The Intercultural Sharing Circle by Sights on Success Consulting is an opportunity for professionals from the community to gather and learn from each other’s cultural perspective. As usual, specific questions on the topic were posed to the participants during the session on May 3rd, such as: “What is your cultural identity and current social status? What systems enable you to enjoy and maintain your social status? What strategies can you use to foster diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility at your workplace and help less advantaged individuals and groups?”
How would you and your team respond to these questions? Here are some personal insights shared by the host to deepen understanding about cultural commonalities and differences and build community through intercultural competence development.
What is your cultural identity and current social status?
I am an English-speaking and English-educated Canadian citizen. I was not born in Canada and so, I identify as an immigrant. Since I am not Indigenous either, I also identify as a settler, and I do so to acknowledge, with respect, the traditional lands of First Nations and the homeland of Métis people. I am of mixed Asian and European heritage and I look Asian. Sometimes, I am mistaken as Indigenous.
I mostly enjoy a relatively high social status and the related privileges, because I identify with and participate in the culture of the dominant majority in Canadian society. The dominant majority is of European heritage and appearance, English-speaking in the province and city where I live, more egalitarian than hierarchical, more individualistic than collectivistic, Christian, cisgender, and heterosexual.
Sometimes, however, I do not enjoy high social status, or I lose social status. This happens when I am negatively discriminated against because of my race and appearance, the intersection of my race and gender, being an accent minority person, or when inaccurate cultural assumptions are unwittingly directed towards me. For example, I feel embarrassed when I’m complimented for speaking excellent English even though the compliment is well-intended as most compliments tend to be. I feel embarrassed because English is my mother tongue and the compliment undermines an important if not integral aspect of my identity.
Another, and perhaps, more pointed, example of losing status is when my credentials and expertise are underestimated or doubted. On these occasions, I lose status because I feel disrespected by underestimation or doubt about the validity of my credentials and expertise and the direct or indirect ways I am asked to prove myself. This is not the same as when individuals express a healthy or positive curiosity. There are strategies one can use to express a positive and intercultural curiosity. These strategies take time to learn, practice, and develop.
In the meantime, when individuals indicate they avoid expressing curiosity for fear of offending others, it means they may need to develop more cultural self-awareness and deepen their understanding about culture and cultural differences. This is preferable to not expressing curiosity at all which is not an effective strategy for building strong teams or fostering equity at the workplace. In short, the fear of offending others is an issue that can be resolved through targeted intercultural and leadership development. This also applies to causing disrespect unintentionally by underestimating or doubting a diverse individual’s professional credibility.
Last, but not least, I am denied access to better social and economic status when I request help or seek opportunities from individuals and organizations that seem to have high social and economic status, power, and resources, but my attempts are rejected or ignored. Sometimes, the rationale I am given for the rejections is the individual’s or organization’s desire to maintain a level playing field for everyone seeking similar opportunities or assistance. Of course, as a private individual who feels partly marginalized because of her national origin, race, and appearance, I find this rationale disheartening. As an intercultural professional, however, I recognize the universal application of policy that does not discern and attend appropriately to cultural differences and diversity dimensions. Such a strategy or practice is less effective in bridging cultural differences and fostering equity and inclusion as it may alienate individuals and groups and cause more marginalization.
Overall, however, I enjoy a relatively high social and economic status. This is partly due to some of the previous economic or educational and employment opportunities I have been offered and that I have accepted, and partly due to my marital status. I am fortunate to be married to a member of the dominant majority. Ideally, as someone who values independence and equality, I would rather achieve social and economic status based on my own merit, and not because of my marital status. Nevertheless, I am grateful for these privileges and humbled by them, and I realize that I have a responsibility to act on them.
What systems enable you to enjoy and maintain your social status?
There are many systems that enable me to enjoy a relatively high social status in Canada. The social and cultural systems in the region where I live are biased towards people, such as myself, who are proficient in the English language. For example, I can join and participate in many social or professional groups that use English, and even organize my own groups. For the same reason, I benefit from the educational and economic systems. These systems privilege, empower, and discriminate in favour of English-speaking and English-literate people where I live. As a result, I have been able to obtain an advanced level of education and professional certifications.
Moreover, as a cisgender and heterosexual woman, I also benefit from the social system. The social system tends to favour people like me who share a similar gender identity and sexual orientation as the dominant majority. This is because I do not experience the stigmas or suffer from the hate crimes that are directed against people who are gender and sexually diverse.
Finally, I benefit from the political system, because I was allowed to immigrate and settle in Canada and become a Canadian citizen. Although I lost some social status when I immigrated, because I had to go through a long transitional and settlement process, I recovered some of it back through the economic system which recognized some of my educational qualifications and professional skills. I also recovered some social status when I was able to create and nurture new social and professional networks, albeit with difficulty, to replace the ones I had inadvertently lost through the immigration process.
Today, thanks to the interaction between my personal Intercultural Development journey and my understanding of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report and Calls to Action and other decolonization sources, I am more aware of how the British colonial system has allowed me to acquire and enjoy some social status. I have also realized that the more I conform to and support this system, the more economic and social status I would achieve. Conformity to and support for this system are what, unfortunately, allow it to persist. This means that Indigenous and other marginalized people may continue to be deprived of the same privileges unless they pay the high price of surrendering, suppressing or hiding their cultural identity, autonomy, and distinctiveness.
What strategies can you use to foster equity in your workplace and help less advantaged individuals and groups?
I am an intercultural development consultant. My main role and strategy is to coach and guide teams and individuals to develop intercultural competence so that they can shift cultural perspective and adapt behaviour appropriately to cultural differences and commonalities. I offer assessment and coaching services, and design and facilitate customized intercultural development programs and workshops that are targeted to the intercultural developmental level of teams and individuals. This involves guiding them to gain the relevant knowledge, skills, and attitudes to grow intercultural competence to reach and match their DEIA goals.
When teams and individuals increase their developmental level of intercultural competence and their ability to bridge cultural differences and commonalities, they will feel more confident about how to create a more diverse, inclusive, equitable, and safe workplace. This is because they would be better positioned to define their Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility goals and have the necessary tools and resources to reach and match them. Otherwise, they would be designing and implementing strategies and initiatives based on their perceived developmental level which they may have overestimated. In other words, their strategy may be beyond their capacity to implement it. This lack of cultural self-awareness may be detrimental to the success of their strategy, contrary to fostering equity, and negatively impact less advantaged individuals and groups.
How would you and your team respond to these questions?
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