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May’ 17, 2007

9th Annual Multicultural Conference
Pasadena Conference Center

Continuing the Journey: Adapting to Ch...

does not matter because people bind together in the face of suffering.
Suffering teaches us empathy for others who are...

management, managerial styles and a plethora of other cross-cultural
differences. Cultural awareness is crucial if mul...

are well worth it: through it you can create a more productive, passionate
staff; a strong, growing service focused on...

available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others
are able and good, for he or she has a ...

disapproval, and anger. Culture even governs the expression (if not the
actual experience) of love, because culture de...

basic needs and activities all people have in common. Consider
everyday activities such as answering the telephone, ea...

Implement your cultural knowledge: If you have discovered some useful
information about a culture that is represented ...

Do Not Gossip: It is a main contributor to communication breakdown
and an atmosphere of negativity and distrust. The r...

nature of humanity to get involved by ignoring, resisting, or sabotaging all
plans and directives that are imposed on...
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Keynote Speech - LA County' 07
Multiculturalism in the Workplace

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  1. 1. 1 May’ 17, 2007 9th Annual Multicultural Conference Pasadena Conference Center Continuing the Journey: Adapting to Change in a Culturally Diverse Society. Multiculturalism in the Workplace – LA County Mental Health Eva’s story on her racial mix… Changing the way we think… We live in a time of global enlightenment. This alone should make us jump for joy. It is the worst of times yet it is the best of times to be alive because we are the ones we have been waiting for. With so much greater awareness then our ancestors, and with such capacity for insight, knowledge, empathy and technological advancement, we are uniquely prepared to create positive change within the world and ourselves. We live in an age in which we are able to see and understand our own predicament. We see that we are alas, a huge part of our own problems. – (statement from Alice Walker’s new book) We base our lives on seeking happiness and avoiding suffering, but the best we can do for ourselves and for the planet, is to turn this whole way of thinking upside down. On a very basic level, all human beings think that they should be happy and we have the right to be. However, a natural part of life is the experience of pain and suffering that comes with it. When life becomes difficult or painful, we feel that something has gone wrong. This wouldn’t be a big problem except for the fact that when we feel something has gone wrong, we’re willing to do anything to feel ok again. Society has created this false belief that there could be a lasting security and happiness available to us, if we could only do the right thing. History teaches us that when suffering arises, humanity time after time uses the opportunity to motivate and look for answers. It is in times of suffering that we find our greatest hope and strength. Speaking for myself, I came to my Spiritual path because of deep suffering and pain. I know that it is human nature to seek God in our darkest moments individually or as a society such as in the case of events like 9-11, the tsunami, Katrina and others. It is in times like this that color, creed or race
  2. 2. 2 does not matter because people bind together in the face of suffering. Suffering teaches us empathy for others who are in the same boat. It has the ability to humble us. Even the most arrogant and strongest person can be softened in the face of losing someone dear. Loss is loss even more so when communities forcibly experience the loss of culture, language, identity, land, liberty and life that most of us as people of color had to endure and still do today. You are in L.A at a time that the Ice raids have intensified and many Mexicans have been beaten, taken to prison or have been deported and families have been separated. When we talk about cultural awareness and sensitivity, have you asked or even considered or given a thought to your co- workers this morning that might have been dealing with the Ice raids. How do you become culturally aware? The answer to this question is both complex but it is also simple. Ask yourself if you are paying attention to what is happening in underserved and oppressed communities. Try asking your co-workers if and how these oppressive immigrant and other inhumane laws have affected them. I always think, how bizarre that Mexicans are called immigrants and laws and walls are constructed to keep them from a land that is originally theirs. Sometimes you don’t have to do anything but be aware of the true history of oppressed people, other times you just need to show interest in another human being so that they might know that you care no matter what color they are, at times you just need to listen with no judgment, no blame, no guilt, just listen to what is in people’s hearts and minds because that more then anything else break down the barriers that separate us as people. If you ask and show genuine interest, people will tell you what is in their hearts. I tell you this, I started as GM 5yrs ago and still earn less then the white male with no radio experience that was interim GM prior to me. Yet I work twice as hard but will never be treated with same respect or appreciated monetarily no matter my success. I am sure that is the story of millions throughout the world. Ask yourself as workers and leaders of LA County, not how far you have gone in your company or dept. to create economic equality, respect, fairness, equitable access and resources but how far you still need to go. You might asked, why should I care and why should it matter to me? I will tell you why, the nature of our workplaces has changed. We have moved away from the monochromic make-up of our offices to one that is now colored by team members from all over the world. With this new multicultural make-up come differences in cultures that in turn bring differences in areas such as communication styles, approach to time
  3. 3. 3 management, managerial styles and a plethora of other cross-cultural differences. Cultural awareness is crucial if multicultural teams within a health service such as the L.A County wish to maximize its potential. Although cross-cultural differences do not always cause obvious problems, it is their more subtle manifestations that can and do lead to a lack of clear communication and poor performance. One of the biggest challenges you will face in the workplace today, is changing your organizational culture. It is more difficult to change the culture of an existing organization than to create a culture in a brand new organization. When an organizational culture is already established, people must then unlearn the old values, assumptions, and behaviors before they can learn the new ones. You might now feel challenged with having to do to exactly that. The two most important elements for creating organizational cultural change are executive support and training. Cultural awareness is important to help members of multicultural workplaces identify where things may be going wrong or how to best leverage their differences. Without some sort of formal cross-cultural awareness training, it is difficult for multicultural workplaces to identify areas that need attention. The nature of cultural differences manifest in many ways. Within a multicultural work environment, a person’s cultural background will influence how they act and behave. There will be differences in areas such as communication, attitude towards conflict, approaches to task completion and decision making styles. Unless people come to realize these differences between them through cultural awareness, problems can continue and even intensify. Building real cross-cultural synergy is only accomplished through properly considered cultural awareness training. Recognize that true communication is a “conversation.” A two-way and real discussion must result. It cannot be just a presentation, it has to involve all the people that will be affected through the process of change, not what you think the change should be but how you create change with everyone involve whose daily lives will be effected. I comment the L. A County Mental Health Board, Management, Staff and workers, every one of you here today for having a Vision and the Courage to change your workplace to be more inclusive. I appreciate your commitment towards training. I admire your willingness to go down this road that can be both an opportunity for personal and organizational development and at the same time a huge challenge. Let us not kid ourselves; the diversity journey is a long one, with a destination that may at times seem elusive. But the rewards
  4. 4. 4 are well worth it: through it you can create a more productive, passionate staff; a strong, growing service focused on becoming more aware and create a deeper understanding of the needs of your clients, by better understanding how their cultural make-up influence their behavior and emotional wellbeing. A diversity strategy and plan is about creating a better company for all staff, not just minorities and women in the workplace. It is not just about gender and race. No, it is so much broader. It is about all your employees, the clients you serve, and understanding the best way to provide service. A true commitment to Diversity is not about lowering standards; it is about widening the pool and sometimes raising the standards or re-writing them. Expect the discomfort that comes with Diversity and be willing to commit to invest the time, money and emotional energy needed to effect long-term change. Diversity is about creating organizational synergy. You as leaders must understand that acknowledging and addressing diversity issues will take an unyielding effort and, an unwavering commitment to long-term change. Leadership must admit the County like any other workplace needs to go further to change certain policies, procedures, and business practices- both those that are formal and, more importantly, those that are informal (written and unwritten rules of the organization. I want to share with you a very important traditional sub-Saharan African concept that I grew up with and I hope will be helpful in your pursuit in creating an effective multicultural workplace. The concept of Ubuntu – is an ethic or humanist ideology focusing on people’s allegiances and relations with each other. Ubuntu is seen as one of the founding principles of the new republic of South Africa, and is connected to the idea of an African Renaissance. The political sphere, the concept of ubuntu is used to emphasize the need for unity or consensus in decision-making, as well as the need for a suitably humanitarian ethic to inform those decisions. The concept of ubuntu is illustrated in the film In My Country, about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It also mean, • “Humanity towards others” • “I am because we are” • “I am what I am because of what we all are” • “A person ‘becomes human’ through other persons” • “A person is a person because of other persons” This is a popular definition of ubuntu, “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity. A person with ubuntu is open and
  5. 5. 5 available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed. As stated by Desmond Tutu Understanding Cross Cultural Communication has opened a brand new world to all of us and gives us the opportunity to explore our differences in ways that could be meaningful and beneficial. Especially verbal and nonverbal communication where two people from different cultures can fail to understand each other. Some of these differences reflect language and translation problems. Nevertheless, many others involve subtle differences in etiquette, gestures, values, norms, rituals, expectations, and other important cross-cultural variations. Working in a multi-cultural workplace, I am faced with these challenges daily and from time to time I make mistakes and when I do, I have learned to ask for clarity from the person affected and most times it is not comfortable, but the lessons are valuable and I know I won’t have to make that same mistake again by assuming someone is disrespectful or even rude. It is sometimes the simple mistakes we make, like showing the soles of our shoes or giving a thumbs up, when dealing with different cultures that can ruin a relationship or months of hard work. Learning the simple cultural do's and don'ts can avoid this and help generate respect and understanding. The advent of the global economy is changing the fundamental nature of our governments, businesses, organizations and populations. In short, we are no longer constrained by state boundaries but have all become part of an interdependent international network. One of the key changes this has triggered is the need to communicate effectively with different people in different languages and from different cultures. It is now recognized that linguistic and cultural knowledge are two of the most vital areas of knowledge that organizations must come to acquire if they are to integrate, progress and succeed. However, cross-cultural communication can be difficult, inaccurate, and highly stressful. When we are immersed in an environment where the language, attitudes, values, and behaviors are alien to our own experience, we may suffer disorientation and frustration--an experience known as "culture shock." This is because culture affects almost all behaviors. Culture governs how close we stand while talking with another person. Culture governs how we use (or avoid) eye contact. Culture governs how we express (or suppress) powerful emotions such as joy,
  6. 6. 6 disapproval, and anger. Culture even governs the expression (if not the actual experience) of love, because culture determines whether we feel free to express love in public settings by holding hands, hugging, or kissing the person we love. Cross-cultural communication is an absolute must! I love the quote by Rob Morrison, “My workday is so much more pleasant when I recognize that the people I work with are the most important part of my job, not the tasks I’m doing.” I am sure it has occurred to all of you that you spend a substantial part of your life at work. The truth is that your life is also happening right now, at work, right here. So how can we feel more connected to our “real” selves in our jobs? Perhaps the answer lies in “humanizing” the workplace – seeing and internalizing your connection to human beings rather than to the job duties. The first step is to become aware of how you interact with the people around you. Pay attention to what sort of conversations you have with people at work and notice how your actions influence every person with whom you come into contact, pay special attention to non-verbal communication and become skilled in learning body language in a way that can help you better understand people from different cultures. I dare you to be bold enough to explore the similarities between you and your co-workers from different cultural backgrounds. I encourage you to open your mind and except that there is strength in being different. I applaud you for having the courage to step out and explore new possibilities and different ways of thinking even though you don’t know all the answers. I ask that you allow yourself to be gentle with yourself along the way as you grow into new and different ways of being. Mother Theresa said, “We heal the world one heart at a time” please make sure that heart is yours… Let’s celebrate our Diversity! Can you imagine how boring life would be if we lived in a City, where all the restaurants have the same menu and we all wear the same clothes, drive the same type of vehicle and cut our hair in the same style? Why in the name of heaven, would we want everyone else to be like us? We each have our own unique taste and different ingredients will satisfy our palate but someone else can only know that through forming a relationship with another. You can start with the little things; do what cultural anthropologists do when trying to understand a “foreign” culture – by looking at the most
  7. 7. 7 basic needs and activities all people have in common. Consider everyday activities such as answering the telephone, eating lunch, opening the mail. How do your co-workers do these things in the same way as you? How do they do them differently from you? Note what the same is and what is different. Like Andrew Masondo, from the African National Congress said, “Understand the differences; act on the commonalities.” As you increase your awareness of the humanity of your co-workers, the workplace not only becomes more pleasant, it becomes more productive. People like to help other people; Above all, you will start to see a community of people that nurtures and sustains you in developing a different culture. In the Multicultural workplace, It is important to build your cultural knowledge: Try to learn a bit more about other cultures and countries. Information is easily found on the internet and in books. Make a point of asking your colleagues about their different cultures, they could become your greatest teachers. Start to build some sort of your cultural awareness. Treat people as individuals: Information in other cultures is usually based on generalizations. This means that the information will not apply to every single member of that culture. Be aware of this and try to deal with people as individuals. Appreciating and Acknowledging Others “The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.” ---The Dalai Lama A fundamental characteristic of all human beings is the desire to make a contribution that will benefit others. We thrive when other people notice and appreciate our contributions. By appreciating a person, we offer a valuable view of who the person is to us, both in the present moment and in terms of future contributions.
  8. 8. 8 Implement your cultural knowledge: If you have discovered some useful information about a culture that is represented in your multicultural workplace, put it to the test. It is only by putting these things into action that you will come to see the benefits and learn more. Help build up the skills set of your team. Withhold assumptions: Try to avoid jumping to conclusions about people. One of the first rules of cultural awareness is refraining from assuming one way is wrong and one is right. It just is… Avoid blame: “Awakening from our sense of separateness is what we are called to do in all things.” ---Ram Dass Blame is simply not constructive. One of the easiest ways to create and maintain barriers between yourself and other people is to blame them. Blame is a guaranteed way to instill an “in and them” mentality in the workplace. When you see a situation break-down rather than apportion blame, pick the situation apart with your ‘cultural awareness glasses’ on and see what the cultural mechanics were. This helps resolve issues and act as a precedent for the future. Listen actively: Active listening is another cornerstone of cultural awareness. Rather than listening to people you should really pay attention the words used, the way it is said, the context and also read between the lines. Accepting that other people will make mistakes as a natural part of doing their jobs and does not preclude you from speaking to them about their mistakes. The question becomes, rather, how you speak to them. Stay away from words like them, those people, etc. It is just about guaranteed there will come a time when you will make a mistake that affects other people. If you have been gracious with others, they will be gracious with you.
  9. 9. 9 Do Not Gossip: It is a main contributor to communication breakdown and an atmosphere of negativity and distrust. The remedy? Whenever you have a complaint about someone, speak to that person directly. This may not seem like the easiest option, but in terms of well-being – both your own and that of your workplace – it is the healthiest. Responding versus Reacting “We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.” ---Anais Nin Reacting is an automatic and emotion-based response. Someone criticizes me, I am hurt, and I react with an angry retort. Responding, on the other hand, is based in thoughtful choices. Someone criticizes me, I am hurt, I pause for a moment and remember that nonviolence is one of my personal values, and I choose to acknowledge the hurt and seek reconciliation. The first is to simply take a moment to stop. If a phone message or e-mail has upset you, avoid the temptation to immediately respond to the person. Take time to cool down and think about your response. If you are in face-to- face or telephone contact, pause, and take a deep, calming breath before answering. In Closing – adapted from the book, Finding our Way – Leadership for an uncertain time by Margaret Wheatley Life relies on diversity to give it the possibility of adapting to changing conditions. There is no possibility that we can adequately represent anyone else. But there is a simple solution to this dilemma. We can ask people for their unique perspective. We can invite them in to share the world as they see and experience it. We can listen for the differences and learn from them. And we can trust that with curiosity, we will create a much richer mosaic from our unique perspective. Nothing changes until we interpret it differently. Change occurs only when we let go of our certainty, our current views, and developing a new understanding of what is going on. Life shows us that it is impossible to impose anything on people. We must participate in anything that affects us. We cannot act on behalf of anyone else, we cannot figure out what is best for somebody else. If leaders refuse to believe this, go ahead, and make plans for us, we do not sit by passively and do as we were told. It is the
  10. 10. 10 nature of humanity to get involved by ignoring, resisting, or sabotaging all plans and directives that are imposed on us. We are facing a great paradox- It is impossible to prepare for the future without knowing what it will be. The primary way to prepare for the unknown is to attend to the quality of our relationships, to know how well we can truth one another in the workplace. During this period of change, any organizations that distance itself from its employees and refuses to cultivate meaningful relationships, is destined to fail. Those organizations who will succeed are those that evoke our greatest human capacities. Most people, especially workers like you from the County that provide service to clients, want their work to serve a greater good, to help other people. It doesn’t matter what the work is, we’d rather do it in service to others. It is important that in these times of change and uncertainty, we remember to live from our interconnectedness, that we reclaim time to reflect, to rest, to rejuvenate body, mind and spirit. A time to listen, a time for stillness to let our intuition guide us, it is a time for love, a time for joy and a time for harmony. It is a time to hope, to dream, to live the greatest vision of the grandest dreams we have been created for. We have to be the change we want to see in the world. May you be happy, may you be at peace, may you find rest and may you all be Blessed.