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!

 

 

POTLUCKS AND THE POLITICS OF FOOD IN THE WORKPLACE


Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work   co-author,  The No-Nonsense Guide To Workplace Inclusion

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While splitting the check, B.Y.O.B, potlucks, and eating leftovers from the catered luncheon are routine in a Canadian workplace; by far this experience  is not an international phenomenon. While you may think your welcoming, kind gesture to “break bread” with a New Canadian co-worker is a good idea, don’t be surprised if they have a different interpretation. Food and eating can be a highly political affair. Political? Indeed – political! Let’s take a look at one of our most popular epicurean rituals which has stood the test of time.

Potlucks

Why do we have potlucks in Canadian society? Potlucks offer an inexpensive, easy way to feed large groups of people, while providing an assortment of food the guests may have never sampled. It’s about sharing: food, workload, and preparation.

What are the beliefs that sustain potlucks in Canadian society?

  •  Cooking is a chore and not many people like it and especially when it involves trying to please a number of people whose preferences are unknown.
  • If you want to have a gathering everyone should be “pitching in” financially and effort-wise. Food and entertaining is expensive and it shouldn’t be up to one person to do all of the work.
  • It’s more fun if we all help out and we can share the joy and responsibility.
  • Hospitality doesn’t need to be formal. You can still be hospitable and casual at the same time. Everyone can be a host. It doesn’t take a lot of skill, effort or rules.

How might these beliefs clash with people who are coming from countries which are more hierarchical, formal and collectivist?

In a big way! Although the price of food has increased dramatically, it is still widely accessible and  affordable by comparison to other parts of the world. We don’t have a lot of rituals around eating except for “eating on the run”, “fast food” and “Tim Horton’s”. With a growing acceptance of vegetarian and veganism what we eat these days is less based on social stratification and more inclined to be on preference.

North Americans tend to view food in a “profane” way as the famous sociologist Emile Durkheim would probably conclude. Food is ordinary and nothing special, has no associated rituals or beliefs to preserve its “sacredness”.

This would be in sharp contrast to the many New Canadians who are more likely to view food as “sacred”. They may have grown up learning how to cook with recipes passed down from the generations, or associate foods with symbolism and rich meaning and a wider array of festivals and celebrations. Some foods may be used for medicines or spiritual healing or to bring good luck or fertility. The “sacredness” of food means the act of eating is a“sanctified ritual”. For example, Jews and Muslims will refrain from eating pork products and the meat they eat must conform to “kosher” or “halal” standards. It means that the animals are slaughtered in a religiously prescribed way to enhance the sacredness of the food and thus the sanctity of eating.
Hospitality is a lost art in North America. If you have ever shared a meal for instance with an Afghan, a Portuguese, or an Arab family – the hospitality cannot be compared. You will be treated like royalty and no effort or expense will be spared. The goal is not to make the experience easy for the host, but just the opposite. By contrast, the host wants to show you how much you mean to them by going through lots of trouble and expense. You will not feel obliged to do the dishes nor would they want you to. They want you to relax and have them entertain you. You may actually feel that they have enlisted their whole family to make you feel comfortable. The experience is formal and every action is intentional. Good hosting skills lead to many benefits including: new jobs, connections, elevated status, marriage proposals, a strengthened ability to negotiate, but most of all preserving or enhancing one’s reputation.

Are potlucks a good idea in a North American workplace? It all depends. If you want to celebrate or show appreciation for a job well done you may come across as a cheap manager or employer – an insult to your New Canadian workers. Showing appreciation and respect for employees and especially those from more formalized cultures requires: a demonstration of effort; some expense and conveying their importance in the workplace which is not a bad approach to take with all of your employees. Is it?

Creating an Employer Brand to Attract New Canadians and Generation Y


Three Smiling Businesswomen

An excerpt from Diversity and Inclusion on a Budget:  How to have a more engaged and innovative workforce with little or no dollars written by Evelina Silveira and Jill Walters.

Let hard-to-reach groups know that there’s an opportunity for employment with your organization by showcasing a broad spectrum of employees in your company literature and on your website. Let your employees know what your goals are in terms of a representative workforce, and that you value their suggestions and help. Ask if they would be willing to share their history with the company. This is a great way to demonstrate that you can be an employer of choice for diverse applicants.

Here’s how to do this:
–  Include the employee’s picture and history with company
–  Post a video on your site
–  Use a written profile, if your budget is really tight

The employees that you include in your staff literature and on your website should represent a cross-section of departments and available positions. If you are confused as to where to begin, bank websites are really great at creating an employer brand, specifically the Royal Bank of Canada (www.rbc.com).

Include employees who have held a number of positions within the organization and have advanced through the company. This demonstrates that there is equal opportunity for all. Note any committee involvement, special assignments, skills or expertise they have acquired as a result of working for your company.

These mini-profiles, highlighted on your website and in your literature, go a long way in promoting your company’s image as an employer of choice. Brag about it! Don’t hold back and be humble! Remember, labour shortages are starting to occur in many sectors. Stand out and let it be known who you are as a company, and what employees can expect from working for you.

It’s probably an odd analogy but think about your company as a potential date. If your company was on the dating scene, what attractive qualities would it promote? What could it offer? Why should a job seeker be interested in you? What could it gain from having you as an employee?
With this in mind, think about all the areas in which your company supports its employees, and include those details on your site. For instance, younger workers are really keen about seeking out employment with companies that are socially responsible, environmentally friendly, flexible and interactive. Having a pool table might be a bonus. Include this information!

Do you have an on-site day care? Flex-time opportunities? Cross-training? A mentoring program? Employee Resource Groups? Prayer rooms? Adaptive technology? A women’s leadership group? On-site smudging area? Gym? Pool table? English as a Second Language classes? Pets at  work? All these programs and services demonstrate that an employer supports and cares about the employees; their physical, social, spiritual and psychological well-being, and their need to succeed professionally. List them!

Consider asking those employees with more seniority about the special perks and selling points of working at your organization. Include them on your on your promotional materials as well.

 

 

 

Canadian Work Experience Is Important And This Is Why


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

The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s (OHC) paper “Policy on removing the ‘Canadian experience’ barrier” speaks to the challenges many New Canadians face when they are seeking employment.  Citing careers in teaching, counselling, project management, medicine, customer service among others as those requiring Canadian experience.

Opponents of the requirements will argue that it is discriminatory. However, this is too simple of an explanation.

 While there will be employers who use this as a reason to discount New Canadians others may doing so for some very valid reasons.

 Let’s take a look at both sides of this issue in a more balanced way.

 When I have looked at a resume and see an individual who has spent 5 years in English as A Second Language (ESL) classes and has never worked in Canada or been involved in any community service, this is a red flag for me.  I ask myself:  How much does this applicant contribute to their community?  How integrated are they if their only responsibility is to go to school? Venturing out of the sterility of ESL classes and getting a paid survival job or helping out in the community makes you a richer person and a better prepared future employee.  It shows engagement, flexibility, resourcefulness, adaptability, commitment and most of all contribution.  These opportunities lead to practicing newly found English speaking skills in a more realistic setting.

 Canadian experience can be obtained in many ways. The reason why employers like to have it is because it is easier for employees to integrate into a Canadian workplace.  It often means that New Canadians will have some understanding of the soft skills that are required to be successful.

 Requiring Canadian experience is not racist. Consider this.  If those of us who were born in Canada and were hired to do a job in China,  Saudi Arabia, India or other countries how long would we survive?  Chances are unless we have a designated employee or mentor helping us out, we wouldn’t understand the workplace culture well enough to last.

Canadian experience is a two-sided responsibility that the Ontario Human Rights Commission doesn’t understand.  Both employers and applicants have responsibilities.

 For the New Canadian:

  •  If you cannot find work in your field, try to find any jobBelieve it or not, you are learning and gaining new skills.  When I think of all of the survival and student jobs I’ve done over the years, I learned a great deal of skills, some of which I use every day in my business.  Listing a survival job on your resume is better than not having one at all.  As I have mentioned to ESL students I have mentored in the past, use these opportunities to listen with both your ears and eyes. If you are observant there is much you can learn from any workplace experience.  These days there are a lot of people working below their skill levels because of the high unemployment.  Employers understand this and will look more positively on you than not working or volunteering at all.
  • Volunteer in your professional associations where you will gain more contacts and networks.  You’ll also learn more about how work is delegated, how different issues are handled and the latest information to make you more competitive in your field. You will certainly grow to understand the Canadian workplace landscape better and enhance your soft skills.
  • Become part of your community.  Backlash against immigrants is often related to the belief that immigrants are not integrating enough.  There is so much need in your community and your skills are surely required.  Research what causes interest you and get involved.  While going to school each day to learn English is important, if you have been doing this for more than a couple of years you may need to ask yourself if you are hiding behind the security of school, fearing getting a paid or volunteer position?  The longer you are away from working the sooner you will lose your skills.  Depression can easily settle in.  Getting out and having responsibilities outside your family will make you feel better especially when you see that you can help others out.
  • Ask for feedback and be willing to take it.  Whether you are working in a survival job or volunteering ,make a point of asking for constructive criticism.  This is a great opportunity to find out how you are doing and to learn new skills and understand Canadian culture better.

 For employers:

  •  Be more flexible when it comes to Canadian experience. Consider survival jobs and community service engagement.
  • List required soft skills instead of asking for Canadian experience.  Some applicants will have similar experiences working in multinational organizations with policies and procedures that are similar to North American standards.  Canadian experience is less of an issue.
  • Take responsibility for helping New Canadians get experience within your company.  You can offer paid internships, unpaid work placement and more.  Don’t over look the impact that a buddy system, coaching and mentoring can have on an enthusiastic employee.   Be prepared to explain why things are done the way they are in your workplace and the beliefs behind them.  Understanding the “whys” help us to understand the culture better.

 To learn more about how you can nurture and encourage soft skill development in your New Canadian employees, check out our workshop on November 13, 2013 in London, Ontario.  Encouraging and Nurturing Soft Skill Development in New Canadians:  A Workshop for Managers.  Visit http://www.yourdiversityatwork.com for more information.

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