Bullying and Discrimination – Part of the Same Parcel
Candy Khan, Multi-Cultural Anti-Bullying Activist
A Case of Performance Issue?
Irshad came to Edmonton from South Asia four years ago. He landed a position as a business analyst at a local business. Irshad has worked for a multinational firm in his hometown for over fourteen years. Back home Irshad had a friendly relationship with his immediate supervisor. It was routine for Irshad to invite his boss over to his house for dinner and buy him gifts for special occasions. This is not to suggest that Irshad was exempted from performance reviews. He received regular feedback. Both men had a mutual understanding that Irshad’s boss would have a direct conversation with him if there were performance issues.
Here in Canada Irshad tries to reproduce a similar relationship with his supervisor but soon realize that the rules are different. Imagine his surprise when one afternoon Irshad is called into a meeting with his immediate boss, a labour relation consultant, union representative and human resource consultant. “What is the issue?” Irshad inquires. The labour relation consultant pulls a stack of papers out of a file folder and accuses him of stealing company time. Apparently Irshad shared too many personal stories with his colleagues. He is also charged with being distracted by “other events” in his life and not completing his work within the assigned eight hours. The meeting lasts three hours and at the end of the meeting all parties agree that moving forward Irshad’s boss Bill will address issues as they come up rather than waiting for a month and that the two of them will work things out.
Back in the Office
Irshad comes from a collectivist culture. A collectivist culture is based on valuing the needs of a group or a community over the individual. Kinship, family and community are extremely important. Employees coming from a collectivist culture may try to reproduce similar relationships at work; whereby colleagues serve as close friends and family. Irshad made similar errors in judgement and he was candid about the challenges he was facing such as of living himself, building a house for his family, sponsoring his family and dealing with his in laws back home. Irshad also had several conversations about current political events around the world. He expressed his opinion about religion, culture and political parties without any hesitations. Overtime, Irshad found himself to the resident expert on matters of race, gender, ethnic relations, Geo-political events, war in the Middle-East and Canadian values. At times Irshad felt that the comments were made to mentally hurt him. Other times his colleagues degraded a particular group of people just to see if Irshad would react to their statement. Irshad tried to divert the topic many times but somehow ended up debating these issues for hours.
Soon after the “performance expectations” meeting Irshad started to withdraw and carefully managed his emotions. Whereas he use to eat lunch in a common room with the rest of the colleagues he sat at his desks or went for a walk during lunch. He overheard his colleague Jenna complain about him to Chris one day claiming that Irshad is “weird” and not a good team player. Chris chimes in “I don’t care about his colour or creed, I just cannot understand him. When Irshad worked extra hours after everyone had gone home he was labelled as “lacking the intellectual preparation needed for high status professional job.”
One day Irshad happens to enter the common room to get some hot water for his tea and he overhead Jenna express her frustrations over the new immigration policy. Jenna suggested that she appreciates how Denmark has created a welcoming video for newcomers that highlight key Danish values. Chris agreed but then turns to Irshad for his opinion. Irshad is careful to show feelings about immigration policy, Canadian values, as he cannot express his honest emotional reaction without being judged and further ostracized. Irshad excuses himself and pretends to be busy. Another time, Caroline comes over to his cubicle with a newspaper clipping suggesting that Irshad might have an insight as to why there is so much domestic violence in a particular culture.
Follow-up Meeting with the Boss
Bill, provides a letter of expectation to Irshad that highlights key issues that were raised at the meeting with human resource, union, and labour relation consultant. Irshad was asked to join Toastmasters as many of his colleagues have expressed difficulties understanding him. Irshad is also reminded to cheer up. Bill suggests that he has noticed a negative shift in Irshad’s attitude toward other colleagues and a lack of participation in branch meetings. Irshad remains silent throughout the meeting thinking about the house under construction, the immigration file that is still sitting with the immigration officer, and the challenges of looking for another job. He is not sure who to speak with. He cannot trust his colleagues, supervisor, the human resource or labour relation personnel. The union guy was also not helpful.
Consideration for both Employer and Employee
- Employers in particular human resource practitioners need to reflect the demographics they serve. In cases where you have a homogeneous group of practitioners then there has to be a desire for both parties to dialogue and understand each other’s perspective.
- It is difficult for a racialized worker to navigate through all the unwritten rules and practices in the workplaces. For example. Sharing personal challenges at work appears to be a neutral act; however, the racialized worker may not realize that there is fine line between sharing anecdotes versus spending hours talking about the Canadian immigration process. At the same time the mainstream worker may not realize how upsetting it is for a racialzed worker when they are not greeted.
- Develop a Respectful Workplace Policy and ensure that it is applied consistently. Ensure that racilized workers have a safe space to report what is happening with them. All workers need to feel safe when they discuss personal challenges without reprisal; however, the situation is more complex for racialized workers.
- Hiring managers, human resource personnel, labour relations, union representatives and health and safety consultants need to have basic cross cultural awareness training otherwise they could do more harm than good. Applying the golden rule: I treat everyone the same is no longer effective. Try the platinum rule: treat people ways in which they want to be treated.
- Pair a newcomer to a “buddy” or mentor who can guide them with Canadian workplace practices. Ideally, the workplace should practice inclusivity. For example, mainstream workers need learn about non-western practices.
Editor’s note: Names are changed to protect the identity.
Some members of the multi-cultural group share a similar narrative above; however, this is not to suggest that all newcomers have a similar experience in Canadian workplaces.