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
Since the foundation of the work I do is helping people to become aware of the assumptions, stereotypes, and perceptions they carry – and how these (often unconsciously) create barriers for others and between themselves and others – I have to comment on Tim Hudak’s use of the term “foreign workers.”

Foreign worker, to me, implies someone that arrives here to work, but goes back to their country of origin. We have many foreign workers (also known as migrant workers) who (for instance) come to work the land from Spring to Fall. You may have seen some of them working at your local Farmers’ Market.

One could argue that foreign workers are doing work that Canadians won’t do (at the very least, they are doing it for less, and often in abysmal conditions).

But someone who comes here to start a new life for whatever reason is an immigrant. Many immigrants come with a rich background, ready to contribute, and very often find it difficult (if not impossible) to work in their field. They are very often Foreign Trained Professional (or Internationally Educated Professionals).

Hmmm….Foreign Trained Professional or Internationally Educated Professional has a different ring to it, doesn’t it? Hmmm…I wonder why Hudak isn’t using those terms?

Words are powerful. They can impact what we see, think and feel – and consequently also what we don’t see, think, or feel – and thereby impact the way we treat others.

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copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
We haven’t come as far as we think.
Although there are many more women in the workforce than in 1987 when the Conference Board of Canada started their study, the number of women in middle and senior management has flat-lined.

Men are still twice as likely to be in management positions as women. This probably comes as no surprise to many of you, but it’s something that we should not be complacent about.

Yesterday on Metro Morning, Matt Galloway spoke with Anne Golden, CEO of the Conference Board of Canada about the study they have just released (spanning 22 years: 1987 – 2009) that shows these numbers. She also asserts that studies show that companies who have women in senior management positions do better.

So, what’s up?

It’s the same old story: “the way it is” is powerful, so firstly, we often don’t even imagine a change, and often don’t notice who is missing from these positions since we are so used to seeing the same old guard. Plus, challenging our ideas of what a CEO or VP or Senior Executive looks like (not just regarding gender, but skin colour, cultural background, age, ability….) is difficult and often not comfortable. Challenging the status quo is difficult work, but worthwhile work.

Next week I’ll write about some of the ways companies can create change in this area.

In the meantime – take a look around.
Who are you seeing in positions of power? Who is missing in your organization?
Let me know! Add a comment and let’s start a conversation!

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copyright 2o11 Annemarie Shrouder

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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

This past weekend I caught a brief story on CBC news about how David Cameron is considering assistance from New York Police Commissioner and Los Angeles police chief Bill Bratton to help address the violence that has shaken cities in England this month.

Whether this partnership proceeds or not, or the merit of it, is not what struck me as I listened to the news. What caught my attention was the short clip of David Cameron, where he said that this was about "dealing with people that we have ignored for too long." That caught my attention.

Think about it: people who feel valued and acknolwedged, have enough to eat, have meaningful work, and feel a sense of agency and hope don't riot.

It was refreshing to hear the Prime Minister of a country recognize the impact of marginalization. It shows recognition and thoughtfulness about the existence and impact of systemic discrimination.

It's an important place to start. I hope that David Cameron can lead his party and country to look inward, and reach out to communities to hear their realities - in order to find the sources of marginalization and the systemic remedies that will help communities not only heal, but see and experience a brighter future where their cultural & ethnic origins, skin colour, or faith don't stack against them.

We could learn a thing or two here in Canada, just from his comment alone.

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copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
Today President Obama started the process of making Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell a thing of the past. Hurray! The video is moving, and he makes some amazing statements about civil rights and recognizing people for their contributions.  It’s a decision that from this side of the LGBTQ human rights debate, makes perfect sense. Sexual orientation has nothing to do with how men and women serve their country (or any other job). But it’s long been an excuse to exclude some, while supporting homophobia.

I applaud President Obama’s commitment to this issue, but here is my question:

What is the US military going to do to make sure that their men and women are safe? Already today I have read that one of the considerations is how to assign barracks. This suggests that homophobia is alive and well and that possibly, while it may be ok to be gay in the military, it will be a lonely life that will ask certain soldiers to prove their allegiance and be reminded every day that they are “different”.  That is not a place where I think anyone would like to find themselves, and certainly doesn’t engender confidence that we can really be who we are.  

Signing papers is a first step. I hope there is a lot of education, training, discipline, and zero-tolerance to back it up to make sure gay and lesbian soldiers are safe and truly feel welcome.

President Obama added his voice to the It Gets Better youtube project this week. I have to say "wow! good for him!" Nice to know a president would reach out in such a personal way. But, there's not much to it that really addresses the problem.
Of course, President Obama is not gay. And so he doesn't know what it's like. He says so in the opening few seconds. Kudos.
What struck me most was the message of how it sucks to be bullied, and it shouldn't happen, and that kids should reach out. And here is the crux of the problem: Gay and lesbian and trans kids often don't have supportive parents to reach out to. Or supportive relatives. Or supportive siblings. Or supportive teachers. Or supportive Guidance Councellors. Or supportive Religious people. Or...you get the drift. The endemic problem in America (and Canada) is that it's still not okay to be gay. Period.
Until that changes, you can say all you want, Mr. President, that kids should seek help and support. But they aren't going to find it. If this were happening, we'd have 11 more LGBT youth alive today (that we know of). But we don't. Suicide is a last attempt at peace when all else has failed - when people tell you you are bad and wrong, when no one listens or acts in response to the harassment. When you have no where else to turn and you are exhausted. 
You may know what it's like to feel discrimination and "be different" President Ob- but I'll bet you had people willing to stand up for you and tell you you are worth it, and not to let someone tell you differently because of the colour of your skin. 
Lucky you.

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copyright Annemarie Shrouder 2010 

(c) 2011 Building Equitable Environments