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Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
With Tina Varughese—Cross-Cultural Communication & Diversity Expert
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Earlier this year we launched a Keynote Speaker Series featuring today’s top thought leaders across different categories—Mental Health & Wellness; Marketing, Innovation & Disruption; and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. We’ve been chatting with a few of them on the themes of our magazine. This issue we spoke with Diversity Expert, Tina Varughese.
Many companies show support for DEI on social media but don’t implement strategies to back it up. How can they put their words to action and create impact within their organization?
When organizations implement what we call optical allyship—putting a statement out on social media when an event occurs and not following up with action—they’re doing themselves a great disservice. In terms of strategy, looking at the values driving organizational culture and deciding how DEI initiatives fit in is the way to go. Some organizations have Employee Resources Groups (ERGs) which ensure the physical work environment is better for everyone with things like gender-neutral restrooms or employee accessibility. They also help marginalized groups and remote workers feel connected. By creating systems within your organization that drive your organizational values, it will reflect your organizational culture.
What are some examples of cultural differences in communication and how can we make sure we’re communicating appropriately and effectively?
Statistically speaking, women and people with ethnic sounding names aren’t hired at the same rate. So I’m a big believer in blind resume screening—essentially taking all personal information out. By redacting resumes and taking a collaborative approach, you increase the talent pool of those applying to the job at hand. An issue employers can run into is specifically hiring visible minorities to diversify their workplace. This is referred to as tokenism and something I would never promote. Hiring people because they’re women or BIPOC or both isn’t a strategy to use. There are creative ways to expand your talent pool, like reaching out to universities, immigration centers or indigenous groups. We need to deconstruct the process by reaching out to diverse groups and applying a blind process for screening to hire the most qualified individual—the person with the best skill set should always be hired regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation.
How can an organization create an inclusive and collective work culture?
One key difference—if someone is a direct versus an indirect speaker. It applies culturally when it comes to context. On a global scale, countries like America, the UK and Germany are more direct in their communication style—they use fewer words, less tone and intonation and less nonverbal communication. In Canada, we fall in the middle. We’re indirectly indirect, which sounds very Canadian. It has a lot to do with the influences in our country. We’re a multicultural society influenced by all our different dialects and speaking styles. My rule of thumb is to always mirror image, tone and intonation.
What interview techniques should we avoid to inadvertently screen out suitable candidates?
You can have very diverse environments, but it doesn’t mean much without inclusion and psychological safety. Inclusion really comes down to belonging. And when we can authentically show up and be seen, heard and acknowledged without negative ramification, we have psychological safety at work. It comes from the top, and leadership needs to buy into the values of the organization. If it’s just lip service or optical allyship, it really means nothing. People are walking on eggshells and leaders are scared to say anything because they don’t know how to navigate situations, but we need to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable and have courageous conversations. So while the question is easy about how an organization can create an inclusive and collective work culture, the answers aren’t simple because we’re living in complex times. It doesn’t mean we can’t create change through awareness, understanding and listening. If we come from a place of curious compassion rather than a place of jaded judgement, it helps create the conversations we should be having. Silence isn’t necessarily golden, so to move forward, we need to continue the conversation.
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