The table figures significantly in the festive season. Families gather, and the food that surrounds them says a lot about their world view and their culture. This week for my birthday and six of us sat to a meal of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. There, I have given myself away. I enjoy cooking Thai and Indian, and my husband is from Jamaica, where rice and peas are king, but for me, there is little more satisfying than a Yorkshire pudding soaking in gravy.
As the table at the holidays becomes a symbol for who you are so the boardroom table represents the culture of your workplace. When you look around your boardroom table what do you see? I have been fortunate in the past few weeks to be working with an organization where the diversity around the boardroom table is celebrated, but it is not without its challenges. There is a drive there to create and define a workplace where people of many backgrounds and cultures can meet to share their technical expertise in an environment which is welcoming and inclusive. And they are working to define that culture in a way which ensures all workplace participants have equal access to career growth, promotion and fair and accessible channels for resolving disputes. When defining a culture of inclusivity becomes a struggle, language is often the hot point which characterizes that struggle.
As with the food at my birthday table, language defines who we are and is in many ways is the ultimate expression of our culture. Do you have a workplace culture where you can put language on the boardroom table for discussion? Have you ever refused a highly qualified job applicant a second interview because of concerns about language? Were you comfortable telling them why? Are you worried that raising the spectre of language will bring accusations of discrimination? Are the diverse languages spoken openly in your workplace a source of curiosity? Or is there a fear that they threaten the culture of inclusion which you strive for?
Holding occasional office multicultural potlucks is not enough. If you truly want to encourage an open, honest, productive and diverse workplace culture, language needs to be on the table for discussion. Engaging all employees in a discussion about language in the workplace will ensure that you can reach a specific plan which ensures clear communication, an inclusive internal environment, and fosters robust social networks which benefit everyone.