Diversity: Can we laugh, please?


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Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work  http://www.yourdiversityatwork.com

If I believe my Twitter feed, I would say that the whole world is against people of my demographic. Diversity has become so serious, scary and divisive that we have forgotten how remarkably funny it can be if we do not think the world is out to offend us.

I want to share with you a few of my experiences because it is time we start seeing some of the humour of diversity misinterpretation and assumptions.

Several years ago, I received a call from a Caribbean man who was asking me if I would be interested in emceeing a black awards night.  I gladly accepted, impressed this was quite an open-minded group to invite me to facilitate the evening.  I wrote down the details, and just before I was about to hang up the phone, I had this strange hunch that came over me. Did I think maybe he did not want me – a white person?  I asked him directly: ” Michael, are you aware that I am not black?”  There was silence for a moment.  Then with an uncomfortable laugh, he responded “No.” I said, “I thought, so.” Does that make a difference now that you know that I am white?  After a momentary pause, he remarked: well, uh, yeah”. He was dumbfounded!  How was he going to tell me that he thought I was black and that is why he called me? Digging his heels, he told me that he thought I had a “black name” and that is why he called me.  I told him that I did not know what he was talking about:  a black name? Did I look black in my picture?  Trying to wheel himself out from the mess, he tried again and said:  “Well, I guess your name is Hispanic sounding!”  I told him: “Listen, I will make this easy for you.  You do not want me to emcee your event because I am white and by the way, I am not Hispanic –but close enough—Portuguese.  I wish you good luck trying to find someone!”

A former co-worker of mine who came out of the closet at work dealt with the homophobic men in the office in a unique way.  When he went into the men’s washroom, he would belt out the lyrics to Dancing Queen!

Acting as a cultural mentor for a Chinese new immigrant, I remarked about Canadian informality, and pleaded with him to not call me Mrs. Silveira. I explained to him all of the instances when it is appropriate to use titles.  Running into him one day, I asked about his weekend. He said it was not so good and that he had to take his daughter to the hospital.  He noted how impressed he was with the care in a Canadian hospital.  With a mesmerized look on his face, he indicated he had put into action what I had taught him about informal salutations while he was in the hospital.  As he was leaving, he took a look at the doctor’s name tag which read:  “Sandy Brown.” In a great gesture of appreciation, exiting he said: “Thank you, Sandy.” To his dismay and surprise, she replied:  “Dr. Brown”!  I apologized to my dear friend for a significant omission – doctors and titles! Ouch!

All of these new genders are confusing me. I am not sure that I like the images that come to my mind like when I hear the word “gender fluid”. When I hear that expression, it makes me think that you have to go to the pharmacy to buy something to take care of it – maybe in the special paper products section in the store.  May I suggest “gender elasticity” or “gender flexibility” instead?

I have many stories about encounters in Asian food markets. Frequently, the employees that I come across don’t speak English, and therefore there is much room for misinterpretation.  Excited about embarking on a Vietnamese culinary adventure, I headed to the store looking for the best sauce to complement the spring rolls I was planning to make.  I saw a Chinese man who was stocking the shelves and asked him if he could recommend a good sauce for my spring rolls. I said I wanted him to show me the sauce he used. Clearly he did not understand what I had said.  Before you knew it, we were standing in front of the Heinz ketchup.  I surmised that he likely thought this was the only kind of sauce white people use!

Whether it was one too many coffees or not enough sleep the night before, I had a twitch in my right eye during a workshop I was facilitating. It was distracting and it seemed like I could not control it. Moreover, for whatever reason, each time I looked in the direction of one of the female participants, my twitch became a wink.  Low and behold, after the training session, I went up to speak to some participants that were in her area. She immediately distanced herself and appeared uncomfortable.  The moral of the story: just because someone has a twitch does not mean he or she are flirting with you!

While running a Latin American seniors’ drop-in many years ago, the participants would cheerfully greet me with: ” Como estas, Evelina?”  (How are you, Evelina)  Reciprocally, I would reply “ Yo estoy buena, gracias.” I did this for months, thinking that I was saying:  “I am good, thank you.” A few of the older women would consistently give me strange grimaces.  One day we had two new participants from Colombia attend who decided to test me again and ask me how I was.  I gave them the same response, only this time they started laughing!   I realized that the “good” wholesome feeling I was trying to express, had, in fact, some other less innocent connotation!

After finishing my presentation about living with ADHD, I had a blind man come up to me and say:  “Wow!  I really feel sorry for you, it must be difficult bouncing off the walls all the time!”  I laughed and corrected him that I don’t bounce off walls too often but appreciated his empathy–even though I felt he was the one with the challenges!

It is time to bring the joy and laughter that diversity can bring! Feel free to share your funny incidents below.

 

London’s Poor Diversity Score No Surprise


Written by: Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work

As featured in New Canadian Media
Thursday, 27 October 2016 

A recent study published by the Western University’s Centre for Research on Migration and Ethnic Relations found a severe lack of visible minorities in leadership roles in organizations in London, Ontario. 

While the study made headlines, the findings came as no surprise to me.  I have lived in London all my life, working as a diversity consultant for 10 years. I would like to offer an explanation as to why inroads have not been made in visible minority leadership in  London, Ontario.

Flashback to about 13 years ago, when I started to work on a business plan for Diversity at Work: I interviewed many leaders in London asking them whether my idea of having a business which promoted hiring and supporting diverse candidates would ever fly?

I will never forget the answer I received from a human resources consultant who had previously held many jobs in the recruitment and leadership fields.  She said:  “Evelina, as long as there are enough white people to fill the jobs, no one will ever consider anyone else, because they don’t have to.”

Essentially, she conveyed that there really was no need to change the recruitment process and that it was too much work to do so.

A late joiner

In comparison to other cities, London has lagged behind. Perhaps it is because the jobs could easily be filled as the human resources consultant suggested, or maybe we ignore the ever-growing presence of visible minorities which started in the mid-1980’s. 

Some of our largest employers and institutions have only recently developed diversity policies, later than their counterparts in other comparable cities which have a high number of visible minorities and immigrants. I often scan the diversity plans of the public service organizations in London and it would appear that the effort or the kind of approach being used – if at all – are not producing  much in terms of achieving a representative workforce, let alone diversity in leadership. 

My observations are consistent with the findings which indicate a very low level of visible minority participation, notably 5.3 per cent on agencies, boards, and commissions.  Their lack of participation at these levels can have ramifications for how services are delivered, in addition to resource allocation. 

Furthermore, there is a tendency, especially with boards, to recruit people they know, often friends and co-workers, to fill vacancies.  This can perpetuate the lack of representation and the effort to create more diversified boards and committees.

It is startling how many workplaces have not implemented the strategies and best practices that can help mitigate these gaps. How might we explain the disconnect? There is a multitude of reasons why this occurs and this is key to understanding the problem of under-representation in London’s publicly-funded organizations.

Consider these possibilities:

·         Foreign credentials and work experience are not recognized. Generally speaking, if an applicant has not graduated from a leadership program in North America or the U.K , there is a good chance their education in leadership may not be recognized.  Leadership experience from other  parts of the world may not be taken into consideration for a host of reasons, including cultural differences in how we do business and interact with employees.  

·         Effective leadership requires highly developed communication skills:  in person, in writing and over the phone.  An internationally-trained applicant is disadvantaged if they have a pronounced accent and have an indirect style of communication.  Interviewer bias can hamper heavily-accented applicants, who may be mistaken as unqualified because they speak differently.  Across cultures, there are variations in how we conduct meetings, presentations and write reports. The Canadian standards are often learned in school or through work experience.

At civic level: zero

The number of visible minorities and immigrant leaders in municipal organizations is at a glaring zero per cent! 

Given that government organizations are held to a higher standard than the private sector to have a reflective workforce, as well as to meet Employment Equity standards, this represents a failure of implementation and consequently lost opportunities for diversifying the workforce and gaining new skills and perspectives. 

With increasing job insecurity, good benefits and salaries, public service employees are not likely to leave their jobs.  Understandably, this represents fewer opportunities for external applicants to get hired. 

It would be interesting to know if the City of London has an internal mentoring program to assist aspiring leaders.  Research consistently indicates that visible minorities and immigrants find a lack of mentors in the workplace. 

Successful leaders often attest to the significance of mentors throughout their careers.  There have been some attempts over the last few years to develop internships for immigrant professionals at the City of London. However, it is hard to know if this experience translated into permanent employment with the City.

Finally, we cannot overlook bias and racism in the recruitment and selection process, although it does not probably explain the huge disconnect between the population and their representation in the workforce. In my experience, if the leadership in an organization is not familiar with the business benefits of a diverse workforce, they are very unlikely to support and initiate programs which can facilitate the entry and promotion of visible minorities within their organizations.

Evelina Silveira is the President of Diversity at Work in London, a three-time award -winning firm which specializes in creating inclusive workplaces and diverse customer bases.  She has co-authored two globally acclaimed books and is the publisher of the Inclusion Quarterly.

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 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

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MAINSTREAM MEDIA AND ABORIGINAL PEOPLE — DECADES OF BIASED REPORTING


The Idle No More movement has been successful with raising awareness of aboriginal issues in Canada, and engaging the country in a conversation it rarely has.  Although I have to say, reading the comments posted about Chief Spence and aboriginal people in general, have shown me a side of racism I often don’t see and tells me that the conversation must continue.Dream catcher silhouette

Racism is often rooted in misinformation.

Recently, I realized a few things in a conversation with a friend, who acts as an aboriginal advisor in his workplace. We have incredibly different perspectives.  My friend lived some part of his life in an aboriginal community and spent a good part of his early years in residential schools.  Despite some upheavals and hardships he managed to get to college and have a successful career in the public service. I like to play devil’s advocate with him to see how he will respond to different contentious issues that I raise. I think you will find some of his responses surprising and informative.

1.   Why is so much of the aboriginal housing dilapidated and looks like no one cares for it?

He responded that the band will have homes built for people on low incomes.  He gave me a couple of examples of families he knew who were on social assistance and could not afford to maintain the home that they were given let alone heat them.  Furthermore, he spoke of split level homes that were equipped with electric heating way up north.  How can the average person afford an electrical heating bill in a northern climate? Much of the housing is not built to withstand the low temperatures, causing huge maintenance problems in a short time.   It just doesn’t  make sense!  It’s also poor planning.

2.  Why can’t aboriginal people maintain some of the infrastructure that has been  paid for by taxpayers?

My friend explained to me how a water treatment plant was set up in a community where they had previously had to rely on the river for water.  The government came in and set it up and trained one person.  Everything was great until that person left, leaving the community with a void.  They trained another person to treat the water but he did not know how and so they went back to relying on the river.

Government projects usually don’t have any sustainability built into them.  Sustainability in itself is a huge issue when it comes to aboriginal communities.  If you have a federal government that changes every 4 years and a band administration every two, you have some real challenges. A lot of money goes down the drain, aboriginal and non-aboriginal people alike get upset.  There are a lot of expectations and little when it comes to return on investment.

3.  Why do aboriginal people get so defensive when we ask them to be financially accountable?

He did not deny their need to be accountable but then said that the government had not done their job, checking up on their books earlier. He said that the government could have taken a different approach and offered to send in some of their people to train them in accounting practices instead of accusing them of waste.

Approach is everything when it comes to working with aboriginal communities.  Instead of “this is what you have to do”, a less patriarchal approach such as “what do you need from us to help you get these books in order”? could go over better.

If we rely on the media solely to help us form our relationships about “the other” we will undoubtedly have a very biased opinion.  If you look at the responses my friend gave me, did you ever hear any of these in a newspaper, or on the news?  Of course not!  We are only getting a snippet of a big picture – filtered through hundreds of lenses before it reaches us, sometimes with only a speck of truth left to it.

Could this also be the experience of aboriginal people who may not have much exposure to non-aboriginal people to talk about these issues?

Evelina Silveira. President Diversity At Work

“Those People Are So Rude!”


Canadians. We are known for our eternal politeness and patience. Our forms of politeness are intrinsically linked to our British roots.  From an early age in school we are taught to say “thank you”, “please”, “sorry” and “excuse me”.  We often judge others’ upbringing by their use of these words.  It has become one of the signs of being “cultured” in our society. While these social conventions (those practices which are considered normal and expected) are expected practices here, that is not necessarily the case in other parts of the world.

When I was studying Indian culture, I came across the understanding that “thank you’s” are not routinely dished out as they are here but are saved for moments when an individual has gone out of their way to help another. 
Essentially by doing this, Indians and the recipient of the “thank you” can be assured that the expression of gratitude is sincere.  Once I started to discuss this idea with my friends from other cultural backgrounds , I discovered that politeness can be demonstrated in many other ways, without the use of the words we consider to be expressions of politeness.  In fact, often I found that it was perfectly polite to say :  “Give me a ….” or “I want a …”.  Both of these demands would be considered rude by our standards, but not  for Russians and some other cultural groups.  In fact in some cultures, saying words like “please” is  an act of submission.  Why are you begging, they might ask?

In multicultural Canada, it can be easy for us to judge New Canadians as rude if they do not conform to our social conventions from the  very beginning.  In many cases, they are translating what they would say in their head in their mother tongue into English, which may not include these words that we desire and value in our everyday lives.  Consequently, New Canadians may miss a job opportunity because they did not thank the interviewer, or they may bud in line because that is how things got done in their country of origin, not realizing that this is a rude thing to do here.  Or they may be taken by surprise one day when someone says to them “Get it yourself!”, when they say, “Give me”.  

It takes time to become acculturated to life in Canada and one true sign is by knowing and adopting the social conventions of the culture.  Many of these social conventions are unwritten.  You can only know them after spending time here or when someone corrects you.

It is very easy to jump to conclusions that other cultures are rude when they don’t do things the way we do them.  The reality is, we probably do things all the time that they think are rude, too. 

It is important to look at the whole picture and the context, rather than make judgements on a few words or lack thereof.  What is normal and expected here is not the case in other parts of the world.

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