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!

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Communicating Over the Telephone When There Is A Language Barrier


Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work in London

Talking over the phone can be hard enough when you cannot analyze the body language; but what is it like when you have a difficult time understanding English? The stress, frustration and feelings of helplessness can be magnified, unless you have a patient person on the other end of the line who is willing to go the extra mile to be attentive.

Sometimes both “fluency” and “accent” can create barriers over the telephone. In the first case the person may have an inadequate vocabulary to express themselves and in the latter they may have an accent but be very fluent. Quite frequently, you will get both an issue of fluency as well as accent.

Eliminate distractions like background noise.

In any case, when you are dealing with someone over the phone that you cannot understand you will need to eliminate as many distractions as possible where you are and where they are. This call will require a lot more out of you so you will have to “hyper-focus” on what the person is saying.  If you have any background noise where you are, move to another spot to take the call. If the noise is coming from the other person’s place say: “I am sorry, but I am having a hard time hearing you. I hear noises and I cannot hear you very well. Would you please move to an area which is quieter?” Usually this works, or if they cannot move to a quieter place they will call you back when things have settled. Or you may find that you have to make the best out of communicating with background noise.

Remember to speak slowly.

While you are speaking the other person may be trying to translate what you are saying in their head. They could also be trying to write things down. It takes time to make the mental transition, so give them time. Even though you are speaking slowly, try not to be patronizing, people can tell when they are being disrespected even over the phone. Just because someone has a language barrier doesn’t mean they lack intelligence.

Speak at a normal volume.

It always surprises me that when we are faced with language barriers there seems to be an almost automatic response to speak more loudly.  That doesn’t work, and could actually backfire on the phone making the other person agitated.

Speak in short sentences.

If you speak in short sentences you will likely pause more and speak more slowly. This will help the other person interpret what you are saying more easily.

Enunciate clearly.

If you are sloppy with your enunciation, this is the time to speak very clearly. Make your consonants shine! It is easy to say: “Whad’ya wanna do?”; But it will be hard to understand. Instead you will want to say: “What would you like to do?”

Get rid of the jargon.

Choose words carefully. But also remember that abbreviations, acronyms and others can be very culturally specific and confusing. Say the whole word and not a short version of it.

Take the call in steps.

Sometimes people will ramble on especially if they are emotional. You may find that they are giving you lots of information and you are feeling overwhelmed. If you can find a break in the conversation say something like this: “Can we stop here for a moment? I would like to make sure that I understand what you are asking?” Repeat what you believe you have heard and clarify. What you are doing is paraphrasing what was said. This allows you to check in every so often to make sure that you understand before you ask the caller to continue with what they are trying to communicate. It also shows your caller that you are interested in his/her message because you are checking the message. If you have only understood part of the message than you can ask more questions to obtain the information that you need.

Try again.

If you think that the person on the other end of the line does not understand what you are saying, instead of repeating what you said in the same way, try different combinations of words or descriptions. I usually find that this helps. Similarly, if you don’t understand what the other person is saying on the other end of the line you can say: “I am sorry but I do not understand, could you explain this again to me in a different way?”

Seek Help.

In the worse case scenario, when you don’t think you are getting through and if a face-to-face meeting is impossible you may want to get another person involved who is familiar with one of the languages. It could be someone that you work with or alternatively, you could ask the caller if he/she can have a friend or family member call you back that you can speak to.

It is important at all times to convey to the person with the English language barrier that you want to help them and want to give them good service. For most English as a Second Language Speakers they find the telephone to be a huge barrier and communication can be very stressful. Having a patient person on the other end of the line, who is willing to go slowly with them, and communicates a sincere interest in wanting to help them, goes a long way in making the call smoother for everyone involved.

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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