You can find Tina Varughese on Twitter @TinaVarughese
Ever feel like you’re walking on multicultural eggshells? Diversity is a valuable asset to any organization – it increases things like happiness, profitability, and functionality – but it can be intimidating for people who are worried they’ll say the wrong thing or who feel like other people’s agendas are being shoved down their throats.
Fortunately, we have the wisdom of workplace diversity expert Tina Varughese to help show us the way to a more relaxed and natural approach to dealing with workplace diversity in all it’s wonderful variety (and she’ll *gasp* even make you laugh while she’s at it!)
Want to get more of Tina’s insight and humor? Check her out at tworksforyou.ca
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You know I’m all about conversation, so I’d love to turn it over to you – have you ever had a diversity ah-ha moment? Or maybe a super awkward diversity moment that you can share with us (heavens knows I have!) If so, share it in the comments below or click here to share it in the comments directly in YouTube.
Lauren Sergy: Tina Varughese, the beautiful Tina. Welcome to Talk Shop! Thank you so much for coming on board today to talk about diversity in the workplace. And that is a pretty hot topic, you must be getting a lot of inquiries about that at the moment!
Tina Varughese: Yeah it wasn’t the sexiest of topics when I first started but it getting to be quite a hot topic now, for sure.
Lauren: How did you get into this area of discussing the multicultural diversity and the cross-cultural communication within an organizational context. How did that happen for you?
Tina: So I used manage our immigration office for the province of Alberta. That was many, many eons ago while I was still an embryo. And that was at the peak when we were bringing in skilled workers when we really needed quite a few coming. So I was on recruitment missions internationally meeting a lot of immigrants who were opening businesses.
When I left the position, I realized there was a huge knowledge gap with Canadian workplaces, with American workplaces, as well as with clients I was working with. And so I thought I would be able to just fill the gap a little bit with knowledgeable awareness, There is a lot of potential conflict and miscommunication due to cultural differences, so I thought I would be able to mitigate that a little bit to create a more positive workplace. Given that Canada is so culturally diverse, we are about 20% foreign work as a country, and that increases.
After I left the government, I had my own relocation and settlement firm, where I worked with oil and gas [inaudible] who were coming in from Calgary, At this same time I launched my speaking business! I was not speaking of full-time when I have my relocation and settlement company and went full-time and 2011.
Lauren: That’s a great way into it too because of course you spent that first bit of your career working deeply with getting people from completely different countries embedded into our own workplace systems. That must have come with quite a few challenges!
Tina: I didn’t have enough knowledge when I first started, so I made a lot of faux-pas. I look back even with my relocation and settlement company and how I handle conversations with some of our more collectivist cultures… I realize now I never should have gotten the contract with how I dealt with conflict. I’m looking back going ‘how did I not get fired!’ because of what I know now. Knowledge is power, there’s no question, knowledge is power.
Lauren: As the workforce is shifting, not really shifting but kinda the cultural landscape of Canada continues to become increasingly diverse we’re seeing more and more the… I don’t want to say the situation that sounds so lame. This is like white girl foot in the mouth… but as you’re seeing more like 2nd, 3rd, 4th generation Canadians who are still fitting in that visible minority category, is there a shift happening in terms of cross-cultural communication? Because just someone looks like they’re from, I don’t know India or something, doesn’t mean they necessarily are! Like they could be full on Canadian.
Tina: Absolutely! Like myself! I was born here but one of my biggest pet peeves, definitely one of my keynote conferences explain this concept, a lot of people will say ‘where are you from’ and it really irks them when I Saskatoon, Saskatchewan… go Riders! I know what they are looking for. For the most part, people will not be offended if you have created a relationship of trust and positivity so you ask ‘what is your cultural background’. That would be the better question.
Because if you were to ask me what is my cultural background you would find out that my parents came from India over 60 years ago. I was born in Saskatoon and move to Calgary, Alberta in ‘94. You’ll be receiving so much more information from me that’s going to help you build a relationship which is what every business, every communication, every relationship is about is about: trustful relationship building.
So if you are going to get more information from changing questions slightly, and your intentions are positive, why wouldn’t you do that?
Lauren: Right. And I like the notion about what is your cultural background as well, because it does create more opportunity to pick for people I think within Canada to say well like you said, ‘I’m from Saskatoon! Go Riders!’. That is a cultural background. Or I am from Newfoundland, or Quebec. We are a big country that has pockets of culture. Not necessarily that are foreign country culture, but it gives opportunity to celebrate and share and talk about.
Tina: Absolutely. You know can change from urban centers such as Toronto, to small town. Culture within even sectors. Very different like agriculture versus banking, very different cultures. And it is different across the board. It is just so important to be aware of that. That is where I come from, a place of awareness.
Lauren: So with that in mind, How would you define diversity in the workplace? It’s kind of a trophy word, right? We’re a diverse and inclusive workplace, but when get down to the nuts and bolts, how would you define it?
Tina: When I look at diversity and it is pretty broad based, but diversity for the most part, especially when I’m defining it from a keynote perspective, I’m looking at gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, age, and weight. Diversity within that framework is sort of how I would look at it.
Diversity to me is where you live but inclusion is putting the neighbor back in the hood. So it is really just about Inviting everybody to the party, rather than… you know we all want to be involved! And not just received the invite but be invited to the party. So that is sort of what we are looking at when we are trying to create positive, inclusive work environment.
Lauren: Have you ever run into a situation where a work environment is pushing back against that? I know if you’ve been brought into a situation to consult, but an organization that says “No we are not cultural or inclusivity. We’re not having any of it.” Why does that happen?
Tina: All the time! And I mean surely not the company but within the company, employees… I can’t tell you how many times I have had middle-aged white male say that they are the minority! And then I just recently had a middle-aged white female say she didn’t get a job and she felt it was because her skin wasn’t brown enough. And that was the comment she made me! She said “I hate myself for saying that but that’s how I feel.” This was in Toronto, 2018.
And I can’t say I necessarily disagree with how they feel, however there is a reason why diversity and inclusion initiatives are need! A lot of that has to do with unconscious biases. They are very prevalent both with gender bias, maternal bias, cultural bias. It is prevalent. And even from a human resources perspective, there is a reason why companies have to look at unconscious biases now. there’s a lot of reasons why we want diversity and inclusion but a lot of people push back since they don’t recognize there are massive benefits. When they recognize the massive benefits diversity and inclusion they are more apt to buy into it.
Even by increasing the diversity of an organization by 1% it will increase profit massively. There are numbers to back that up. So it is definitely a profitable thing. But I look it at diversity from that framework where I spoke of before, but diversity of thought. When you have diversity of thought and diversity of perspective you have more innovators in the environment.
For example, voice recognition software did not recognize female voices when it first came out. Dyson hand dryers did not recognize hands that were not white, when it was initially launched. With diversity, you can create a lot more opportunity as well, because we create more markets. so there is a profitability perspective.
We also recognize too that with that diversity, and with that innovation, and with that positive work environment, then companies definitely- statistically positive work environment will always outperform negative work environments. So why wouldn’t you embrace that. And most people find that the cultures are much more positive too. When we are spending more time with our employees that are spouses in our partners, why wouldn’t you want to have fun and be more engaged while doing it?
Lauren: That is a great question. I don’t think anyone would ever say “No, I want a less fun workplace. No let’s make sure everyone is identical.” That is so unappealing. That is soul-killing.
With diversity initiatives within the workplace or inclusiveness initiatives, often I think the invective that is thrown that way is the whole “positive action”. I think that has now become a curse word. With diversity initiatives how can companies do it right? I think there’s probably good ways of doing it and bad ways of doing it. What are some tips you might have four companies that want to do it well?
Tina: Right! This is not a shameless plug because I would not necessarily say, but diversity and inclusion training will have huge impact if done properly. The reason I say done properly is that when diversity and inclusion training is not done properly, it can have a shame-and-blame negative impact on employees. We are actually starting to see that a lot in the US, that there is a shame-and-blame mentality with diversity and inclusion training, so it actually backfires. There are more issues with workplace bullying.
So really strong workplace diversity and inclusion training programs will create awareness that will help, but will also hopefully include strategies. I am a really big believer in what can I do after this training that I can Implement right away, so that if be you know… a strategy on how to communicate more effectively, understanding that people from different cultures have different communication styles, understanding the people coming from different cultures may learn differently than someone that was born in Canada. So how do you change the way you communicate verbal or written, with your employees to make that workplace stronger? That goes really far.
What I find is that even if you have been a leader or manager for 5 years or 10 years and it is going well for you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t improve. Most people want to improve! A leader to me is not defined by title, rank, or position. Everyone has power to inspire, educate, and learn. it doesn’t matter if you are the coffee barista, the janitor, it doesn’t matter what the position is.
We all can learn how to communicate more effectively with everybody in the workplace to create a more Innovative and inspiring environment.
Lauren: So for the people who are either watching or listening to this right now and thinking “I don’t know if my organization is going to get on board with this.” or maybe their organization is, but they want some things that they can do now to make themselves better at diversity, communication, or cross-cultural communication: what are some things and tips that you have so we can do it on an individual level?
Tine: There is many many things that organizations or individuals can do. So first of all, look at your sphere of influence. Usually when we are looking at a sphere of influence you are looking at the top five people in your circle that influence you. Now decide how diverse is that sphere of influence. For example, looking at you Lauren, is the five people…
I have no idea how old you are so I’ll put you in the 30-35 range?
Lauren: We will go with that.
Tina: So are they all in the same age range is you, are they all female, are they all Caucasian, are they all in the same position as a speaker or trainer or in communication. If you are finding that they are all falling in that same sphere of influence, you want to create a more diverse sphere of influence. You will learn more from people that are more diverse from you. So first of all surrounding yourself by a sphere of influence that is very diverse from you. That is a tip that I am a big believer in entering.
Some people believe in the concept of reverse mentoring, but I just look at mentoring as mentoring. So generationally there is a lot of generational differences that can cause conflict in the workplace. That does not necessarily have to be the case, especially I really encourage people to choose a mentor again, that is very diverse from them.
If you are asked to be a mentor, I am a mentor for a 24 year old Chinese male speaker that speaks on plays, which I love I think that is a pretty cool topic. I will do things like invite him to networking events because that is how he will increase his network. I will invite him to speaking events so that he can learn from someone that is a more season speaker on how I utilize my own platform and content skills. I will call him periodically or send him a quick email.
On the reverse side, he is stronger than me on things like social media. I just joined Instagram two days ago, and the only reason I did was because my conference participants are getting younger and younger and they said to me “Tina are you on Insta?” and honestly I was wondering if they were referring to an Instapot! I thought I had to increase my cooking time. So I realized you have to go where your clients are or where your followers are.
So that is a place where he can teach me, absolutely. And just how he presents himself, you know learning from him and how he introduces himself to people, because he speaks on plays, so he has a playful attitude. You can learn so much from one another just from another perspective.
Another small thing organizations can do- I am a big believer of onboarding. So when a company is onboarding a new employee, make sure that they match them with another employee and have them attend meetings so that they can understand the corporate culture without a negative ramifications attached to their job. Meaning that they are not expected to perform in that meeting, they are just expected to observe at that time.
Especially collectivist cultures, they have a much longer on boarding culture than us. We are very much of a culture where we give people a job or a task and we say come to me with questions, but we don’t necessarily talk them through it. If you are coming from a collectivist culture you would be potentially very worried or scared to tell your boss “Look I don’t really understand what you are asking.”
In Canada, we are very lateral, we are very much more ‘roll up the sleeves and get in there’. You may not even be positioning yourself as a leader with all your employees if you are using the typical Canadian leadership style, because you are not recognizing that leadership styles are different across the world.
It is just small observations. How do babies learn how to walk? The watch their moms and dads. so just through observation, we can learn a lot.
The last tip, and I could give more but I know we are hurting for time, is people should look at – especially if you are trying to further your career and it doesn’t matter if you are foreign-born or Millennial, or whatever it might be- when you join a board a volunteer role but you’re increasing your capacity.
For example, let’s say that you are in marketing, but you join a board and you become treasurer. You don’t have any negative ramifications to your job, but you’re increasing your capacity. So now you can put that on your resume. You increase your own skill set and now you made yourself even more employable, even more promotable.
So those are just a few things that people can do to help themselves when looking at those immediate strategies, definitely.
Lauren: Those are some great things that are very, like you said, implementable. Anyone can do it and it would benefit multiple areas of your career; not just that of diversity and inclusion but all sorts of different areas. That can help you move forward to where you want to go.
So as we wrap up, Tina, you teased me over email that you are writing a book. I am holding you accountable now because everyone will be waiting for it to come out. Tell us the 30 second overview of the book.
Tina: So my signature keynote is called 50 Shades of Beige,
Lauren: Best title ever, that I have ever come across for a keynote. I laugh every time I see it!
Tina: You know what? It works! The minute I change the title of the keynote I have more engagement, there is no question. Plus people recognize that I am coming from a fun and humorous place. I have been asked many many times to write the book!
So I am finally starting on the process and I know that it will not be a quick process, but I have to say that is very exciting for me to be writing a book. I just look at myself as the medium. I am doing a ton of informational interviews with people across the board, people that are in CEO positions, people that are foreign-born but are in leadership positions, people that volunteer from countries across the world whether it be Philippines, China, Syria, Iran, and understanding their experiences, and challenges, and opportunities when they came to our amazing country. And what employers can do to help them succeed and what they can do to help themselves succeed.
It is written in a very funny humorous way. I find that we can learn and laugh at the same time and it will be so much more impactful. That is hopefully the goal of this book .
Lauren: I’m looking forward to seeing it for sure. So that everyone can get more of you, whether they want to bring you in as a consultant, or a trainer, or a speaker, where can our listeners interviewers find you. What is your online home?
Tina: My website is tworksforyou.ca. You would not know I have a marketing degree with tworksforyou.ca, with T being me and works being the goal initially when I started that amazing company name 12 years ago. Seems to work, it is a lot easier to pronounce than my last name. However, you can also find me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube and Facebook.
Lauren: Excellent! I need to follow suit with you on getting on Instagram, because that is one thing that I have been “Ah! No!”
Tina: I am older than you and I am doing it!
Lauren: I know, I know. Well thank you for coming on board with us today. It was great getting some of your wisdom in this very short format but please bring Tina into your organization or into your conference. She has so much wisdom and knowledge and practical tips as you can see to share on this topic.
That is everything for today’s Talk Shop. Of course if you would like to make sure you get more great interviews like this sent straight to your inbox on industry leaders about how you can become a better communicator and your work, in your industry, or in your field, head over to laurensergy.com. Make sure you sign up for the newsletter and you won’t miss another one of these.
Again thank you Tina for coming here today! Thank you everyone for joining us today and I look forward to seeing you again on the next Talk Shop interview. Bye!