One of the workshops I attended at the Nov. 9th Diversity@Work conference put on by Skills for Change was by Nadir Shirazi. He spoke about dedicated spaces in offices for quiet time, prayer, meditation etc.

Nadir’s presentation was very interesting; he shared the challenge for companies to name these rooms, and the lack of follow-up to see who is using them and how they are used. He confirmed that most of the requests for such rooms are made my Muslim employees. And he explained that complexities arise when these rooms are used by many people with different beliefs and needs. Providing a room, as the title of his workshop suggested, is just the tip of the religious accommodation iceberg.

What stood out for me most, however, was the inequity Nadir shared of where these rooms often are. In their commitment to diversity and inclusion many companies have such spaces in their corporate offices. This is wonderful for the executives and employees who work there, but doesn’t help the staff in the company’s call centres, or retail stores, or franchise outlets (for example).

It was an interesting manifestation of privilege within the context of attempting to be equitable; of how easily people can be overlooked even when we are trying to be inclusive. I’m willing to bet it’s largely unconscious that the men and women at head office have a meditation or prayer room while the workers “on the front lines” of these companies may not. But if this is the case, what do our accommodation efforts really amount to?

It sure made me wonder when I placed my order for tea at the Toronto Airport last week before boarding my flight, and noticed that not a single person working there was White.

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Copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
author, speaker and facilitator on issues of diversity and inclusion
Tomorrow I’m going to the day-long conference put on by Skills for Change. The topic is faith in the workplace – an issue that is on the radar more often these days in the world of diversity and inclusion.

I’m looking forward to the panel discussion on the difference between faith and culture (because I think we often confuse the two when we don’t have enough information), and to the workshops in the afternoon. I’m hoping to attend Nadir Shirazi’s workshop on balancing assimilation and integration (moving beyond meditation spaces at work) and Immam Michael Abdur Rashid Taylor’s session on accommodation (a common sticking point with HR and other employees).  Of course these are only 2 of the 4 workshops available, so if I can’t get into those, I will have other great choices. 

I’ll report back on Thursday to tell you all about it!

And for those who think there is no place for religion at work, or that it has no impact - consider why our work week is Monday to Friday…

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Copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
author, speaker and facilitator on issues of diversity & inclusion

On Monday I delivered a Respect in the Workplace training. The objectives were to raise awareness about appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, and what to do if you, or someone else, is being harassed or bullied at work.

What I have noticed in these sessions is that there are glaring examples of inappropriate behaviour that most of us can agree on, but that it is often difficult to understand that something we are doing, that wouldn’t bother us, can be causing someone else to feel uncomfortable.

In the world of acronyms, it is not surprising that there is one for this concept as well. My colleague Rhonda Hight introduced me to IBI – which sums up the reality and challenge of respectful workplaces and the Ontario Human Rights Code.


The bottom line is that regardless of our intent, it is the behaviour we choose – and its impact – that is taken into consideration in determining whether what we did is appropriate or inappropriate.

This can be challenging. What I see in workshops, is that while people may “get” that jokes or comments about race, culture, gender, sexual orientation etc are hurtful to those whom they target, it is often much more difficult to “get” that (for example) calling someone “sweetie” (or some other term of endearment), could be uncomfortable.

We may think that this last example is a shame – or too over the top – but that’s likely because we too think “sweetie” is a term of endearment. Perspective is everything. And in an increasingly diverse workforce we need to continuously find ways to learn about and appreciate the different perspectives of those we work with. So that we can all contribute to creating and sustaining respectful and safe workplaces.

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Copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
author, speaker and facilitator on issues of diversity & inclusion
Seems like the Tim Hortons in Blenheim, Ontario will get more attention than they bargained for this coming Thursday…but not the right kind.

Last week a lesbian couple were asked to leave the premises because their public display of affection was upsetting the customers. The first thing that came to mind: They need some positive-space training.  I have a call to make.

Of course there is a he-said they-said going on about what they were doing, but that’s not what I want to write about today. What’s on my mind is the way we treat situations differently, depending on who is involved.

Does the young heterosexual couple sitting outside Tim Horton’s get a second glance from inside when they hold hands, have their arms around each other, or kiss? Maybe. Are they asked to leave, upon threat of calling the police? Er…hmmm. Seems excessive, doesn’t it? And yet, switch the couple and it’s what happened last week.

Things happen around us all the time. Some things stand out, others we don’t even notice. Was it the PDA or who was doing it that got the customer upset at Tim Horton’s? Was it the PDA, who was doing it, or who complained that caused the ill-advised reaction (“leave within 5 minutes or we’ll call the police”)? Or was it the person handling the complaint that went too far?

Sometimes when you are different, anything you do is seen differently. Cultivating awareness about the lens we are using to see (and judge) things and people is how we stop this, and create more equitable and inclusive spaces.

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copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
author, speaker & facilitator on issues of diversity & inclusion
Last month Australia made a significant change on their passport application forms; there are now three options for “gender” – M, F and X. 

When your passport doesn’t reflect what you look like – when your listed gender doesn’t match who you  are – it can be, in the words of Senator Louise Pratt, “very distressing, highly  inconvenient and frankly sometimes dangerous.”

This is a human rights victory for transgender and intersex individuals in Australia, even moreso because sex reassignment surgery is not required to use the “x” option.

Imagine the relief of being able to mark X and being able to move through customs like everyone else instead of being grilled about why your passport says you are male, but you look female (or vice versa). For people who have experienced greater scrutiny at customs for other reasons (like race, or real/perceived ethnic origin or religion for example – especially since 9/11) you will understand what this can mean.

Hooray for Australia! Change happens when people start to “get it” – and even moreso (and faster) when people in power “get it”.

Senator Louise Pratt’s partner is transgender. This gives her an inside view into the barriers that transgender and intersex individuals face – barriers that those of us who are not transgender or intersex may have no idea even exist. Because of her experience, her position and her conviction, Australia has change!

It’s a small change, one that doesn’t impact cisgender people at all. There is still an “M” and an “F” to choose from. Australia has simply added another option – to recognize that not all realities are the same, and to make travelling more equitable and safe.

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Copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
author, speaker and facilitator on issues of diversity and inclusion

In today's Toronto Star, Ashante Infantry writes about the longest running human rights case in Canadian history (23 years). It has finally been settled, but the plaintiff has not won.

Despite the fact that the Ontario Human Rights Commission ruled in his favour 3 times over the past 23 years, the directives were ignored by his employer and Michael McKinnon has had no relief. In fact, his supervisor, the ring-leader of the racial taunts against McKinnon for being Cree, has been promoted with a salary increase during this time. McKinnon, by contrast, is on anti-depressants.

It's a sad reality that racism (and all the other "isms") are still occuring in our society and workplaces. Sadder still is that directives from the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) can go unheeded.

The images we see, the news we read, and the stories we here - as well as those we don't, by omission in schools, media, family and communities etc. - all teach us who has value in our society.  When we don't challenge these messages and assumptions, they are allowed to continue  - and escalate.

Not heeding a OHRC directive speaks of how pervasive these beliefs must be in the jail that McKinnon worked at, for management to not even be swayed by a human rights ruling. It also speaks of a work environment that is poisoned - not just for McKinnon and other First Nations or Aboriginal peoples (and possibly for other "minority groups" as well), but also for their colleagues who may have wanted to speak up, but didn't (or couldn't).

Michael McKinnon is a broken man, because he proudly celebrated his cultural heritage at his wedding, and invited colleagues he thought were friends. For 23 years he has been fighting for his right to dignity, respect, and a safe workplace. No one should have to endure that.

Many of us take a safe and respectful workplace for granted, and can't even imagine what that is like. It is our vigilance, and willingness to speak up, that can make a difference for those for whom work is not a safe or respectful place. Hopefully Bill 168 will help to ensure that happens more and more.

Fingers crossed.

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copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder


(c) 2011 Building Equitable Environments