At the cafeteria today, I witnessed an interesting banter. A newly hired Chinese employee, who came in directly from a tech company in Shanghai, joined a group of clearly multi-raced individuals for lunch. The newbie asked what everyone is having for lunch and started criticizing why most of the individuals are eating too much carbs as he munching on his salad. The others mumbled something I could not hear. Then the newbie asked someone where he was from which the other responded "the Philippines."
Then newbie said "..but you don't look Filipino or even sound like one." A Pakistani individual in the same group said "but you just came in from China and you're name is clearly French, how did that happen?" This kicked off a series of challenges to stereotypes as well as conversations that bordered inappropriateness and disrespect. The newbie, after 10 minutes of this uncomfortable conversation, said in a huff "well, you are so sensitive." Then left the table.
In trying to analyze what just happened, I realized that people do need a clear set of guidelines when it comes to corporate climate as part of their onboarding process. Conversations can be taken out of context but more importantly perceptions vary not just by culture but even by the day - someone's joke can be funny one day but hurtful the next depending on what's going on with the receiver of the joke. It is important to understand people first before uttering potentially damaging comments. What is interesting is that the individual who joined without asking or getting an invitation to join did not realize that the table was full of managers and directors. The backlash of "what are you training new hires" and "don't new hires go through a respect in the workplace classes" were not far behind.
Have you experienced something similar in your workplaces? Do tell and let me know what happened for damage control.
photo by iwouldstay
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