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!

 

 

Signs the Political Correctness Police Has Taken Over Your Workplace


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.

 

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“When I grow up, I’m gonna marry a tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, doctor, lawyer or Indian chief”.

In the 70’s, this was the skipping song we chanted as little girls. The goal was to land on the “rich man” or the “doctor”. Any other kind of a husband signaled a doomsday marriage. Fortunately, a lot has changed for the better and our evolving language has captured the humanness, equality and the need for all people to be included.

In this effort to restore equity to groups which have been on the margins forever, have we in the process gone too far with creating other inequities in the workplace? I think that we have. We are a long way from having a balanced workforce. Let’s take a look at some typical examples you find in the workplace. Is your workplace guilty of any of these?

• You don’t have a Christmas celebration in the workplace even though over half of Canadians identify themselves as Christian and even those who don’t still celebrate some aspects of Christmas.
• You appease the demands of one group in the workplace at the expense of the other, because you don’t want to be labelled as a _______.
• You withhold information that could advance social change or contribute to the betterment of the community because your findings shed a negative light on a group or groups of people.
• You allow behaviours from certain groups of people who you would never allow from others.
• You ignore performance issues from people of designated groups because you don’t want to ruffle any feathers.
• Diversity of thought and politics are not permitted.

In these cases, we are talking about “Fear” which seems to be the norm in organizations that have swung too far on the left of the pendulum when it comes to political correctness. Legislation for sure makes people scared; there is more of it now than ever before. Many organizations let too many behaviours slide because of the fear of law suits and complaints. It is better to take proactive steps at creating workplaces that everyone can work in, instead of trying to police everyone’s thoughts, words and actions.

 

Diversity Training Shouldn’t Be Comfortable


Evelina Silveira, President, Published Author, Public Speaker and Diversity Trainer

I remember hearing a clergyman one day talking about marriage and its ups and downs. He spoke about couples who argue commenting that: “If you don’t occasionally argue or disagree, you can’t possibly be speaking about anything important”.

The same can be said about diversity training. Your beliefs and values should be challenged and called into question. This is part of the learning process. Diversity training is just as much about personal growth as it is about gaining knowledge of others. If the trainer, has not aroused any uncomfortable emotions in you, there is a good chance that the following may have happened:

– You weren’t paying attention
– They stuck with “safe” topics.

Trainers who stick with “safe topics” do themselves and their trainees a disservice. Workplace diversity is very complicated. It is not easy for us to integrate many different types of people and expect them to get along. When you do not discuss the unpopular and controversial situations you are cheating your participants of the opportunity to learn how to deal with them and to begin the discussion. You make it seem like it should be so easy to do and why are they having so many problems?

The reality for the most part, trainers want to be liked. It makes it easier to get more business. But diversity training is not like other types of training. Some of it is based on our personal values and beliefs and that can be difficult to balance within a training session. Each person who comes to training will have a unique experience with diversity whether it be good or bad. A good trainer allows the bad to come through as well, and works with it rather than denounces it.

Next time you are hiring a diversity trainer, ask them whether they are willing to handle some of the really contentious workplace diversity issues that have come my way. For example, how would they feel about using the following experiences that have been presented to me in my work:

– A straight man who is harassed by a gay man
– A blind woman who bullies her immigrant co-worker because of his accent
– A First Nations woman who accuses you of discrimination because she does not meet the workplace standards
– An immigrant woman who wants to take you to the Ontario Human Rights Commission because you fired her for preaching over the phone.
– A General Manager who consistently makes racist and sexist remarks.

It is only by working through these real-life situations as described above will we make progress in how to deal with them. We need to abandon our political correctness that makes some groups as angels and others as devils. Diversity trainers should challenge themselves to use real-life workplace situations instead of labeling some groups as sacrosanct or untouchable. Creating unrealistic expectations of certain groups is an insult to the groups themselves and to the participants’ intelligence.

Next time, if you leave a diversity training session provoked or uncomfortable that might be a good thing. You should be taken out of your comfort zone with challenging workplace examples that can be used to create balanced and fair solutions for each situation.

Diversity at Work does not use political correctness as an excuse for excluding certain workplace diversity topics. Call us today for how we can help you get closer to your goal of inclusion. 519-659-4777 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 519-659-4777 FREE  end_of_the_skype_highlighting

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