It’s a scene all too familiar in work cafeterias: Portuguese, Asian, Quebecers… Everyone sitting at their own tables. Women together, men also… How to prevent such fragmentations and promote greater diversity in the workplace?
First, ask yourself this: is it necessarily bad to have divisions among coworkers in a small cafeteria? No, says Cybèle Rioux, CHRP and President of Alizé ressources humaines.
“This is completely normal. We all do it in our personal or professional lives. When we do not know anyone, we tend to turn to the people who we have similarities with, whether in a cultural, social or professional sense.”
“It becomes problematic when inflexibility settles in and workers refuse to move from one group to another,” says the counsellor. “This is when we need to worry and take action.”
Work on the sense of belonging
The first strategy to implement is to increase the sense of belonging to the company. And to get there, we must find a way to create links between staff members.
“There are all kinds of ways where employees can experience things together in order to create these links,” says the councillor. “It can be the usual happy hour, lunch, dinner or even a one-week humanitarian trip. It depends on the budget of the company!”
“Any activity that allows people to see each other in a different perspective than that of work, it's always good,” says Rioux, suggesting a simple and inexpensive endeavour. “You can offer fruits in the break room and ask everyone to tell a story or anecdote.”
Be an unifier
Whatever activity you offer must be a unifying one, says the councillor. “Some companies use happy hours to increase the sense of belonging. However, if 80% of women who were hired must leave early to pick up a child at daycare, it’s missing the point.”
Be wary of alcohol. “Quebecers love to drink wine. However, if we end up with a religious group who does not drink alcohol, it can create distance and further fractures in the work environment. It is preferable to go with something more inclusionary.”
In this case, the counsellor suggests dropping the drink option to explore gourmet avenues. “The cultural exchange of food is a big winner. The stomach is a good way to connect with others!”
See beyond differences
Ultimately, the goal is to get people to connect with others beyond their differences, says Cybèle Rioux.
“Familiarizing yourself with cultural codes, that’s a bit of a pretext… The goal remains to get the person to see what things they have in common with someone from another group. That's when you can advance the relationship further.”
For the counsellor, it is best to create lasting bonds. “It is a lot easier to work with colleagues with whom you have similarities.” It just doesn’t stop!