies that are fair?  What is legal?  What is not?  What is a good practice and what is exclusionary?  The tips below will help you to create an understanding of what are respectful language policies.

1.  Don’t  have written policies that state “English only” in  the workplace. This is illegal in Canada and an employee can cite discrimination on the basis of country of origin or language.

2.  Do take into consideration  the competing interests of different stakeholders when discussing how and when it is helpful to speak another language in the workplace.

3.  Don’t make an issue out of two people speaking together on a break or lunch hour.  Employees have the right to do so on their break, and usually they find this to be relaxing.

4.  Do encourage people  in a supportive way to speak English even if they have a language barrier. Empathize. Ask them if they would like you to correct them. Sometimes employees may use their first language for communication because they feel self-conscious about their grammar and pronunciation or the negative reaction they receive from English speakers.

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5. Don’t make rigid statements about English only in the workplace as it could backfire.  Instead,  have a discussion with employees about under what circumstances they think are reasonable.  Most companies will agree that when it comes to an emergency or health and safety, speaking a foreign language is necessary.

6. Do let employees and co-workers know if you feel excluded from conversations because they are not speaking a language that the rest of the group understands.  Sometimes people are unaware of the impact that this may have on morale and productivity as well as their self-image.

7. Don’t overlook the point that speaking foreign languages may be a symptom of a larger issue of exclusion:  workplace cliques, cultural divide, insecurity and lack of trust.  Your organization may have bigger problems that are fueling the desire to speak other languages in the workplace when it is not warranted.

To learn more about this course or others, visit:   www.yourdiversityatwork.com/webinars

DA101

Accessibility Revisited: Who is Your Fort Knox Office Serving?


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By:  Evelina Silveira, President,  Diversity at Work

In my line of work, I do a lot of web research and phone calling, gaining exposure to a host of companies and services.  It amazes me how many barriers organizations have placed on the public that they serving.  Whether it is a non-profit or a private company, you are often faced with one barrier after another, sometimes falling into a deep black hole of an automated message or an email address as a point of contact.

For example, the other day I found myself contacting agencies that serve some of our most vulnerable populations:  people with addictions, mental health issues and new immigrants.  All I wanted was to speak to someone about training, but there was no live person to answer the phone.  I thought to myself:  What if I had been someone with an addiction that finally got up enough courage to call for help, only to find that I not only had to listen to a number of options to choose from, I would have to remember them all to make the correct selection?  Unfortunately, dialing “zero’ was not an option to get to a live person, it just sent me back to the main menu.   Similarly, I have encountered this automated approach to mental health services, and anger management programs.   It says a lot about our society when a pleasant, warm and caring voice over the telephone replaced by a cold inaccessible automated system that screams out:  “You’re not important enough to have a staff person speak to you directly”  or “We want you as our clients, but on our terms”. And yet, this is exactly what these people need who are in crisis and seeking help.  Someone who is willing to take the time to speak to them when no one else has.  A credit card-like company approach to streaming calls is not the best recipe for a not for profit to take.

Despite fielding thousands of calls each day, the universities and hospitals do have a person answering the telephone.  It is good public relations, and provides a service that is quickly becoming extinct.  Bravo to them, for recognizing that people need information and going through an menu of options is inaccessible for some people with different kinds of barriers.

It is also interesting to note the new trend with leaving telephone numbers off a business’s website.  In some cases, all that is left is an email address.  Others will make it virtually impossible for you to contact them, even if you are their customer.  The message to the consumer is:   “Don’t call us, maybe we will call you if you leave us an email“.

With our increasing emphasis on accessibility and customer service standards we need to bear in mind that the telephone is the first point of contact for many people –especially our most vulnerable.  While machines have been successful in replacing many tasks designed for humans, a kind, well-informed person on the other end of the line makes a difference.  Let’s not forget that accessible customer service standards are the law now in Ontario.  If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to ask yourself :  Is my organization open to the public or have I created a Fort Knox nightmare for my customers and clients?

 

Do Your Job Ads Discriminate Against the Poor and the Disabled?


Evelina Silveira, President Diversity At Work in London Inc.

It is hard enough finding a job these days, but what many recruiters may not realize is that they could be placing unnecessary barriers in the way of good candidates applying for jobs.

With the type of work I do, I frequently  find myself going through job boards looking for trends.  Lately, I have noticed how a position that once covered a small area is now responsible for an entire region.  For example, instead of a human services worker just covering London, Ontario they may need to cover the counties as well.  The job may be part-time and on a contract basis.  I am seeing more jobs requiring a drivers’ licence even when the employee is not required to travel outside of the city or leave the office everyday.

Adding a requirement of a driver’s licence these days, can  discriminate against the poor and people with disabilities who do not drive.  When I see how wages have been lowered in many cases during this recession, combined with the increasing amount of contract work versus permanent work, it is quite feasible that there will be a lot of people out there who cannot afford to buy a car for their jobs, or even be able to keep the one they have. A friend of mine was offered a part-time job with a local organization and when she had to tell them she did not have a car to use for the job, they denied her the opportunity.  This by no means was a high paying job and with a little creativity on both the employer and candidate’s side she could have been hired and she would have been the best candidate.

With our increasing emphasis on workplace inclusivity and reducing barriers to employment, employers need to critically examine whether a driver’s licence and access to a car is truly necessary.  Obviously there are some jobs where both will be required, but in most cases they probably are not.

Ask the prospective employee how will they get around without having a vehicle?  They may have easy access to public transportation and are willing to make up the lost time or could be willing to pay for an occasional taxi.  Don’t underestimate what some people are willing to do or the supports that they may have in place to help them get around if they need to.

You can let them know what you can offer them in terms of a budget for transportation based on what you usually allocate to employees for mileage and gas.  As an organization, you can also have employees who are driving to the same area to team up with those who don’t have cars and drop them off where they need to be.  You don’t want certain employees to feel that they are providing a taxi service for people who drive, so look at rotating this.  Obviously, when it comes to hiring  qualified people with disabilities for the job you will need to look at accommodating them to the point of undue hardship on the organization.

With creativity and “thinking outside the box”, we can create more equitable hiring practices.

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