A few days ago I attended a conference for Latin American entrepreneurs in Toronto, called LABTI-UP! The conference was insightful and inspiring at the same time. I saw a lot of drive, people who are creating products and offering high-quality services, and I heard amazing success stories from immigrant business owners in industries including technology, food and hospitality, drone making, and consulting.
A myriad of resources were shared, people engaged in all sorts of conversations, and valuable connections were made. In summary, the overall atmosphere at the conference was filled with optimism and a desire to thrive and innovate.
After having lunch with other educators whom I connected with, I attended a panel called Women in Trade, conducted by four women, leaders in their respective fields, who provided information about organizations that support women to become successful entrepreneurs. Towards the end of the panel, the moderator asked them what piece of advice they had for the women in the audience who wanted to either solidify their business or venture onto entrepreneurial avenues in Canada.
One of the panelists vehemently answered: You must look like a local, you must sound like a local, and you must behave like a local!
Interestingly enough, the panelist was not Canadian born, but an immigrant herself, so the way she supported her statements shook me to the core! I noticed how the energy in the room dropped dramatically, and even the other panelists (all Canadian born and raised) seemed puzzled to hear what she just had said.
What drove me to write this piece is that there was no time for Q&A since the panel ran a bit longer than planned, and none of us had the chance to challenge that piece of advice. Therefore, I am taking this opportunity to dispute each of those three statements.
- You must look like a local: The panelist said that women should avoid wearing provocative clothes like they do in Latin America (this already is wrong on so many levels, that can be part of another article or discussion). The panelist’s statement is so confusing since Canada boasts hundreds of ethnic groups and languages; in the city of Toronto alone, there are over 200 ethnic groups and more than 140 languages are spoken, so I wonder, WHAT DOES A LOCAL REALLY LOOK LIKE? does a local look like a woman wearing a hijab? or perhaps, like a woman wearing a sari? or maybe like a woman wearing a fur parka? Do all local women really look the same and all wear blouses, dress pants, and statement dresses? I do not think so.
- You must sound like a local: The panelist supported her point by saying how she hired a speech therapist to deliberately reduce her accent. I mean, if she could afford $100-$200 which is on average the hourly rate of a speech therapist, great! but let’s talk empathy here and ask ourselves how many newcomers can actually afford a service like this. Let’s be clear: if you are new to the country and the language barrier is still evident, of course, you have to make sure that you work hard to improve your communication skills and enunciate your words because your ideas have to be understood by the people you are communicating with, but telling the new talent in Canada that they will not thrive because they speak with an accent, is irresponsible and very disempowering. I have never heard of a foreigner relocating to Latin America being told that they have to reduce their accent; on the contrary, people celebrate the fact that they are making an effort to communicate in the local language, so why do we have to perpetuate that idea that we are less worthy for being who we are because we decided to move to a first world country? It really baffles me!
- You must behave like a local: If by that the panelist meant that behaving like a local is co-existing in harmony with all walks of life and working together to contribute to the growth of this society, then yes, I absolutely agree because that is what I see every day in Toronto. Cultural fluency is paramount to succeed in Canada, that is for sure; being aware of the different dimensions intrinsic to work naturally within the Canadian context will definitely help these aspiring women entrepreneurs to develop and implement solutions to meet an array of needs for the betterment of our society.
Many of us are working day by day empowering the new talent to succeed in Canada. Newcomers, refugees, and international students arrive in the country every year to spice things up and add their personal touch to elevate the great achievements of an already successful economy, without losing their identity. Our job is to coach them and prepare them to conquer the work culture in this country, so they become part of a collective that applies their skills to make Canada and its people a sustainable society.
Look Like Yourself – Sound Like Yourself – Behave Like Yourself
Written by David Mendoza for Orbit 5
REFLECT – PLAY – ADVANCE