Diversity: Can we laugh, please?


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Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work  http://www.yourdiversityatwork.com

If I believe my Twitter feed, I would say that the whole world is against people of my demographic. Diversity has become so serious, scary and divisive that we have forgotten how remarkably funny it can be if we do not think the world is out to offend us.

I want to share with you a few of my experiences because it is time we start seeing some of the humour of diversity misinterpretation and assumptions.

Several years ago, I received a call from a Caribbean man who was asking me if I would be interested in emceeing a black awards night.  I gladly accepted, impressed this was quite an open-minded group to invite me to facilitate the evening.  I wrote down the details, and just before I was about to hang up the phone, I had this strange hunch that came over me. Did I think maybe he did not want me – a white person?  I asked him directly: ” Michael, are you aware that I am not black?”  There was silence for a moment.  Then with an uncomfortable laugh, he responded “No.” I said, “I thought, so.” Does that make a difference now that you know that I am white?  After a momentary pause, he remarked: well, uh, yeah”. He was dumbfounded!  How was he going to tell me that he thought I was black and that is why he called me? Digging his heels, he told me that he thought I had a “black name” and that is why he called me.  I told him that I did not know what he was talking about:  a black name? Did I look black in my picture?  Trying to wheel himself out from the mess, he tried again and said:  “Well, I guess your name is Hispanic sounding!”  I told him: “Listen, I will make this easy for you.  You do not want me to emcee your event because I am white and by the way, I am not Hispanic –but close enough—Portuguese.  I wish you good luck trying to find someone!”

A former co-worker of mine who came out of the closet at work dealt with the homophobic men in the office in a unique way.  When he went into the men’s washroom, he would belt out the lyrics to Dancing Queen!

Acting as a cultural mentor for a Chinese new immigrant, I remarked about Canadian informality, and pleaded with him to not call me Mrs. Silveira. I explained to him all of the instances when it is appropriate to use titles.  Running into him one day, I asked about his weekend. He said it was not so good and that he had to take his daughter to the hospital.  He noted how impressed he was with the care in a Canadian hospital.  With a mesmerized look on his face, he indicated he had put into action what I had taught him about informal salutations while he was in the hospital.  As he was leaving, he took a look at the doctor’s name tag which read:  “Sandy Brown.” In a great gesture of appreciation, exiting he said: “Thank you, Sandy.” To his dismay and surprise, she replied:  “Dr. Brown”!  I apologized to my dear friend for a significant omission – doctors and titles! Ouch!

All of these new genders are confusing me. I am not sure that I like the images that come to my mind like when I hear the word “gender fluid”. When I hear that expression, it makes me think that you have to go to the pharmacy to buy something to take care of it – maybe in the special paper products section in the store.  May I suggest “gender elasticity” or “gender flexibility” instead?

I have many stories about encounters in Asian food markets. Frequently, the employees that I come across don’t speak English, and therefore there is much room for misinterpretation.  Excited about embarking on a Vietnamese culinary adventure, I headed to the store looking for the best sauce to complement the spring rolls I was planning to make.  I saw a Chinese man who was stocking the shelves and asked him if he could recommend a good sauce for my spring rolls. I said I wanted him to show me the sauce he used. Clearly he did not understand what I had said.  Before you knew it, we were standing in front of the Heinz ketchup.  I surmised that he likely thought this was the only kind of sauce white people use!

Whether it was one too many coffees or not enough sleep the night before, I had a twitch in my right eye during a workshop I was facilitating. It was distracting and it seemed like I could not control it. Moreover, for whatever reason, each time I looked in the direction of one of the female participants, my twitch became a wink.  Low and behold, after the training session, I went up to speak to some participants that were in her area. She immediately distanced herself and appeared uncomfortable.  The moral of the story: just because someone has a twitch does not mean he or she are flirting with you!

While running a Latin American seniors’ drop-in many years ago, the participants would cheerfully greet me with: ” Como estas, Evelina?”  (How are you, Evelina)  Reciprocally, I would reply “ Yo estoy buena, gracias.” I did this for months, thinking that I was saying:  “I am good, thank you.” A few of the older women would consistently give me strange grimaces.  One day we had two new participants from Colombia attend who decided to test me again and ask me how I was.  I gave them the same response, only this time they started laughing!   I realized that the “good” wholesome feeling I was trying to express, had, in fact, some other less innocent connotation!

After finishing my presentation about living with ADHD, I had a blind man come up to me and say:  “Wow!  I really feel sorry for you, it must be difficult bouncing off the walls all the time!”  I laughed and corrected him that I don’t bounce off walls too often but appreciated his empathy–even though I felt he was the one with the challenges!

It is time to bring the joy and laughter that diversity can bring! Feel free to share your funny incidents below.

 

Offense: The Price Of Diversity?


Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work

This past year has been particularly challenging for people like me: media/political junkies, who feverishly skim the international news trying to find the truth in a web of misinformation, lies and fake news.  My Twitter newsfeed supplies me with a variety of political viewpoints on diversity issues.  I take all of it in, recognizing that each point may have some validity.  I am open to different points of view and I welcome them.  I especially love factually- based debates.

Why do I like it when people argue about diversity?  Because it means we are part of a free society.

My husband and most of my friends have not lived in democratic countries.  They lived under communism where dissent could not be expressed.  If you have ever heard firsthand the stories of people who feared to say the wrong thing or going against the grain – you would certainly have a better appreciation for how we in the West have been afforded so many freedoms like free speech.

Increasingly, I see freedom of speech is only allowed if you express a certain opinion.  If for example, you go against a liberal opinion there can be severe consequences.

Let’s be very clear before I go any further.  I am not for hate speech — that is very different and our laws seem adequate in that regard. Disagreeing and hate are not the same.

American and Canadian universities have been host to violent protests where audiences thirsting for a  different point of view were hurt.  Campuses were set on fire and a lot of other nasty stuff happened.  You would think that university campuses would be the bastions of free speech and critical thinking? But, apparently not.  What impact does that have on education if what we must always be concerned with not offending others?

I remember sitting through my anthropology classes in university and hearing students rhyme off a very different version of history than the one I was taught. Disparaging remarks were made about believers of my faith and their historically oppressive role.  The professor did not stop the discussion, nor was that the expectation. (Probably these days that would be different.)  I sat and listened to what the student said and decided I would not oppose the remarks. Because the student exchange was deeply emotional for me, it left an imprint.  Decades later, I was able to understand my fellow student’s opinion and would agree with her in part and glad the professor did not shut down the conversation because she was concerned it “would offend someone”.

One of the ways I like to set myself apart from other practitioners is that I encourage the free flow of discussion about various diversity issues from a number of sources which is reflected in my Twitter and Facebook presence.  It reminds me of when teachers would explain that you should use a number of sources to substantiate your argument and present both sides.  That’s a really honest approach – and one I support.

Unfortunately, I have found that my need to present a diversity of opinions is not always met very well on social media.  And despite having a private business, some Tweeters feel that I should stick to the same predictable perspectives on issues all of the time.  For me, if I only present one side of an argument I am just another agent of propaganda.  I also feel that I am insulting my followers/ readers believing that they are not entitled to other views and can make their own decisions.  Diversity for me also spells diversity of ideas and opinions.

What I do know is that the lines between expressing a different point of view and hate speech are becoming frightfully blurred.  The best way to shut down a dissenting argument is to say it is “hateful” or “offensive”. Calling someone a racist in Western society is one of the worst accusations and is hurled left, right and centre at people who are often expressing a different view which has nothing to do with hate.

Diversity, free speech, and offense go hand in hand.  If we are going to be a welcoming society to a diversity of people, their values, and beliefs we all need to make peace with the fact that at times we will be challenged and that can be very emotional.  We cannot legislate hurt feelings or thoughts so why are we even trying?  We either grow a tougher skin or live in an Orwellian thought-controlled society:  what would you prefer?

 

 

 

 

London’s Poor Diversity Score No Surprise


Written by: Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work

As featured in New Canadian Media
Thursday, 27 October 2016 

A recent study published by the Western University’s Centre for Research on Migration and Ethnic Relations found a severe lack of visible minorities in leadership roles in organizations in London, Ontario. 

While the study made headlines, the findings came as no surprise to me.  I have lived in London all my life, working as a diversity consultant for 10 years. I would like to offer an explanation as to why inroads have not been made in visible minority leadership in  London, Ontario.

Flashback to about 13 years ago, when I started to work on a business plan for Diversity at Work: I interviewed many leaders in London asking them whether my idea of having a business which promoted hiring and supporting diverse candidates would ever fly?

I will never forget the answer I received from a human resources consultant who had previously held many jobs in the recruitment and leadership fields.  She said:  “Evelina, as long as there are enough white people to fill the jobs, no one will ever consider anyone else, because they don’t have to.”

Essentially, she conveyed that there really was no need to change the recruitment process and that it was too much work to do so.

A late joiner

In comparison to other cities, London has lagged behind. Perhaps it is because the jobs could easily be filled as the human resources consultant suggested, or maybe we ignore the ever-growing presence of visible minorities which started in the mid-1980’s. 

Some of our largest employers and institutions have only recently developed diversity policies, later than their counterparts in other comparable cities which have a high number of visible minorities and immigrants. I often scan the diversity plans of the public service organizations in London and it would appear that the effort or the kind of approach being used – if at all – are not producing  much in terms of achieving a representative workforce, let alone diversity in leadership. 

My observations are consistent with the findings which indicate a very low level of visible minority participation, notably 5.3 per cent on agencies, boards, and commissions.  Their lack of participation at these levels can have ramifications for how services are delivered, in addition to resource allocation. 

Furthermore, there is a tendency, especially with boards, to recruit people they know, often friends and co-workers, to fill vacancies.  This can perpetuate the lack of representation and the effort to create more diversified boards and committees.

It is startling how many workplaces have not implemented the strategies and best practices that can help mitigate these gaps. How might we explain the disconnect? There is a multitude of reasons why this occurs and this is key to understanding the problem of under-representation in London’s publicly-funded organizations.

Consider these possibilities:

·         Foreign credentials and work experience are not recognized. Generally speaking, if an applicant has not graduated from a leadership program in North America or the U.K , there is a good chance their education in leadership may not be recognized.  Leadership experience from other  parts of the world may not be taken into consideration for a host of reasons, including cultural differences in how we do business and interact with employees.  

·         Effective leadership requires highly developed communication skills:  in person, in writing and over the phone.  An internationally-trained applicant is disadvantaged if they have a pronounced accent and have an indirect style of communication.  Interviewer bias can hamper heavily-accented applicants, who may be mistaken as unqualified because they speak differently.  Across cultures, there are variations in how we conduct meetings, presentations and write reports. The Canadian standards are often learned in school or through work experience.

At civic level: zero

The number of visible minorities and immigrant leaders in municipal organizations is at a glaring zero per cent! 

Given that government organizations are held to a higher standard than the private sector to have a reflective workforce, as well as to meet Employment Equity standards, this represents a failure of implementation and consequently lost opportunities for diversifying the workforce and gaining new skills and perspectives. 

With increasing job insecurity, good benefits and salaries, public service employees are not likely to leave their jobs.  Understandably, this represents fewer opportunities for external applicants to get hired. 

It would be interesting to know if the City of London has an internal mentoring program to assist aspiring leaders.  Research consistently indicates that visible minorities and immigrants find a lack of mentors in the workplace. 

Successful leaders often attest to the significance of mentors throughout their careers.  There have been some attempts over the last few years to develop internships for immigrant professionals at the City of London. However, it is hard to know if this experience translated into permanent employment with the City.

Finally, we cannot overlook bias and racism in the recruitment and selection process, although it does not probably explain the huge disconnect between the population and their representation in the workforce. In my experience, if the leadership in an organization is not familiar with the business benefits of a diverse workforce, they are very unlikely to support and initiate programs which can facilitate the entry and promotion of visible minorities within their organizations.

Evelina Silveira is the President of Diversity at Work in London, a three-time award -winning firm which specializes in creating inclusive workplaces and diverse customer bases.  She has co-authored two globally acclaimed books and is the publisher of the Inclusion Quarterly.

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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