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!

 

 

Multilingualism: An Essential Ingredient of Culturally Competent Healthcare


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By: Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work in London Inc, Publisher, the Inclusion Quarterly

Everyday occurrences and unprocessed feelings usually form the basis of my blogs. Today’s is no different. It is Tuesday, and I am still thinking about the elderly Italian woman I saw over the weekend in a long-term care facility and left wondering: Is there a better way to meet the needs of residents who do not speak English?

I don’t know Rosa (name changed to protect her identity) but I do know that she is Italian as I recognize some of the words she yells or her conversations to imaginary people. No one understands what she is saying and nurses and attendants just continue to speak to her in English, or they ignore her completely because they just don’t know how to communicate with her. Residents will refer to her as “the crazy one” or the “one who is always screaming”. I only know a few words in Italian, but I happened to recall the expression, Che bella ragazza. I decided to look directly at her and say these words to her, checking to see if there was a response. For a moment, she paused as she appeared to hear something familiar and I only had wished I could remember more. I had just referred to her as “a beautiful girl!”  Her face temporary lit up and my heart was warmed. If only, I could have a conversation with her, I thought.

I had to wonder, what was it like for her to be in a home where no one understands her. How frightening to become invisible and voiceless. What a disappointing way to end the remaining years of one’s life.

The need for multilingual staff and volunteers is extremely important in effective healthcare delivery. As more immigrants are entering these facilities, I believe that we could be at a crisis point if we do not do more to address this issue especially in long-term care. Even though the immigrant resident may be fluent in English, for reasons I don’t understand they will often resort back to their mother tongue especially as dementia sets in.

While it may be impossible to have staff who can speak all the languages the residents do, there should be more effort made to provide care to them in their own language.

Here are some recommendations for providing more multilingual services in long-term care.

Employee Recruitment . Research the demographics of your community and include foreign language competencies in job postings based on what you find and on your current service needs.

Libraries and Print Materials. Consider purchasing or asking for donations of multilingual books, periodicals and tapes that residents can enjoy. Add international media.

Foreign Language Training.  There are many low-cost and no-cost ways of learning another language. Conduct a Google search and you’ll find many that are free.

Create a Picture Dictionary With Basic Words and Salutations. These small gestures could go a long way with keeping the resident more stimulated in addition to increasing the competencies of the employees.

We are facing unprecedented changes in healthcare and creating more culturally competent organizations do not have to be costly. Using existing community resources and becoming more innovative in the recruitment, selection and retention of employees can go a long way with developing more inclusive services.

 

 

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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