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I work with a team lead who is dismissive about other races. This person is an American and has no respect for people from other nations. He isn't open about it but his demeanor and candor show his opinions - which are obvious to co-workers and topic of hushed discussions in cubicles.

My company also conducts employee exchange programs and workers from other countries are around all the time. In important technical meetings, the team lead just chooses to ignore any participation from any one who is not an American. IMO, this is causing great loss of ideas to the application we are building and the inherent cascading effect it has. For ex this one guy came up with a brilliant approach to monitor maintaining of the application state on distributed servers. But all the lead said was 'hold that thought' and went about with the meeting. That thought unfortunately never got implemented.

Although, role wise, I know this shouldn't bother me, but is there something I can do which will increase the overall participation AND make the valid inputs count ? Neither am I conducting the meetings nor am I the organizer - just a participant. I am nearly sure this happens all the time in other workplaces. In this case its racial prejudice, else where it might be something else.

I have asked a manager over water cooler chat asking him to come be a part of the meeting and and to lend their 'creative thoughts' secretly hoping the meeting would be efficiently moderated. The manager made it to the meeting - but they are busy with their blackberries and probably deaf to the conversations.

I searched on this site for an existing answer but did not find anything and this is a completely different question primarily since the people I am talking about are developers who present a valid point (or sometimes are cut off while presenting as soon as the outline of the idea is clear) which isn't given its due consideration. Most of them are alien workers and will not push their genuine and sometimes brilliant ideas lest it upset their American counterparts.

EDIT : I was not particularly talking just about Indian coworkers, but colleagues from world over.

  • Related question. – enderland Sep 17 '13 at 17:05
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    Could you say more in your question about how "How to convince colleagues about my point of view in a meeting" is a completely different question than the one you're asking? For example, if the core of your question is how to overcome a potential/perceived racial bias (which I think it is) perhaps emphasize that and list why the answers to the related question(s) aren't relevant to your core problem. I think that will help focus peoples' answers. – jcmeloni Sep 17 '13 at 17:10
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    Are you sure it's not cultural differences in how "aggressively" people present ideas? Americans tend to be much more direct - someone who is not "pushy" may not get their ideas covered or discussed, regardless of race. Because Americans do tend to be more direct, this may come across as racial prejudice - rather than simply preferring people to strongly present and defend their ideas. I don't know if this is the case for you but it is something to consider. – enderland Sep 17 '13 at 17:21
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    @happybuddha not necessarily. Generally people from Asian cultures tend to be much less direct, though. For people who are more pushy/stubborn (as this manager might be), they can easily see ideas presented in much more indirect ways as insecure or a "hey... this might work, idk, but you know if you think it's ok then it's worth thinking about, but it's ok if not?" type of way. – enderland Sep 17 '13 at 18:42
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    Most of them are alien workers and will not push their genuine and sometimes brilliant ideas lest it upset their American counterparts <-- this is exactly what I mean. Americans generally are more willing to "fight" for their ideas. This can be interpreted as their ideas being better than someone who never defends their ideas and so they feel like their ideas are being ignored. It's a difference in communication style. Someone who is a good manager/leader/facilitator will recognize this and act appropriately. Most people don't and if you get a very strong personality they will not. – enderland Sep 17 '13 at 18:43
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Ok, so you have concluded that other Managers cannot be of help.

I'll go with your assumption that there is some sort of systematic condescension or prejudice going on here. I'll also assume that you are more concerned about effective meetings, and less concerned about the prejudice itself. Thus, I won't need to suggest you go to HR and discuss this leader's attitude toward non-Americans in general.

You could try encouraging more (non-American) people to speak at meetings and offer their suggestions. Sometimes just increasing the frequency can either cause the meeting organizer to reconsider their approach, or at least make it more obvious to the audience that there is "selective consideration" going on. That could pay dividends later.

You could also try to encourage some of the Americans in the audience to push further on a rejected topic. This is often effective in public meetings, and I've seen it turn into a ground-swell of support that is hard to ignore. "Yeah, Mr. Team Lead. Ms. Non-American here has a good point - why don't we try X?"

[If you do decide that you need to do something about the overall prejudice, confirm that others see this situation the way you do, before you go to HR or higher-up management. You don't want to be slinging around the prejudice card if that isn't what's actually happening. I've seen before that what one person perceived as prejudice against his race, was actually just mild dismissal of all "newbies". This one person reacted way out of proportion to the real problem and it hurt his career at that company.]

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    I've seen the last paragraph play out as well. After the dust settled nobody wanted to work with that person. Frequently, accusations alone (substantiated or not) are sufficient to tarnish someone's reputation. If you get this wrong, people will not easily forgive you. – MrFox Sep 17 '13 at 17:48
  • Very good advice Joe. Your assumptions are correct too. Sadly, just that most foreign workers do not want to be encouraged/motivated in such atmosphere. The innovation is lost due to which the end product could have been way more better. – happybuddha Sep 17 '13 at 18:30
  • @JoeStrazzere in the USA, or Western world at least. You act that outspoken in India and you are going to be hurting your career significantly. This is a huge cultural difference around the world. – enderland Sep 17 '13 at 18:53
  • If it is discrimination on the basis of speaker, then this is the most effective: encourage some of the Americans in the audience to push further, but I doubt it's racism (since 'American' isn't actually a race, shockingly enough) – jmac Sep 17 '13 at 23:44
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You may not be able to get the manager to change his style of working, but you may be able to help the people from other cultures change to adapt to his style so they are more able to be heard and respected.

One thing we require at our company is for everyone to read: Speaking of India by Craig Storti

Not only did it help those of us in the US understand how people in India work, but it really helped the Indian employees understand why the tactics they effectively used at home were not working. We also bring Indian employees to the US for a period of time and that helps build relationships. The truth is that whatever culture you are from, you will likely need to adapt to the way your boss works not the way you were brought up to work. Even if all your foreign nationals are not Indian, it has a good description of how the American work culture works which could help people from many cultures.

However, he may not even realize he is dismissing their ideas because their work cultures are so different. You could tell him that you read this really helpful book and see if he wants to read it.

Also if you feel people are not being heard, then bring up their ideas again. Sometimes the only way to get the idea paid attention to is for someone of the right group to bring it up. When I was young, women were not common in professional roles and at meeting after meeting every word I said was ignored and then some man would say the exact same thing and suddenly it was a good idea. I started giving my ideas to some of the better guys so that they would have a chance to be implemented. Then once the idea is accepted, then bring up whose idea it really was so they will start to get some credit.

And depending on your relationship with this manager, you could bring up the problem to him directly, that in your observation, he appears dismissive of people from other cultures. Sometimes people have to be confronted that their way of working is wrong and is causing organizational harm. This is a risky move so I would think about how he might react or possibly hold on to the thought for an exit interview (Or ask some of the foreign nationals to bring it up in their exist interviews when they move on to other jobs). Be ready with examples, especially of where he dismissed an idea from someone foreign and then accepted the same idea from someone American. Or you could try to discuss this with HR and let them have this conversation (This greatly depends on your HR as to how risky that move is.)

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    "bring up their ideas again". This. I'm a SWM and I do this quite consciously when someone makes a point that is ignored or dismissed because of who made it. It's necessary to later refer (usually repeatedly) to who first voiced the idea, because the people who dismissed the idea the first time will also struggle to credit it. It also helps to talk to the originator offline ASAP and mention why I did that, otherwise it's just credit stealing. Which also happens a lot. – Móż Sep 17 '13 at 23:45
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will not push their genuine and sometimes brilliant ideas lest it upset their American counterparts.

Sorry, but I think this is a part of the problem and the area you can change the most. They American who won't listen to people from other parts of the world, probably doesn't listen to a lot of people. You won't change him directly, but you can let him know that you will push for your ideas if you think they are better.

In a fair and open group everyone should have equal opportunities to be heard, but in some places you have to jump up and down and scream to be heard. I'm not saying it is right, but apparently it takes more that just a calm quiet suggestion.

If your responses are dismissed, ask why. You deserve an explanation. The current meeting may not be the place, so ask when and where it can be discussed further. You're going to have to interupt and hold your ground until you get a satisfied answer. Otherwise, he'll just ignore you because you make it so easy.

You can't help it if your ideas upset someone. I would expect this person to get very upset, but that's too bad. Eventually, he'll get over it.

  • I get what you are saying. Just an aside, I dont know how so many users automatically think its people from India. I was actually talking about people from all over the world apart from USA. – happybuddha Sep 18 '13 at 13:32
  • @happybuddha - sorry, I thought I read in part of the post. Like I said, I doubt this person listens to anyone very well. – user8365 Sep 20 '13 at 20:53

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