Is Post-Election Rhetoric Hurting Our Workforce?

 

Tensions are high in the workplace after so much contentious political conversation. There’s a lot more sensitivity to issues that lean towards the divisive, of which immigration is one of them. While the U.S 2016 elections are a thing of the past, the sensitivity is not. HR managers are having to handle more immigrant-related issues in the last 6 months than in the last 5-8 years.

Immigrants have always been part of society’s fabric and are usually known for bringing it all to the workforce table in areas of performance and productivity. So how do you have a decent conversation with these essential teammates without shooting yourself in the foot?

 

You have an accent

Don’t we all? An accent is simply a distinctive way of pronouncing a language. That’s it! So everyone who’s spent considerable time in a particular place or with certain people will most likely develop an accent. There’s no reason why we should sound the same at all. Declaring that your coworker has an accent will only make you look silly since you definitely have one of your own.

Your name is so…Why don’t I call you…instead

How about you don’t? You don’t get to tell someone else what name they should answer to. That’s rudeness. Point. Blank. Period. Yes, some names are tongue-twisters but it’s important to make an effort. An immigrant coworker expects that effort because he/she has had to make similar efforts too. It’s okay, to be honest; tell them that you are struggling and would love to learn how to say it the right way. They could give you the option of a nickname or not. Whatever’s the case, It’s the effort that counts.

When are you going back to your country?

This never ends well. How could it? Especially if

  1. You and that coworker have never discussed taking a vacation to said country
  2. You cannot be considered friends.
  3. You have never broached the topics of nationality or origin

Immigrants who have lived in their adopted countries long enough to naturalize consider it their own. Yes, they will always consider their home countries ‘home’ but to ask when they will be going back will imply that they are not welcome here.

 

Wow! You speak English so well!

The world is chock full of countries with multiple ethnic groups, languages, and dialects so it only makes sense for such countries to appoint a lingua franca which is basically a word for common language. Sometimes English is the best choice especially if said country has had dealings with the English by means of business ties or colonization among other things.

 

Your food smells really weird.

Yours too but that’s because weird is a synonym for strange. Seeing food combos like Okra and peas, shrimps, oil and locust beans does fall under the weird category for most of the world yet it is quite rude to drop comments about something as sensitive as food (especially while it is being eaten) Many immigrants will tell you that it took a while to adjust to new spices, smells or flavors. So be considerate. One guy wrote that on a sticky note on his desk and swears that it works.

Surely you have gone through much worse, right?

When the world expects you to bend over and take it because you’re probably running from war or poverty in your country. Immigration is almost as old as the earth itself. Men have moved from place to place in search of better opportunities and will continue to do so. Don’t expect your coworker not to ask for a raise because people in their home countries earn far less.  One woman shared that her boss never commended her for a job well done even when she went above and beyond for him. Turns out she had been hired for that very reason. Another coworker allegedly heard him say that he liked hiring Asians because they can’t help but work twice as hard.

 

You all look the same to me.

This is a common faux pas. It doesn’t matter if you think it but don’t say it because either way, it can hurt. It’s just one of those things that leave that coworker feeling alone or underappreciated even when they are doing everything to fit in. A few years ago while living in Asia, I spotted a set of unique frames in a shop and purchased them to gift my husband for his birthday that year. That same day I went to a portrait studio to take pictures of myself and my son to fit into the frames. I spent over an hour, asking if they could shave 4 inches off my nose back then and then the guys at the studio couldn’t get my son to sit still. It was hectic to say the list. Fast forward 3 days later I went back to this same studio to get the finished work. Turns out these guys almost gave my pictures to another ‘black woman’ who came into the studio with her son. According to them, we could have passed for twins. I asked to see her pictures and left soon after. No words. Needless to say, I was not amused.

 Embracing diversity and global culture is a big deal and it takes time. Immigrants generally appreciate when others make effort to learn about their cultures instead of dismissing them as irrelevant. In a world changing as fast as ours, today’s leaders must display an honest passion for global culture and communication. Are you there yet?