By Alison Knill (Twitter: @alison_knill)
You’re faced with a problem at work: you’re collaborating with a South American team on a project. After the initial in-person meet and greet, communication switches to conference and video calls. That’s when you notice that the South American team sometimes goes very quiet when you need their input. How do you ensure open communication?
For Fariba Pacheleh, a SCWIST past president and currently the Director of Corporate Strategic Projects at the BC Liquor Distribution Branch who was recently honored with the RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant award, that was her life. She chose to understand the problem through her desire to connect with people’s core values.
“First of all, as human beings we all can have different backgrounds, different cultures, but we can have similar core values,” she says. “That is very, very helpful to understand because if you share the same values, no matter where you come from, you can connect, you can work together effectively.”
It was during the video calls that Fariba realized the South American team went quiet when they weren’t comfortable with their understanding of the English conversation. They didn’t want to be embarrassed by showing any misunderstanding. To solve the problem, Fariba brought a Spanish-speaking coworker to all the meetings to help foster strong communication and a productive team dynamic.
Becoming a Leader
Creating productive teams is one of Fariba’s strengths. She can see where an individual excels and how to combine that with others.
“You can build those strengths, bring them into the team and ensure that you’re successful,” she says. “That doesn’t mean you are not going to have challenges, but you deal with them and you expect them.”
Finding her own strengths and brand was a challenge. In her first management role, Fariba struggled to let go of tasks and delegate. If she knew she could do the job quickly and in high quality, why wait for others to do the job? Delegating let her focus attention on the more important tasks. It also let her coach team members so they learned new skills too.
Fariba also honed her leadership skills when it came to coaching team members who made mistakes. She learned to use the sandwich model – surrounding a critique with compliments – but she didn’t feel genuine in that technique.
“I like the fact-based [approach] because I like to be more genuine and I want to connect with people,” she says.
She prefers upfront communication so giving factual feedback fits her style; a lesson learned through experience.
“There are different challenges when you get more leadership roles,” she says. “You have to know yourself… see what pushes your buttons and start to learn about emotional intelligence.”
What pushed Fariba’s buttons? Taking things personally, rather than objectively. She knew it was affecting the way she handled situations, for instance when a co-worker challenged her. Fariba learned to change her reaction so she could view things more objectively based on advice from someone she considered a sponsor.
“I’ve had great mentors and yes, a couple of sponsors, those people who defend you and your abilities even when you are not present,” she says.
Speaking of hurt feelings from criticism, her sponsor advised Fariba to, “let go if there is nothing in it that can make you grow and learn. If someone throws something at you, it doesn’t become yours if you don’t take it.”
The Importance of Support
Having peer support and an alternative perspective can be the difference between applying for new opportunities and jobs, or just playing it safe. For Fariba, having someone to say she should absolutely apply was the push Fariba needed and helped her to believe in herself more.
She still doubts herself, but now she understands why after learning about the Impostor Syndrome.
“Now, even if I still feel the doubt, I have awareness and it doesn’t stop me from moving forward and taking the step,” she says. “I think as immigrants, to be honest, we doubt ourselves more.”
Fariba started her career in Iran and she was able to fit into that environment without a problem. When she came to Canada, however, she experienced people’s unconscious bias and said she needed to prove herself more.
She remembers during her first job in Canada, she came in with a lot of experience and education in the field, but for the first couple of years, she watched as less experienced and educated people were approached for new opportunities. They didn’t approach the immigrant employees despite being a diverse workplace.
Her accent made people not trust her to know what was going on and she felt like she needed to perform to show she knew how to do the job. At times, she felt like an outsider.
But she continued learning to not take things personally. When cultural differences came up in conversation, she’d turn to humour, or would ask people to explain them.
When it came to experiencing cultural differences, Fariba says her key words are: “Listen, sense of humour and let it go.”
Strengthening Gender Equality
Fariba’s experience shows how important support, equity and inclusion are in the workplace. When it comes to getting promotions and new jobs, Fariba isn’t alone in getting advice from a male sponsor or mentor. She knows many executive women received support from men to get their first executive position.
“That shows to me that for women it’s not easy to move by yourself,” she says. “You really need to have a very strong male sponsor and that’s why the male participation in gender equality is so, so important.”
Fariba is a strong advocate for gender equality. She believes that having government support is a strong step, but the work isn’t done. There needs to be continued collaboration between organizations, male involvement and support, as well as help for women to change their self-perceptions.
“Women’s rights are human rights and we should not say women or men…binary or non-binary, we are all human,” she says.
One major collaborative effort that Fariba was involved in the Gender Equality Network Canada. She was one of the SCWIST representatives in the GENC, which focused on building a national collaborative action to address barriers that impact women’s equality.
She also currently works to promote women’s equality through her continued involvement with SCWIST, which advocates for equity and inclusion through the Make Possible and Make Diversity Possible programs.
As advocacy for equity, diversity and inclusion becomes more widespread, especially with support from organizations and the government, Fariba says: “The conversation about gender equality started a long time ago and got stalled. Now I feel that there is a power shift as organizations walk the talk about diversity and inclusion.”
But the work isn’t done yet.
“[There’s] still a long way to go to make equity and equality a history lesson, but we have started seeing the effect of this conversation in boardrooms and leadership roles.”
Alison Knill is a graduate of the Master of Journalism program at UBC and is a former SCWIST Communications Intern. Have questions for Alison? Contact her via Twitter @alison_knill.