What the Brits’ Telly Can Teach Us About Diversity Dialogues


tv

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.

 

 

 

Taking the Stigma out of Pronunciation Lessons


By:  Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity At Work in London Inc.

Flyer – Pronunciation Skills.2011

Excellent communication skills are paramount to navigating through challenging situations in and out of the workplace.  For most people, they do not come easily and must be learned.  If you are a non-native English speaker who has been through the local public educational system to take your English classes, there is a good chance that you did not spend much time learning good pronunciation.  For whatever reason, teaching ESL speakers how to pronounce  well has not been a priority.  Quite often however, the students will come away with reasonably good writing and conversation skills, but are  misunderstood.  It is hard to understand why a New Canadian is in ESL classes for 3 to 5 years and continues to make the same pronunciation errors that they made when they first arrived.  The reality is, is that very little time gets devoted  to teaching pronunciation in the classroom, but also within the Teaching English As A Second Language curriculum. Furthermore, the classroom can be too large to allow for individual coaching.

If  a New Canadian spends some time outside the ESL classroom, independently studying , they can improve their pronunciation considerably.  However, as people get settled more here and the demands of work and family take precedence, it is easy to see how developing good pronunciation can take less of a priority.

Frequently, I will  be contacted by persons who feel they need some improvement with their pronunciation as well as employers who seek to support their ESL employee.  For those inquiring about lessons for themselves, they often feel embarrassed asking their employer to share the cost, believing it is too much to ask for.  My contention is that pronunciation and elocution lessons are just another form of professional development that helps employees enhance their communication skills.

Pronunciation lessons  presented the same way as they would for  any other form of professional development.  You can approach it in several ways.  Here are a few ways you can present the idea of pronunciation classes for your employees:

1)   If you find within the hiring process that the candidate could use some extra help, ask them if they would be ready to take some classes that you as an employer would be prepared to cover the costs.

2)  During the performance appraisal, offer the employee some pronunciation classes.  It is important that you emphasize the employee’s value to the organization and you want them to feel more confident in the work that they do, as well as have the same opportunities for advancement as the rest of the staff.

3)  Alternatively, if your organization is one that circulates professional development opportunities and asks employees to register their interest, make sure that you include pronunciation classes.   I would classify these under the same category as you would for other professional development that involves  improving your communication, such as:  public speaking; how to chair a meeting;,  and assertiveness training.

The key is to normalize offering and asking for support for pronunciation as much as possible.  As our workplaces become increasingly diverse,  it will be more challenging to make everyone feel included.  Being competent and feeling confident about your communication skills reduces micro inequities in the workplace and builds a greater sense of inclusion when handled in a supportive way.

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