Diversity Tips Archive

Diversity Tips Archive

Diversity Tip #1: …To introduce harassment-free workplace education and inspire mutual respect

It may seem like avoiding harassment is just plain common sense. Here’s the challenge: What’s common sense to — say, a 55 year old white male who has been in the workforce for 35 years, and a 20 year old immigrant female who just came out of university, regarding what jokes are okay and not okay at work, what compliments are acceptable, what to call each other — can be mutually exclusive! We need to talk together, to build a common understanding of how to respect each other in language and behaviour.

Most companies have had some incidents, and we’re no different. Our conversation is designed to build our understanding and prevent any future harassment, and even more importantly, to get to know each other better so we can really create an environment of respect.

*Source: Maureen Geddes, Transformation Leader, Facilitator and Keynote Speaker, CANGRAM International Inc.

Diversity Tip #2: What do Canada’s Top 10 Employer’s for Women* have in common?

  • Communication could look like “overload” by traditional standards. Many communication mediums are used to keep everyone informed and involved.
  • At least one of their supported charities is directed toward families and children.
  • They make it convenient to get to work and have services available for support – often located downtown, near transit and services, or have services on site – they bring work and life together!

Q: Who are they?

  1. Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital
  2. Bethany Care Society
  3. Trillium Health Centre
  4. Georgian College
  5. Silanis Technology Inc.
  6. Burntsand Inc.
  7. Banff Centre, The
  8. IMS Health Canada Ltd.
  9. Credit Union Electronic Transaction Services / CUETS
  10. Hill and Knowlton Canada

*Source: Canada’s Top 100 Employers 2002, by Richard Yerema, © 2002 MediaCorp. Canada Ltd.
Note: Employers had to be hiring to be considered for the list.

Diversity Tip #3: Performance Appraisals…with a touch of Respect*

Performance appraisals can be stressful; however giving feedback to an employee from a different culture can result in more than just stress.

Western cultures encourage direct communication. The common belief is that direct feedback on performance good or bad is necessary. But persons from some cultures believe that having a good relationship with their supervisor is extremely important. The employee wants to please the supervisor. Any signal from the supervisor that the employee is not doing a good job can seriously damage a relationship. The employee “loses face”. And it can be disastrous.

When a supervisor is confronted with the need to address a performance shortfall, it’s important to be sensitive to the cultural background of the employee. If “losing face” is likely to be a serious issue, find other ways to deliver the news. Seek out someone from the same culture as the employee to find ways of providing the feedback. Work through someone else to deliver the feedback. Be careful that the news is not attributed directly back to the employee’s supervisor.

The bottom line: Cultural sensitivity will improve relationships and performance.

*Source: John Crockett, Crockett Communications

Diversity Tip #4: Understanding the Canadian-Muslim Experience*

Millions of Muslims throughout the world, and thousands throughout Canada practice Islam. Islam literally means “peace” and its fundamental doctrine is the Oneness of God.

There are many interpretations of the practice of the faith and it is very difficult to fairly represent these interpretations in a short piece like this one so I will speak from my experience as an Ismaili Muslim living in Canada.

In the West, Islam has been tremendously misunderstood, and in some cases attacked, particularly since September 11, 2001. Islam is a faith that honours diversity. It teaches me that my relationship with Allah is defined by my understanding of the faith and my actions throughout life. It has taught me to respect all people, in fact, all of Allah’s creation. This is what brings me to my work as a diversity consultant/facilitator.

Having said this, today in North America is probably the most complicated time to define myself as a Muslim woman. In the past, when I’ve identified myself in this way, people seem curious about me and my experience. But today, it seems that people have bits of information that is primarily from the media, and in many cases is misinformation. I am always thrilled to talk about the current context in which I live, practice my faith and contribute to this country as a proud citizen, but ask for one thing first. Please don’t judge me on someone else’s actions, but instead get to know me on my own merit.

*Source: Narmin Ismail-Teja, Trainer/Consultant, Diversity and Leadership Development.

Diversity Tip #5: Providing Canadian Context for Immigrant Employees

The facilitator in a recent diversity workshop started a discussion of the demographic change in Canadian employees over the past 30 years. “How many people here were born in Canada?” she asked. In a room with 32 employees, not one put up their hand. “How many were here in Canada in 1970?” Again, no one spoke. “How many were born yet in 1970?” A few laughs, and finally a few hands.

The Challenge: How to relate the enormity of the demographic and cultural change Canadians have experienced, when many of your participants (or all of them!) have no shared history?

The Solution: Focus on the common ground while learning about differences and changes. In this case, the facilitator immediately began with a description of the typical Canadian family only one or two generations ago: Dad working for pay outside the home, Mom working at home (not for pay) taking care of several children. “Who can relate to that family structure? If you haven’t lived in it yourself, do you know of people who have?” Most answer yes. And everyone comes together to suggest reasons why it no longer exists for over 90% of the Canadian population: economic, education of women, declining birth rates, changing values, changing work roles, and more.

Lesson Learned: When faced with a relatively homogeneous group, emphasize diversity. When faced with an extraordinarily diverse group, find the unity in diversity and build on common themes.

*Source: Maureen Geddes, Transformation Leader, Facilitator and Keynote Speaker, CANGRAM International Inc.

Diversity Tip #6: Women in the Factory: Equal Standards

It may seem hard to believe – here we are in 2002, and the issue of equality for women keeps showing up on the factory floor. Not many issues of equal pay for clearly equal work left – but that’s where the challenge begins. In many cases, the work is not clearly the same, and even when it is, the occasional tasks involving heavier physical work may gravitate to men. Or the best jobs, those that pay a bit more than the rest, are more physically challenging. And as one workshop participant noted, they “require strength that women just don’t have”.

A basic strategy for facilitating changes in perception for employees (and supervisors!) who work in these environments, is to always begin where they are at. In this case, the facilitator agreed – “yes, this role does require strength that many – or even most – women may not have.” When the reality of some women being physically stronger that some men has been acknowledged, the focus can move to creating fairness in the situation. How to do it? Face the situation objectively, away from the stereotypes of who does what work, to make it clear. Turn it over to the other participants: “it should be just whoever can do the job”, “I know some guys who can’t do that job”, “maybe she should get a break for the first month or two until her muscles adjust, and then she has to be able to do it herself”, and then: “tell her to go to the gym!”.

Lesson Learned: Sometimes treating people fairly does mean treating them the same as everyone else, other times it means accommodating the difference. And it takes a team discussion to educate everyone and to effectively implement the best solution.

Source: Maureen Geddes, Transformation Leader, Facilitator and Keynote Speaker, CANGRAM International Inc.

Diversity Tip #7: Pink or Blue: How True for You?

Have you noticed any differences in conversational style between yourself and your colleagues? In the example below, Janet and Tony found that what they thought was a personality conflict, was actually a communications style issue.

Janet says “Yes”…but she doesn’t mean “Yes”!

Time is short. The executive team is meeting within the hour. Tony, VP of Division A, stops by Janet’s office to update her on his proposal. He dispenses with the small talk, and gets straight to the point. Listening intently as he describes his plans, Janet nods her head up and down, and murmurs “yes…yes” as he speaks. An hour later, she listens to the same plans being presented to the full executive team. Having had some time to reflect, and being the new person to the Company, Janet raises her hand and asks “Have you thought about X, or Y?” Tony is clearly not impressed. After the meeting, she attempts to smooth things over, but he responds with a flash of anger “Why should I trust you now? I ran everything by you before the meeting, you agreed with everything I said, then you shot it down!”

Janet and Tony demonstrate a different understanding of the word ‘yes’. Like many people who have what can be called a ‘blue’ style, Tony assumes that the word ‘yes’ means agreement. Janet, however, often uses the word as a conversation ritual to mean ‘I hear what you are saying’ or ‘I understand, keep going’. Her style is more typically ‘pink’ – rapport talk rather than report talk, and indirect rather than direct.

Lesson Learned: Being consciously aware of how true pink or blue is for you, can help you listen more effectively, facilitate with greater ease, and keep the lines of communication flowing at work (and at home)! For an in-depth review of typical gender communications at work, read Deborah Tannen’s “Talking from 9 to 5: How women’s and men’s conversational styles affect who gets heard, who gets credit, and what gets done at work”.

Source: Maureen Geddes, Transformation Leader, Facilitator and Keynote Speaker, CANGRAM International Inc.

Diversity Tip #8: Abilities Unlimited: Focus on Ability!

Situation: You’re facilitating a session for 25 people next month. You just found out that one participant is blind and will have his working dog with him. What do you need to do?

Response: Ask! “Do you require any accommodation? If so, what can we do?”

Offer a tour of the training area, eating area and washroom facilities prior to the session. Allow time to do it, or identify a contact person.

Communicate the seating plan and ask where he would prefer to sit. Guide dogs may be large; however, they are accustomed to confined spaces.

Prepare a brief overview for participants about working dog protocol. Emphasize the training these dogs have had to alleviate concerns for people who may have a fear of dogs. Note that the dogs are working and have been certified and tested for their skill set and behavioural characteristics – they are not aggressive dogs. Mention the high grooming standard to minimize allergy responses. In addition, a spray can be applied to the coat to reduce dander in the air, and seating may be arranged to create distance. If time allows, send out the information with training materials prior to the session.

No one should pet the dog. Never give a working dog a command. If the working dog is misbehaving in some way, let the person know and he will control the situation. Advise facilities staff that a working dog will be attending. Find out where the relief area for the dog will be.

Ensure breaks allow enough time for two possible trips! The dog may be used to long meetings; however, everyone will enjoy the comfort the breaks offer. Monitor the environment and any impact from the working dog. Their presence can reduce stress and facilitate communication.

Trained dogs are providing more independence to individuals with disabilities such as sight, hearing, mobility and epilepsy. Remember to focus on the person and their abilities!

Source: Brenda Jean Lycett, CHRP, Diversity in Human Resources Consultant and Facilitator, 4CHANGE. Recommended Reading: “abilities…Canada’s Lifestyle Magazine for People with Disabilities”; www.abilities.ca. To reach Brenda, click here and type “Contact for Brenda” in the subject line.

Diversity Tip #9: Cultural Nuances: Do You Notice?

Years ago a workplace diversity leader was facilitating a committee meeting for her company. One of the team members, Ahmed, refused the muffins and doughnuts that were being offered around the table. When asked if he was on a diet, he laughed and said no. A few hours later, the facilitator noticed he did not have anything to eat or drink at the break, either. In response to more team teasing, he smiled and responded: “I’m celebrating Ramadan”. Without missing a beat, the facilitator responded “Yes, I know…would you like coffee or water?”

No one in that room had any idea that celebrating Ramadan included a religious fast held between the hours of sunrise and sunset for the entire month. Hard to imagine that level of unawareness in today’s environment, perhaps, but given the many cultures and religions from all over the world represented in Canadian and American workplaces, it helps to have a quick reference on hand.

I use several, and learn something new every day (if you’re reading this, Ahmed, thank you for being so gracious a decade ago!). A little learning can keep your foot out of your mouth, and even help you extend a welcome and build your customer/employee relationships.

Here’s one for today, December 31, 2002: you could wish a Scottish friend Happy Hogmanay – the Scottish New Year. According to Sheena Singsh’** multicultural calendar, Hogmanay is celebrated with exuberance – including fire ceremonies, banging pots and pans at midnight, and bringing bread, salt and coal to hosts, symbolizing life, hospitality, and warmth.

…and Happy Omisoka (Japan), and Happy New Year, everyone!

**For more information, see www.multiculturalcalendar.com

Source: Maureen Geddes, Transformation Leader, Facilitator and Keynote Speaker, CANGRAM International Inc.

Diversity Tip #10: Aboriginal Employees – Leading the Way

Have you ever wondered why children finish school at 3:30 p.m., while perhaps 10% of families have a full-time parent at home to meet them? The obvious answer: the system was designed in another era, when over 70% of families had a full-time parent at home.

The real question becomes – why hasn’t it changed? Or, why don’t we change the hours of work to match?

Some innovative people are proactively designing ways of work and life that support the majority in their community. One example is found in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Life Skills and Pre-employment Training

There, the Battlefords Tribal Council created a Training and Employment Centre. It’s Director, Leah Milton, works with CANSASK, HRDC, Northwest Regional College, the Chamber of Commerce, and employers in her community create better work lives. One key initiative under development is Life Skills and Pre-employment Training. She knows how much work/life education is needed, and is delighted by the recent surge in community support.

Audrey Ahenakew, Regional Manager of Aboriginal Services for the Canadian Executive Services Organization (CESO), agrees. In her volunteer life, she recently assisted a local employer with pre-interview counseling at local reserves. She is able to advise the employer about the housing and travel challenges employees face, and at the same time coach prospective employees about expectations, such as: set up reliable rides to work, arrange not only for childcare, but for back up childcare as well, and get to work on time.

Starting pre-employment (better yet, in school!) to inform people not only of their rights, but also of their responsibilities as employees, and creating forums for dialogue to build community and collective work/life solutions – now that is a step in a healthy direction.

Patricia Coulson, Human Resources Manager for Maple Leaf Consumer Foods in North Battleford, notes her workplace has grown from 20% to over 50% Aboriginal employees in less than two years. “I think our biggest change has been to look within ourselves realizing that we needed Aboriginal management within our group, or we were going to be left behind. We knew we needed to learn so much about Aboriginal culture. We looked outside of our Company for help to get started, now we are looking at our own employees to learn from, and to promote from within.”

Lesson Learned: As facilitators, we can practice for ourselves ways to break the stereotype cycle. Looking for information that is inconsistent with what our audiences may believe is one way to help all of us grow. Find the good news stories that inspire you personally, and share them in your workshops!

Source: Maureen Geddes, Transformation Leader, Facilitator and Keynote Speaker, CANGRAM International Inc.

Diversity Tip #11: Encouraging Participation Through the Sound of Silence unplanned Silence

You’ve put some intriguing ideas on the table, added a couple more: nothing. Silence looms. As a facilitator/leader, you’ve been handed one of your greatest chances to help people grow. Overcome the urge to rush in and fill the void!

Silence sounds different when people are thinking, and looks different, too. Stop. Listen. How do you listen to silence? Look! “Silent language”, accord- ing to authors Harris and Moran in their book, “Managing Cultural Differences” includes tone of voice, inflection of words, gestures, and facial expressions; as well as body language.

At this moment, we want to remember that how we use body language is vastly influenced by our cultural conditioning. The intended message is communicated through both verbal and non-verbal behaviour and, as well, we convey unintended or subconscious behaviour in both modes … lots going in a moment of so-called silence!

A couple of interesting notes: North American culture — relative to others like Japan, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and China — tend to spell out all the details of a communication using words. The other cultures are more “high context”; more likely to look for meaning and understanding in what is not said. If working with someone from France, and they start to play an imaginary flute, it likely means “you are taking so long, I’m getting bored!”

Planned Silence

In a recent workshop, the facilitator asked participants to agree to absolute silence while everyone worked on their action plans for 15 minutes. Imagine cell phones and pagers off, doors shut, and the people sitting with you have agreed to silence. How often do you experience guaranteed silence in your work day? Try it with any team, and watch the creativity emerge!

Lessons Learned: Be willing to leave space. When a moment’s uncomfortable, be willing to sit with it to see what opens up. Look for what’s missing in the conversation. Watch faces and body language for cues. Silence can speak volumes, and the most profound learning can emerge!