Workshop targets cultural insensitivity to chamber

Welcoming, inclusive, engaging. “We throw these words around a lot but what do they really mean,” said Carolyn Kent

Welcoming, inclusive, engaging.

“We throw these words around a lot but what do they really mean,” said Carolyn Kent, director of Valor Group.

Valor Group is a consulting business that works to provide communities and organizations with skills and knowledge about creating diverse and inclusive environments.

On June 19 Kent hosted a workplace inclusion, cultural sensitivity workshop for the Ponoka Chamber of Commerce members and business personnel. The workshop dealt with the ideals of inclusion, context, self-understanding, cultural competency, inter-cultural communication, strategies, and resources.

Kent had many statistics for the community members and business associates who attended. Stats show 53 per cent of population growth in Canada is due to immigration, 82 per cent of immigrants are using a community’s web page to investigate the community, while only 42 per cent of migrants use the web for the same purposes.

Many communities, Kent said, still gear their sites to tourists and visitors, using accompanying language rather than using targeted language such as newcomers or immigrants.

Those who are targeting immigrants may be stopping their involvement and attention after the initial attraction. According to Kent there are three stages a community should have in place to discontinue the isolation and fears of immigrants.

Invite (awareness) is the first stage. This can be done through a website or other channels a community uses to make other aware of the community and what specifics it has to offer.

The second stage is arrival/settlement (first impressions). The first three months are the most crucial. Those experiencing a culture shock need to be directed to available resources.

Culture shock, from factors such as homesickness or isolation can result in depression, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts or tendencies in those who may not want to seek help or may not know how to get it due to cultural barriers.

The third stage is retention (on-going experiences). After an organization or community attracts newcomers what are their ways or support systems of welcoming them, and after welcoming; being inclusive and engaging.

Kent knows of or has worked with communities or organizations that focus only on the ideal of welcome because something like inclusive, which is long-term, is “hard”.

“It’s not just about what we can get out of somebody, but what they can get from us,” Kent said.

However, it’s not communities that are limiting their views and isolating different ethnic groups.

There are factors affecting workplaces and organizations that are closely tied with production, isolation, stereotypes and in extreme cases, racism. These factors include the area’s aging population, globalization, and the impending foreign work boom.

An aging population can be tied to stereotypes such as those who have reached retirement age cannot function as efficiently in the workplace.

With this idea comes problems relating to the opposite end of the spectrum. Kent said in communities such as Ponoka where the Aboriginal population is higher than other communities the youth is an unseen, sometimes unrecognized, untapped labour source.

Globalization within organizations often refers to technology and world wide information sharing but, when dealing with immigrants and the ideas of cultural sensitivity it can also relate to abuse and human trafficking.

Kent told about situations in workplaces where highly educated foreign workers are choosing to come into Canada at entry level jobs because it’s easier to get admittance.

Many times they’re being directed by illegal agencies and paying sometimes paying more than $16,000 to be placed in that position.

Many are inhibited by language and cultural barriers but also by fear because they’re having to divide small paycheques between the agency, their family overseas and their survival expenses, while being abused with threats of deportation by employers if they talk about their substandard working conditions.

Kent says with the foreign workers’ boom, employers need to be aware of cultural sensitivity— and the law—to create a more positive, effective workplace.

Although they’re more implicit, workplaces have their own cultures too.

“Culture is what everyone knows that everyone else knows,” said Kent.

Any newcomer to a workplace knows they don’t know the culture of the place. It’s harder to adjust when an individual is foreign and not accustomed to the larger culture of the geographical area.

Participants in the workshop defined diversity. Religion, background, ideals, age, social status, financial status, education, sexual orientation, politics, and race, among others were listed.

Kent said that policies, whether of an organization or a community should be established to meet the needs of different people and different situations. This support and understanding would lead to less isolation and more cultural sensitivity.

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