Evelina, Dog Owner. Why Labels Suck.


Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work

I usually like to start my day off with reading news stories from around the world, hoping to capture a balanced view of what is actually happening.  It is not always so easy to piece it all together.   One thing stands out for me for sure. The presence of labels: when, how and if they are used to describe protagonists and antagonists in the stories.

We are uncomfortable with applying specific labels when we see large groups  doing nasty things.  You are more likely to see an avoidance  of labels  with Canadian television broadcasters or more socially oriented European media.   The concern is about stereotyping, backlash, and creating fear.  On the opposite side of the spectrum when the media, social movements, governments and others want to draw negative attention to a group – the labeling comes in really handy.

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My Twitter feed was laden with sexist and racist exposés from journalists covering the Olympics in Rio. I also read about the hateful interactions of Arab athletes against the Israelis.  Clearly, “Israeli” or “Jew” a divisive label, was preferred over a more conciliatory one of  “fellow-athlete”.   How sad!

Labeling is tricky.  Gabby Douglas, the American Gold Gymnast had her share of labels thrown at her during the Olympics.  A lot of them weren’t very nice.  It was interesting to note how Gabby’s “blackness” was plastered around Twitter by black groups.  Then to my surprise, I saw again in my feed an article about how Gabby Douglas credits her Jewish upbringing with helping her to succeed.  Two cultural/racial groups wanting to make her their own and confer their label as a celebration of membership.  For individuals who judge people on one-dimensional characteristics: where does someone like Gabby fit in?   Since she is Jewish, does that mean she fits into the white privileged category that oppression activists would categorize, even though hatred against Jews is now considered to have reached the levels of pre-Second World War times? Or is she black?  Here lies the problem with looking at human beings so simplistically.  We are not one-dimensional.   It is time to reconsider the limitations of dangerously divisive thinking.

Labeling has been on my mind for a while, and more so now as I connect with Americans. My race seems to always come up.    Along with that, it becomes important for them to tell me their race when we are speaking over the phone.  I don’t understand it, maybe I will in the future.  In my opinion it is irrelevant, and so I wish my race was too.  I don’t think there is a universal “white” or “black” way of thinking.

I am Evelina: a multi-dimensional human being and so are you.  If it makes you happy to label me, why don’t you categorize me as  Evelina,  dog owner? I much prefer that.

 

 

 

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!

 

 

Is Your Team Building Inclusive?


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By:  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.

Imagine. What would it be like to be escorted into an auditorium en masse to spend endless hours listening to speeches from your leader? Maybe the leader is feared or respected. The theme of his/her talks emphasize the importance of collaboration, discipline and commitment to collective values. You have no choice but to attend or you might be penalized in some shape or form.   For many people who were raised in communist countries they have had these experiences of attending mandatory events to demonstrate their solidarity with the mission and values of the State. They were given updates on the progress that had been made, the work that still needed to be done, and what they could do as a group to advance the State goals.

Could any comparisons be made to our Western-style of team building? You might say that it is not possible:  How can you make the comparison? While not all leaders are feared nor are the penalties for not buying-in so harsh, there are definitely consequences if you don’t “tow the Party line”.

I have been told by many people who grew up in communist countries, that aspects of our North American team building remind them of some of the unpleasant experiences of their country of origin where there was little opportunity for individual expression. The retreats or games, border on superficial and stressful because of the endless amount of small talk in a culture that still seems new. Team building is challenged if you have people in your group who feel that this is yet another exercise in “group think”.

Rock climbing, boot camps, bowling and a whole load of other physical activities that may be on the list for  team building.  I recall one of my workshop participants telling me that her husband dreaded their annual team building event because it involved all kinds of physical competitions and he used a wheelchair. The company never considered his feelings or tried to figure out a way that he could participate. You cannot build a team by excluding some of its members.

What about events that involve drinking alcohol and partying? I once had a client who confessed that now that his team was comprised of more women, people of other faiths and cultures, he was not so sure that the yearly drinking and partying fest in Las Vegas would be such a great reward for everyone! I had to agree. I encouraged him to look at other ways to build his team and consider more inclusive rewards programs like gift cards, cleaning services, and a monetary bonus.

Do you feel like playing Ker Plunk on a Friday afternoon to build a stronger team? Or does playing video games sound like a better idea? With four generation working together for the first time, we need to choose activities that everyone will enjoy or be willing to try.

Team building organizers must consider: cultural perceptions, accessibility, gender, religious obligations, and generational differences. It  is not a single event each year but must be cultivated on a daily basis. One of the easiest ways to build an inclusive team is to ask the individual members for feedback and ideas. Be prepared to implement them and show the progress of their ideas along the way.

 

D&I: “They Just Don’t Get It”


By: Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work in London Inc. Author of Diversity and Inclusion on a Budget.

A common phrase we hear as diversity practitioners is: “they just don’t get it”, referring to the leadership team. With the right conditions, “they do get it”. Before you dismiss your leadership as old, patriarchal, stagnating entities read this. A change in approach could make a big difference.

If you feel like you are speaking to a brick wall, perhaps it is time to rethink how you are communicating your message. You may be pleasantly surprised to find out that your leadership team is actually on your side, but you just haven’t given them any compelling reasons to change.

Getting buy-in from the top involves the: “who”, “what”, “when”, “why” and “how”. If one of those pieces is missing, they might “just not get it”!

Who – Who is/are the designated spokesperson(s) to represent diversity and inclusion in your workplace? Are they well respected by their colleagues and the leadership team? Are they known to be balanced, fair and pragmatic? Do they have an “agenda”? Outspoken about selective issues while silent about other inequities? Does this person have a history of bringing people together or pulling them apart? Do they have a good understanding of the competencies in the organization and know how to use them? The person(s) in this role can have a huge impact on the success of your diversity and inclusion strategy.

If you are the spokesperson and reaching an impasse, it may be that you are not the right person for the position, and let someone else take over. (Note: When you are selecting a D&I officer for your organization, you should ask yourself the questions noted above before you make your final selection).

What – What is the message you are presenting to the leadership team? For example, if you live in a relatively homogenous location, focusing on visible minority recruitment might not be the most effective strategy especially if there are none where you live. However, looking at retention strategies, or addressing the issues facing women leaders might be more relevant. The subjects you approach the leadership must match their strategic priorities. Concentrate on what is on their agenda by showing them how diversity and inclusion strategies can help them attain their mission. Approach them in a positive light rather than a negative one. For example, telling the leadership that the organization is racist, sexist and homophobic might not be the best lead in. However, if you have conducted a staff engagement survey and your findings support your assertions, share that information with them along with ideas on how to create greater workplace inclusion. Instead of making diversity and inclusion a separate part of the organization, show the leadership that it is part of everything that you do. Examine ways that D&I can be integrated into existing training as well as policies and procedures.

Any initiatives that you take on must incorporate:
• The mission and values of your organization;
• Create more workplace harmony leading to improved performance;
• Be very practical in nature. (Many organizations have dropped “awareness and empathy-generating” types of training because they do not encourage practical skill building).

When – “Time is money”. Training dollars have been scaled back and that is why you have to make the most out of bringing people together. The activities and the training you choose to take on do not always have to be labelled as “diversity training”. It may be better if they are not; especially if your organization’s last experience wasn’t so good. Try to incorporate D&I into the existing compulsory training. Enhance and infuse existing training such as presentation skills, customer service, health and safety with D&I. It can be done without a lot of effort, and you have an automatic captive audience. Leaders can be overwhelmed with a lot of new ideas. Starting small could be a better strategy if you are dealing with risk averse leaders.

Why – Frequently the “why’s” have not been presented in a convincing enough manner. You can refer to the results of your employee engagement survey (if that has occurred) or tie  it into policies and legislation guiding your workplace. Refer to studies on diversity and innovation. Google “the business case for diversity” and show them the facts that support a more inclusive workplace.

How – Remember that diversity and inclusion is about everyone. Choose research that focuses on all aspects of our changing workplace demographics. When you take this approach, a statistic or statistics will stand out with your leadership. If your organization embarks on strategic planning this is a good opportunity to provide staff survey results and relevant information you would like to collect and measure. Embedding it into existing work can be a little more palatable for those who may be reticent to come on board.

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.

 

Low-Cost and No Cost Tips for Workplace Inclusion


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Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity At Work

So you have taken a look at your budget and your boss says there is no money for diversity and inclusion activities this year.  What do you do?  You started something great where you work and now – BANG!  You fear that you could lose the momentum you started.

There is no reason to let your budget constraints keep you from creating an inclusive workplace.  Here are a couple of easy low-cost and no cost actions you can take that do make a difference:

 Make use of your existing resources.

 Do you have a company newsletter, intranet or know how to put a podcast together?  Capitalize on these avenues for delivering diversity information and education as well as use them as a forum for recognizing your diversity champions.  The intranet can be a great place to pose diversity related problems and ask employees for feedback.  Consider posting recent articles and eZines like the Inclusion Quarterly or links to websites like Diversity!in the workplace.   It’s cheap and you can keep employees up to date in a simple and efficient way.  Make use of these vehicles for communication.

 Learn a foreign language for free.

Don’t let time or money get in the way of learning a new language.  Do a quick internet search, and you will find that indeed you can learn a language for free.  Or if you prefer, some public libraries subscribe to language courses for their patrons and this means you can access them at no cost.  I know that my local library has access to Mango Languages.  Check it out.  No excuses!

 Make your print materials easier to read.

 Just by increasing the size and simplifying the font you use can make a big difference in how people with low vision  can read your material.  Remembering to keep backgrounds light or white and use black font for best results.  This is simple and low-cost and makes  a huge difference.

 Save costs on advertising and pre-screening candidates.

 Have you checked out the non-profit agencies that help people with barriers to gain employment?

By circulating your ads to non-profit agencies, you stand a better chance of meeting your employment equity requirements by widening the pool of applicants.  You can save on advertising costs by giving the organization some criteria for pre-screening candidates.  This should save you time and ultimately money.

There are so many more ways to make diversity and inclusion a reality without breaking the bank.

For more ideas check out our eBook, Diversity and Inclusion on a Budget at http://yourdiversityatwork.com/ebook/.

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