Q: I think I might be witnessing racism in the workplace. It isn’t happening to me directly — it’s happening to a colleague of mine. I am not trying to stir up trouble but I also don’t think what I’m seeing should be permitted to go on. I am a white female and my colleague who I believe is being discriminated against is Asian with a strong accent. I’m not quite sure as to why he doesn’t complain about it. What do you think I should do?
A: As much as we celebrate being an inclusive, multi-cultural society that embraces differences, there are still many examples of racism that go unnoticed, often because the victim or an observer is too afraid of the repercussions they might face if they file a complaint. While this fear is often warranted, we contribute to the same racist actions we detest if we don’t speak out against it.
You’ve mentioned that the racism hasn’t been directed to you specifically. Under the rules and regulatory laws of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (see www.ohrc.on.ca), racism doesn’t have to be directed at you for you to file a complaint. Once what is going on at your workplace creates a “poisoned environment” that you no longer feel safe or comfortable to work in, you are within your rights to bring grievances to your employer.
An employer, HR or union is legally bound to look into any and every case of racial discrimination on the job. If they don’t, then they, too, are breaking the law.
Your colleague may appear to be oblivious to the situation, but he may not be. Consider speaking with him during lunch one day; ask him how he feels, or if what you’ve noticed has ever been a concern to him. If he feels he has an ally, that might help him want to break his silence.
Your responsibility in this? I recommend that you document: all the incidents as they happen; who said what; who was in earshot (think witnesses); how the words or actions have made you feel, and how they’ve impacted your ability to complete your day-to-day tasks. Good luck.
Q: I am currently working full time. I did make tremendous progress during my first two years (I immigrated here four years ago) with learning English and finding employment. But I need more schooling in order to further actualize my full potential. I am interested in applying to study medicine. What should I do first?
A: You would certainly need to complete an undergraduate degree (preferably an honours degree) in a scientific and/or mathematical field of study (I cannot stress enough how important high grades are for pre-med students.
If you have such a degree from your home country, you’d want to discuss with an academic adviser at the university you choose to attend what credits and/or substitutions if any your degree might grant you. You may have to complete a three- to four-year program even if you have a degree already, as this is often the situation with foreign degrees.
Research universities online and visit student admissions counsellors. Inquire about pre-med: speak to former students, and connect with a mentor in the field who can help you navigate throughout your choices.
Jill Andrew — CYW, BA, BA (Hons.), BEd. Please include your full name, address and telephone number when e-mailing. All letters are subject to publication.
jill’s tip of the week
• If conflicts arise when working as part of a team, try to work them out with the person directly involved first. Going directly to the supervisor illustrates your distrust in the team problem-solving process (negotiating, conflict resolution skills, etc.) between team members. The less times you need to approach your supervisor for their intervention the more efficient, independent and competent you and your entire team will appear.