Being able to communicate effectively in our culturally diverse workplaces is a key foundation of any successful career.
Last month, the Community Connections program offered a Cross Cultural Communication Panel Workshop where clients had the opportunity to listen and learn about the different ways in which we communicate and meet with the panel afterwards.
Kay who was previously a newcomer to Canada and mentee of the Community Connections program, attended the panel workshop and has shared this very insightful and informative article. Enjoy!
Written by Kay Issa
I got in touch with WoodGreen a couple of years ago through their career mentorship program, a great experience that gave me insight into the needs and expectations of the Canadian job market. The program focused on boosting immigrants’ confidence in how they could become relevant in a Canadian context by translating their previous professional non-Canadian experience, which is the biggest challenge most newcomers face.
Therefore it came as no surprise to me that WoodGreen’s career panel talks are equally superb: friendly, diverse, informative, supportive and career-focused. These panel talks, recurring over several years, have hosted a diverse range of Canadian professionals, talking about all kinds of topics ranging from networking to protecting your money .
Last March, I attended a panel moderated by Darrell Pinto on the topic Cross Cultural Communications in Canadian Workplaces. I was hooked right after reading the guest list, especially by seeing the name of Yvonne Felix who, in addition to having her amazing art celebrated by the City of Hamilton, is a Technology and Innovations Lead at CNIB Foundation working to support Canadians impacted by blindness on a national level.
Legally blind herself, Yvonne has been able to build a whole new artistic understanding around the physical and the metaphysical experiences of her non visible disability, as well as rely on her empathy to find solutions for the challenges she faces at work. She compared her experience of blindness in a sighted workplace to newcomers not having access to linguistic and social cues in a new country. She reflected on the importance of locating ourselves in a room and how to heighten our levels of empathy to be able to understand our environment and communicate with others. She also stressed the importance of emoting in a highly diverse work environment where everyone has different moods, backgrounds and body language as we “need to understand things like the one you’re talking to had a very bad day but it’s not you or your fault”. During interviews she stressed how empathy can give you an edge, “if you are in a room with someone interviewing you, it’s not about them. It’s more about you understanding your own cues and how they interact with the other’s. There’s nothing wrong listening to the breathing before and after the question. If you can just think about being present, listen to someone’s breathing and pauses, you don’t need to be a genius, be inside yourself’.
The other he panelists provided equally compelling insights. Dr. Lionel Laroche, President of MultiCultural Business Solutions Inc. and an author of three successful books on diversity in the workplace, is known by many newcomers for his motivational speeches and YouTube videos. Laroche was a chemical engineer who immigrated from France and later transitioned to a cross cultural consultant who helps many immigrants in figure out more effective ways to find jobs. He also supported university, governments and other organizations to bridge communication and employment gaps. He focused on the unwritten rules of being a Canadian, like showing emotion is not always as favoured as in other cultures. He also asserted that Canadian employers prefer specialization contrary to his home country where he was a generalist. In order for a job seeker to identify what their specialty is he suggested to list on a piece of paper every project one worked on, then “ in few words describe the situation, in 2 sentences the problem, one paragraph for action result.” It is a lengthy process and may take up to 3 weeks. Afterwards “you see all stories you’ve written there is one skill, that is your strong suite. This way you discover how you add value.” If there are several ones use the most recent one. He also stressed that after getting a job what’s most important is to keep asking for feedback, and making sure that what is understood is what your boss or colleague meant. This is especially important when it comes to understanding and adjusting to negative feedback.
Adaora Ogbue, a former Investment Underwriter at a US-based social impact fund, is passionate about identifying innovative tech entrepreneurs and shared elements of her complex experience as someone who is born in Canada and raised with some elements of Nigerian culture. Her challenges revolve around unspoken questioning of her Canadian identity. As a visible minority “there are a different set of questions asked when someone meets you projecting a sense of otherness”. After leaving Canada to New Zealand then returning back she was “intrigued by the changing landscape and how diverse backgrounds come to the workplace”. She found that diversity is being discussed on a wider scale and she finds that there is more commitment by Canadian recruiters. Her career advice to job seekers is to ask well thought-out interview questions and to ask for feedback.
On the other hand, Althea Wisloff, another woman in tech has lived all her life in Canada identifying as partly Indigenous, spoke of the workplace acceptance of genders and race. She is an Analyst at Panache Ventures and a Sidewalk Toronto Fellow at Sidewalk Labs. She contrasted her experience working in a 6000+ person company against working with smaller teams; contrary to what may be expected, she found that as a woman she felt that her “voice was always heard” and race was not a part of her daily experience in the larger company. That’s because more emphasis is put on D&I (Diversity and Inclusion) measures. While in smaller teams, especially in tech industry her gender and ethnicity ”is identified quicker and matters more”.
Katerina Zhukova, an HR expert, gave us a more in depth and insider understanding of the recruitment process. She is a Talent Acquisition Lead, Actuarial, Advanced Analytics & Risk Management at Manulife and is also an Inspirational speaker, entertaining educator and career mentor. She explained the measures HR takes to ensure diversity and inclusion. For example if the hiring manager is an Asian male “we can’t make everyone male and Asian” which has become a regulatory requirement. Elaborating “even if we are so diverse but went to same university and we studied same curriculum we make similar decisions.” Besides education, other layers of diversity include gender, different fields of expertise, skin color, ethnicity and personality. She explained “if everyone is a quiet introvert, who is going to stir the spoon? If everyone is assertive extroverts, who’s listening?”
Her advice to job seekers was quite motivational: “you come confident that you can add value, don’t try to be anyone else, some overtrain, don’t do it, add value don’t beg for a job. Come and surprise everybody, make a job for yourself, make them want to hire you.”
Kay has a Bachelors in English from Damascus University and arrived in Canada in 2015. She was most recently a coordinator with the Entrepreneurship Connections program at ACCES Employment and also serves on the Syrian Film Festival committee. She is an audiovisual artist with experience in strategic communications and media relations.