Women’s Work: Five leaders discuss cultural perspectives and the importance of diversity

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Sima Patel, Anita Tam, Mavis Nakuma, Elvia Pacheco-Flores, and Nazanin Zinouri

takeaway sidebarThis Greenville Women at Work lunch provided several thought-provoking, interesting perspectives from multicultural women professionals who shared their experiences and suggestions for ways to break out of their silos, look at behavior from the cultural perspectives of others, seek commonalities, and communicate openly.

The panelists, moderated by Ava Smith of Flat Fee Recruiting, were:

Mavis Nakuma, BSN, is a registered nurse in the telemetry unit of AnMed Health in Anderson. She is originally from Africa.

Elvia Pacheco-Flores, a human resources professional at Fluor and founder of the nonprofit LatinosUnited, moved to the U.S. from Mexico as a young child.

Sima Patel is an attorney at Nexsen Pruet Law Firm who specializes in corporate compliance, litigation, business disputes, and employment and labor law. She is a first-generation Indian-American who was raised in California.

Anita Tam, Ph.D., is a first-generation Chinese-American and assistant professor of psychology and faculty advisor of the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society at Greenville Technical College.

Nazanin Zinouri, Ph.D., originally from Iran, recently returned to the U.S. after being detained and making global news. She serves as a data scientist at Modjoul, a wearable tech company. 

On background and culture

The panelists shared several insights about their backgrounds. From the focus on close personal relationships in Iran to the extremely family-oriented Indian-American culture, each of the women felt a difference in their personal background and that of the mainstream culture found here in the Upstate, especially in our workplaces.

Pacheco-Flores described the hardworking and especially loyal work culture of her Latino background mixed with the perceived views of her age group. For her, the cultural loyalty to an employer far outweighs the stereotypical millennial aversion to staying in one place for a long time.

Culture shock

What shocked the panelists most about Greenville?

  • Warm but distant: Panelists had a shared experience of meeting people who seemed very warm and friendly in the beginning, yet quite distant with time.
  • Christian assumptions: Several of the panelists have been asked where they go to church. Christian invocations are still given at events for large professional organizations, prayers and blessings said at business meetings and lunches. These acts, though inadvertent, provide serious modes of exclusion and need to be addressed within all of our organizations.
  • Other cultural differences: Even when moving from within the United States, panelists noticed big cultural differences when moving to the Upstate. Noted was a visible change in the overall diversity landscape from Washington, D.C., to Greenville, as well as the eye-opening thought that moving from Iran to Illinois provided less of a culture shock than moving from Illinois to the Upstate.

A few don’ts

  • Don’t assume that all individuals from within a culture are the same. They don’t all know each other. While you may think that a Chinese woman looks like Lucy Liu, believe that all Africans are poor, or wonder why a woman from Iran isn’t wearing a hijab, you really don’t need to tell them that.
  • Don’t try so hard to prove you’re inclusive. Your best friend may very well be Indian, but again, you don’t need to kick things off with that. During the session, a panelist mentioned an old saying: “A sweet potato doesn’t have to say how sweet he is.”
  • Don’t assume that your culturally diverse associates don’t want to socialize outside of work. Silence is often the most hurtful form of exclusion.
  • Don’t start conversations by pointing out differences. For example: “You’re not from around here.” “Your accent is different.” As human beings, we have more similarities than differences, so try starting conversations with those in mind instead.

And some do’s

The way to overcome ignorance is to become informed and take the time to learn from people who are different than you.

  • Do ask sincere questions. “I want to learn more about your culture. Can you make time to share with me?”
  • Do your research. If you know a little about where a colleague is from, take the time to look it up and learn about it in order to engage in informed, meaningful discussions.
  • Do be prepared. For those who are culturally diverse, get ready for what people might say and have responses ready to help turn interactions into productive learning experiences.
  • Do invite your culturally diverse colleagues to events, lunches, dinners, etc. Sharing time and experiences cultivates an inclusive community.

 

And as always, the main takeaway from every Greenville Women at Work event: build each other up. Be the women who pave the way for more women to be included and successful.


Learn more about the Greenville Chamber’s Women at Work program and future events at greenvillechamber.org.

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