New Book Offers Solutions for Creating Diverse and Inclusive Cultures

Seconde Nimenya’s new book Unlocking Diversity: How to Create Inclusive Cultures in a World of Differences is a book badly needed and long overdue, especially in the wake of the protests that have rocked the world following George Floyd’s death at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, 2020.

Racism remains a major problem in the United States and around the world. In this new book, Seconde Nimenya offers practical advice and fresh insights for how we can live in harmony with one another, learn to appreciate and celebrate our differences, and create a better world for all. As an immigrant first to Canada and then the United States from the East-African nation of Burundi, Seconde provides fresh perspectives about race and racism, and the benefits of creating inclusive workplaces and communities.

At the heart of this book is the need to listen to one another’s diverse stories and the need for all groups to take responsibility and work together to create a world in which we can all live together. Seconde does not point fingers but simply explains that everyone needs to be responsible for themselves and their efforts in developing an inclusive culture. We are all in this together, so we all need to be kind to each other as we sort out our social and racial issues to create a more diverse and inclusive environment where everyone can thrive.

Creating inclusive cultures primarily requires greater education about what inclusion means. I love that Seconde makes the point repeatedly in this book that more inclusion means more, not less. Just because we want to include more people from diverse backgrounds does not mean other people will be excluded-a fear too often held by people in more dominant cultures.

We also need to be willing to answer questions about our cultural backgrounds without being offended or hiding the truth. Seconde pokes fun at herself in the book for this reason because when she came to the United States, she got tired of people asking where she was from, so she started saying she was Canadian. Today, she is proud to say she came from Burundi to North America. In fact, her first book, Evolving Through Adversity, tells her incredible story of growing up in poverty amid Burundi’s civil wars and how, despite all the odds, she got an education. Today, she speaks to groups around the globe, sharing her message of how we can rise above adversity, while developing more diverse and inclusive societies.

Seconde asks us all to be open to sharing what we have learned from our experiences, and not be quick to dismiss people as ignorant if they ask questions because those questions reflect their willingness to learn.

Seconde also talks about the fine line people have to walk when trying to increase diversity. She states, “If you are promoting diversity acceptance for your group, but discounting other minority groups’ experiences, and even the so-called privileged, that is not inclusion work. Creating inclusive cultures is not about just advocating for your own people.” She invites diversity practitioners to advocate for everyone who is discriminated against because of who they are.

Throughout this book, Seconde offers advice for both individuals and organizations to increase diversity and inclusion in their lives, organizations, schools, and workplaces, and she focuses on how education is needed for such efforts to work. She states, “I believe education is the only solution that truly empowers communities and has the potential to end the cycle of violence and poverty.”

In the wake of the nationwide protests against racism in the US and even in many other parts of the world that took place in May and June 2020, Seconde’s message about systemic injustices is timely. It is not a government or a police department that is necessarily to blame for racism, but rather, Seconde states, “I often say systemic injustices didn’t put themselves into place; people did. And so, only people can take them down. Many countries have rebuilt from nothing and are a testimony that when we want to, we can. Each one of us is called to step up, use our privileges, and meet our local and global challenges with an inclusive consciousness.”

Seconde calls on those in leadership positions to remember that inclusion is not about taking away someone else’s privilege, but rather, inviting more of “them” to become part of “us.” She states, “there are no strangers in this life-only other people living their own human experiences.”

Obviously, our handling of race issues in America has a long way to go. It’s time for us to find new ways to work together.

Unlocking Diversity is a great book to help you start moving toward opening up conversations, increasing your understanding of one another, and doing your part in making the world better for all. That may be the greatest challenge and lesson we have been placed on this planet to learn. Until we learn it, our problems will never be solved.

Foreign Accents – Problem in a Diverse Workplace?

Corporate success today requires a diverse body of talent to implement new ideas, views, and perspectives. The client base has become multicultural and the need for effective communication demands diversity. In the past White males made up more than 60% of the American workforce. A steady growth pattern created a shortage of qualified personnel resulting in today’s multinational workforce and an alteration of the image of the typical American worker.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Report “Futurework:” Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century states, “By 2050, the U.S. population is expected to increase by 50 percent and minority groups will make up nearly half of the population. Immigration will account for almost two-thirds of the nation’s population growth. The population of older Americans is expected to more than double. One quarter of all Americans will be of Hispanic origin. Almost one in ten Americans will be of Asian or Pacific Islander descent. And more women and people with disabilities will be on the job. Obviously clear communication is a necessity. However, in today’s workplace communication is lacking due to much of the international workforce’s accents.

R. Roosevelt Thomas, author of “Beyond Race and Gender” states that managing diversity is “a comprehensive managerial process for developing an environment that works for all employees”. However, that compatible environment still does not exist in work areas. Some American co-workers have a very bad attitude and a severe lack of patience when it comes to conversing on any level with those who speak with a heavy accent. Their attitude is “Why can’t they just go somewhere and learn English”. The truth of the matter is they have gone somewhere and learned English and it is not unusual to see statistics showing that oftentimes the non-native speaker scores higher on the standard grammar exam than the native speaker of English. Therefore, “learning” English is not always the problem, but speaking is.

The second language learner (including Americans acquiring a foreign language) speaks the acquired language in the same manner as the native language is spoken, therefore creating an “accent”. The rhythm, stress, intonation, and voice projection of the native language carries over to the second or acquired language and when spoken, it causes a number of distortions in word formations, pronunciation, etc.

Insensitive American co-workers have stated, “Why can’t they simply hear and repeat like our children do?” If simply hearing and speaking were the only requirement for language acquisition, there would be no communications problems anywhere in the world. There is nothing simple about language acquisition. In fact, it is a very complicated business. In addition to linguistic features, there are other factors contributed to speaking with a foreign accent. (On the Nature of Foreign Accents, Daniel P. Dato, Ph.D, CCC)

Example (1) physical factors- to speak a single sound involves using an estimate of 100 different muscles in the throat, larynx, mouth, lips, tongue, and breathing mechanism. We do much of this involuntarily. Imagine trying consciously to control something that complex.

Example (2) cognitive factors (mental activity involved in problem solving.) One has to consider perception, memory, formulating ideas and processing language. Children acquire language easier by using all sense modalities and acquiring new knowledge. The adult acquires language generally in an artificial classroom setting where neuronal activities are limited and his sensory associations are restricted. He/she has no meaningful experience with the new language 2) does not live these experiences, but instead analyzes them 3) ends up over-intellectualizing the language and therefore limiting its natural flow. In addition to the cognitive factors, there are emotional factors involved. These can be fear, humiliation, and inhibitions. These combined cause further, ineffective communication.

Example (3) socio-cultural factors When a second language is learned, one has to also learn a second culture. The learner has to be able to interact with, exchange views, accept new ideas, risk mistakes and become assimilated in a new and strange environment. If the learner views the new culture with a negative stereotype, learning is inhibited. Additionally, there are pressures from the natives of the culture to expect language mastery to be a sign of intelligence, good faith and a willingness to communicate. How many times have people foreign to a country been treated by the natives of that country as though they were stupid or hard of hearing because they could not communicate clearly? There is also pressure from the learner’s ethnic group who feels that it is disloyal to their native culture to learn the target language and culture of another country.

When adapting to a new culture self-identity, among many things is disrupted. Underlying cultural differences often cause a state of cultural shock, which can create physical or mental illness. The second language learner living in another culture loses all commonly perceived and understood symbols and signs of social communion.

Many native speakers of English do not realize all of the complexities involved in the non-native speaker’s acquisition of English.

There is a tendency to be insensitive towards those with an accent and some are blissfully living in the ignorance of thinking that they (Americans) do not have an accent. Nothing could be further from the truth. People who have not studied English in America have learned British English (a very different sounding English than that spoken in the U.S.) After arriving stateside, the non-native speaker of English is confronted with an unfamiliar American accent and the frustration of having to learn a new way of speaking and listening.

Native American speakers articulate using the schwa (reduced vowel sound), contractions (blending two words to make one [can’t, don’t, etc]), and reduced phrases ([gonna, want to, etc.]Vowel Dimensions, Howard B. Woods). Now, imagine the confusion when the non-native speaker hears, “Jeetjet?” when they were expecting to hear “Did you eat yet?” Therefore, the rhetorical question, “Why don’t they go somewhere and learn English” from the non-native speaker’s perspective can also apply to the native speaker of English.

The responsibility of communication is placed squarely on the shoulders of the non-native speaker of English. If there is to be an environment that works for all employees” then half of the responsibility to communicate rests on the shoulders of the American. In fairness and common sense, some well-placed sensitivity and listening workshops should be a mandatory part of all American employee training.

In reality, diversity is the future and growth and success depends upon the ability to communicate with clients worldwide. Qualified personnel is no longer White male, American only; therefore training non-native speakers to sound more like the American is just not going to be enough. The future American is going to have to tolerate, assimilate, and re-learn to communicate.

Multicultural Counseling Considered and Diverse Demographics Discussed

The United States has always been considered the great melting pot, as folks from all over the world have left their countries to come here and build up this great nation. There are so many mixed cultures in America, it’s almost impossible to count them all or all the variations. With each family heritage comes culture, diversity and differences. Thus, when counseling these different ethnicities and cultures, it requires a bit more understanding.

In counseling it is a very individual thing, it is not a one size fits all, and those who attempt to force a round peg into a square hole learn very quickly the error of their ways. It is for this reason that those who are counselors need to study the variations of culture and how different groups deal with problems and challenges.

Unfortunately, due to the political correctness, it is becoming harder and harder to deal with differences and individuality. Still a counselor to be effective must know the reality. It is for this reason perhaps that I recommend that folks involved in this line of work educate themselves. And if I might be so bold, I’d like to recommend a very good book to you on this exact subject. This book will help you, help them, which in turn helps all of us:

“Experiencing and Counseling Multicultural and Diverse Populations; second edition” edited by Nicholas A. Vaca, Joe Wittmer PhD, Susan Vaney; Accelerated Development, Inc.; 1988.

This book has advice on dealing with Cuban Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, African Americans, as well as older folks, seniors, Amish, working professionals, gays, Indian Reservation folks, disabled people and women re-entering the workforce.