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MUS i-Week hosts workshop on cultural differences and the workplace

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The Management Undergraduate Society (MUS) Organizational Behaviour and Human Resources (OB/HR) student group organized a discussion for professionals and students to share their ideas on how to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace last Wednesday.

The event was part of i-Week, an annual series of events organized by  McGill International Student Services. According to the i-Week Facebook page, the week aimed to highlight the multicultural nature of the McGill community and to broaden intercultural awareness and understanding. Panellists at the workshop included Nathalie-Michèle Sylvain and Jay A. Hewlin, two professionals in the human resources industry who are also instructors at the Faculty of Management. 

Sylain began the workshop by explaining how cultural expectations shape people’s attitudes at the workplace. 

“When one culture meets the other one, participants walk in the situation with [their own] mindset of what they think is normal [and] what they think the expectations are,” she said. “It is very important when you are in a cross-cultural context to never take anything for granted, to make sure you understand that your normal is not normal.”

Sylvain continued to highlight how diversity in the workforce could be a great asset. 

“A company needs to understand that if you have a workforce that is of the same culture, you are looking at the world, at solutions from the same angle,” Sylvain said. “When you have diversity […] you have people who look at the same situation but from different perspectives. That is your asset.”

Sylvain encouraged the students to learn more about other cultures. 

“Gaining knowledge means reading newspapers of other cultures […] by watching movies that are not [from] Hollywood,” she said. “ We are shaped by our culture. Remove that shape and get used to seeing and thinking in another way. That is how you acquire cultural intelligence.”

Qing-Qing Yang, U4 Management, co-president of the OB/HR network, and an organizer of the event, asked about the utility of affirmative action and its policies such as quotas, whereby a certain number of individuals from various underrepresented groups must constitute a certain percentage of the workers. 

“How can we mitigate issues of non-diversity?” she asked the panellists.

In response, Sylvain described the premise of quotas as a rigid structure that enforce diversity when it didn’t happen naturally in the workplace.

“The quotas were there because of bias […] throughout the whole HR process,” Sylvain said. “A quota is good because it forces you to have five of this and three of that. Then maybe you start seeing different perspectives—and [it] becomes an asset [….] Quotas should be temporary. After a while, you should not need them; it should be something natural.” 

In the second part of the event, Hewlin encouraged students to examine their own cultural preferences.   

“The most dangerous thing you can do is assume that you do not have a bias,” he said. “If you are not conscious of [your biases], you will act out in ways that are inconsistent with what you are trying to accomplish in terms of management.” 

He also warned against being colour-blind—electing to treat individuals without regard to their race, culture, or ethnicity—in the workplace.

“There is something dangerous about saying ‘I don’t see colour, I don’t see race,’” Hewlin explained. “Yes, you do, and it is okay [….] What is not okay is to make determinants [based on it].”

Yang stated that she organized the event to aim to increase student awareness of the importance of human resources.

“We get carried away sometimes with technical work and forget that [human resources] is also an area that brings value by tying everyone’s hard work, knowledge, and experience together,” Yang explained. “The skills that one can learn from attending these workshops are applicable to all industries and fields.” 

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