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

I’m in New Brunswick today!
This afternoon my colleague and I will deliver Diversity and Inclusion workshops.
I love to facilitate, and D&I is “my thing”.
What makes this experience a little different, however, is that this part of New Brunswick is very French.

Which makes me wonder…do I tell them I speak French (albeit it’s rusty) or keep my mouth shut? It’s an interesting conundrum.

On the one hand, my fear is that I’ll open myself up for a challenge that, in an already tight schedule, may not be wise. But on the other, it allows me to show up as more of who I am (a Montreal-born formerly bilingual now Torontonian with excellent comprehension and not so excellent spoken French). More importantly, it may also make a difference to some workshop participants. Although I can’t promise to answer their questions in French, maybe having the option of asking in French will be appreciated.

Which leads me to my point.

There are many Canadians for whom English (or French, depending on where you are) is not their first language.  No matter how fluent you are in a second language, it’s often still easier to express yourself in your first language. And often “native speakers” speak quickly and we don’t catch everything. Sometimes we ask. Sometimes we may just nod and hope we get the general idea and that no one will notice. It can be an invisible disadvantage.

It makes me wonder how much we may be missing when people don’t have the option to share their ideas or ask questions in their first language, regardless of how fluent they are in the second (or third).

So today, I’m going to be brave and offer the option of asking questions in French, if that’s easier. I may not be able to answer in French, but if they are willing to be patient, I’m willing to try.

I’m hoping it will make the time we have together a little more inclusive.

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copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
Thanks to the politicians, the debate rages - is it a hand-out or is it increasing access? (and don't get me started on the difference between "foreign workers" a la Tim Hudak and immigrants looking for work).

Listening to Q this morning on CBC, I heard an interesting interview with 2 successful business owners, who also happen to be immigrants to Canada. Because I was driving, I couldn't write down their names and the podcast isn't available yet - but I'll attach it next time. Both guests had different perspectives, but both agreed that any program must focus on helping new immigrants get their first job in their field.

Where they differed greatly was on whether business incentives were reducing barriers or giving an unfair advantage. What it came down to was stigma versus equity. One perspective suggested being seen as having been given the job because of the incentive only (which was referred to as a quota system); the other suggested the incentive was acknowledging and reducing the barriers that immigrants face in being able to work in their field.

I can see both sides of the arguement - what it comes down to, for me, is how any program is set up.

Quotas for the sake of quotas are a bad idea. Always. They breed resentment and can compromise the quality of work. But leveling the playing field? That's different. If you put a program in place (as one of the gentlemen suggested) that provides incentives for companies to hire qualified (that's the key word) new immigrants for a first job in their field that they may otherwise not get for reasons of bias, discrimination, or just plain ignorance - well, that's not a quota system to me. That is an effort to cut through the systemic discrimination that continues to take care of the dominant group, and keeps qualified people from work they can do well.

It's amazing to me how quickly we bristle at the thought that the system, as it is now, may be unfair.

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copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
We continue to make strides in understanding the needs of, and increasing access for people with disabilities.  In Ontario, we have the Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

But what does accessibility really mean?

While it may be easy to consider aspects of physical accessibility like ramps, automatically opening doors, etc., there are other aspects that we may not consider. The AODA lists 5 areas of accessibility. They are:

  • customer service
  • employment
  • information and communications
  • transportation
  • built environment
The first four have already been made into law, to reach the vision of an accessible Ontario by 2025. The fifth is being developed.

Employment isn’t often considered as an accessibility issue. But assumptions, stereotypes and misinformation create high barriers for people with disabilities – either physical or psychological – to be able to access work.

Creating an inclusive work environment challenges us to do things differently, and to consider alternate ways of getting the job done well. It also challenges us to examine how the way we see people can create barriers for hiring, placement and promotion.

It’s nice to see that some of the Fortune 500 companies are taking this on. Read about Proctor & Gamble’s recent foray into a more inclusive workplace – which includes hiring people with disabilities for the same jobs as their able-bodied peers.

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Copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
Religion or Faith  may be the last thing you expect to hear about at work. Faith is still seen as something private and something which has nothing to do with your work life. But think again.

Religion or Faith can inform someone’s values and how they move through the world. This, in turn  can impact leadership, team work, and work ethic (to name a few). So it’s closer than you think. Many decades ago, when most people in Canadian workplaces were Christian, we arguably didn’t need to talk about it, since there was (assumed) common ground and holidays were acknowledged and taken care of.

A few days ago I wrote about Ramadan and some of the things employers can do to acknowledge this holy month for Muslims – and I used the word accommodation.

I can’t help but think that accommodation has become a bad word – at least for Human Resources. I can imagine the eye rolling, the heavy sighs and the resignation: “One more thing we have to accommodate. When will it ever end?”

All of this has me thinking about a conversation I had a few weeks ago. If we understood each other better; if we understood what Ramadan (for instance) means to our Muslim colleagues who are observing, then “accommodation” would just become a matter of fact and respect; not a burden or an inconvenience. Likewise for other faiths and beliefs that matter to our co-workers and impact their way of being. But then we’d have to ask… and sadly we still seem to have trouble with that.

Want to learn more?
Check out the upcoming Faith@Work conference put on by Skills for Change and expand your understanding!

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copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder

If you are Muslim, or know someone who is, you likely know that Ramadan started on Sunday night (July 31st) and that it will run for a month. While it isn't a religious observance that requires absence from work, it can impact the workplace.  For those of you who don't think religion has a place at work, think again.

Ramadan is the ninth month (and the holiest month) in the Islamic calendar. Since the Islamic calendar is lunar (using the cycles of the moon) this means that when referenced on a Gregorian calendar (used in North America and most Western countries) that is static, the dates change yearly.  Ramadan is a month of fasting and spiritual reflection. While you may be tempted to brush this aside as "not my business" there are some implications that, if acknowledged, can make this month much smoother for everyone in the office.


During Ramadan, devout Muslims eat only before sunrise and after sunset. For some, this even includes water. The length and heat of summer days adds to the challenge. Here are three suggestions that you can implement until August 30th, to acknowledge the reality of fasting employees. I'm sure you will agree that all of these fall within reasonable accommodations in the workplace.

If you have ever skipped lunch because you were too busy, you know how this can affect your concentration and patience (among other things) later in the day as your blood sugar drops. Scheduling meetings in the morning means your fasting employees will have more energy. Board meetings that typically occur in the evenings, or expectations to meet with clients over dinner are especially problematic.

Get togethers and celebrations:
Although your fasting employees will likely say "don't worry about me, I just won't eat" think about it: if you hadn't eaten since the sun came up, and had hours to go, would you want to stand around and make small talk over hors d'oeuvres? If you can postpone the festivities until Ramadan is over, do so.

Flex time:
If your company does flex time, this may be something to discuss with your employees who are fasting. Working earlier in the day and/or from home may be an option they may like to consider during Ramadan.

Still think religion doesn't impact work? Think again.

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copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder


(c) 2011 Building Equitable Environments