While cooking vegetables over slow heat recently, the rich diversity of colours really jumped out at me. I quickly grabbed my cell phone, took a picture and sent it off to my family Whatsapp group made up mostly of my sisters and nieces, although two brothers are in on it as well. Long before Whatsapp was acquired by Facebook, it had been our means of making daily ‘touch base’ contacts with family. One of the things we frequently do is to show off pictures of our meals, and this time it was my turn.
As I looked at the beauty and blends of vegetables in the pot, I thought how boring would the workplace be without diversity – diverse skills, cultures, races, languages, and names? Discussions of diversity are not always comfortable, yet discussions have to take place. Consider a recent ‘uncomfortable’ article in the Toronto Star, The Curse of a Foreign Name, written by an acquaintance, Priya Ramsingh. She addressed the issue of how some people were being rejected for job opportunities because of their ethnic names.
This is a reality. I work with clients from all over the world, most with English-sounding names like Barb Bill, John and Jane, but a good mix of names such as Smita, Giusseppina, Chun, Carlos, Bassam, Ismail and Guylaine. All these individuals, regardless of their names, are accomplished in their fields with PhDs, MBAs and BAs. They have much value to offer employers. But, some with non-English sounding names have wondered out loudly if their names have been or could be a barrier to job search success. One young lady of Chinese descent, asked me recently if she should use her English name when applying for jobs. How narrow minded of the recruiter in Priya’s article, to make assumptions that “the candidates didn’t speak English or would be too difficult to understand”, and reject them on that basis?
The topic of ‘names’ hits close to home as my children do not have English-sounding names either. My daughter, whose name is Damali Shimona, used to wonder if her name (pronounced ‘Damalee’), would be, or has been a deterrent to her job search. I haven’t seen evidence of that yet, but one never knows. Regardless, it is a legitimate concern, considering Priya’s article. The good news is that, although these biases still exist, I believe most recruiters and hiring managers are not so elementary in their thinking. They have realized that ‘sameness’ isn’t a good strategy, and are largely helping employers to enhance the range of skills in their workforce thereby making the most of the wealth that diversity brings.
As I reflect on the rich diversity of the vegetables in my pot, I am reminded of an excerpt from a book by British Economist, Journalist and former advisor to the World Trade Organization, Philippe Legrain, where he said “Most innovations nowadays come not from individuals, but from groups of talented people sparking off each other – and foreigners with different ideas, perspectives and experiences add something extra to the mix. If there are 10 people sitting around a table trying to come up with a solution to a problem and they all think alike, then they are no better than one. But if they all think differently and bounce new ideas and reactions off one another, they can solve problems better and faster, as a growing volume of research shows.”
That’s the splendour of diversity! So, whether we have different names, speak different languages, or have different skin tones, when we embrace diversity together, we make the workplace that much richer. My meal wouldn’t have tasted that great if all it had was broccoli or red peppers. As Albus Dumbledore of Harry Potter fame said, “Though we may come from different countries and speak in different tongues, our hearts beat as one.”
What are your thoughts on diversity, or on my vegetable analogy?