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Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we talk about embracing humanity in the workspace. I’m JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, an HR consulting firm, and author of “JoyPowered®” and “The JoyPowered® Family.” With me is my good friend Susan White, a national HR consultant.
Our topic today is communication strategies with a multicultural workforce. I have to admit, I have very little direct experience with this topic. I have hired many people with diverse cultures, but they have all spoken English. Well, Susan, you’ve worked in a global role with the global workforce, so I assume you have lots of stories.
You know, I do have a lot of experience when we tried to bring up some of our operation sites and operation centers in other places in the world and really getting strong English speakers with accents that were very easy to…and comfortable for our clients was very, very important. And then we’ve also had issues in the U.S., because we needed to really train a lot of our customer service people on how to speak lots and lots of languages based on the communities that we serve. So language is really an important and interesting topic, and I’m so excited that we have a guest speaker here today.
Yes. So our guest today is Marina Waters. Marina is the brand new president of LUNA Language Services.
She is an attorney by trade, has dedicated 20 years of her career and academic interests advocating for the civil, political, and cultural rights of communities facing discrimination. Marina, tell us more about yourself, your background, and how LUNA Language Services got started.
Thank you, JoDee, and thank you, Susan, I’m really happy to be here and…and, yeah, share a little bit about what we do and how we work with companies to help them adjust to the changing demographics in our society in general. And, as you mentioned, my background is in law, I was one of those people that never thought I was gonna be a lawyer and run a business. But, you know, sometimes in life, you feel like you’re on a track and you’re picked up and put on a new track, and it isn’t until you look backwards in your life you realize, no, you know, I was actually on the right track and gaining all the skills I needed…
…to do exactly what I’m doing now. So I’ve had that experience several times. I did practice law and I was practicing international human rights law, so my interest and passion was always in international work. I had the good fortune to meet my husband who lived here and had just started a business, and when I came out here, he…he needed a partner, he needed some help, and not intending to run a business or run a business with my husband, you know, we just sort of fell into it again. I had the skills that he needed operationally, and also just needed to create sort of a brand around that business. And at the time, here in Indiana, there was a real need for support for language services. The diversity was just pouring into the city, and you’d see this across the country, really, midsize cities were really facing that crunch. And so the need was there and the business opportunities were large just to source the talent and train the interpreters to help the businesses provide that service.
And Marina, was it any particular language or was it multiple languages, the need?
It was really multiple. So, you know, Spanish, as you know, a big language, has been spoken in the U.S. for a long time. And so a lot of companies did have resources, people on staff that spoke Spanish, but some of those fringe languages, you know, they didn’t have. And also the Spanish speakers had a job to do. Their job was not to be an interpreter. And now we have a position that we call a bilingual position, so it’d be someone who would serve as an interpreter and in another role, but back then, people were being pulled constantly…
Off their normal work, right?
Off their normal work. And, you know, when the need got too big at a hospital or a court, it didn’t work anymore, there was a need to bring in people.
Well, and I was at a client’s last week, Marina, where they were talking about that they were going to have to share with their workforce that they were…needed to downsize, and they have a very heavy Hispanic population, and they have this situation where they just pull people off the floor to translate to them, and so they were planning to use the same person to do this. And I said, you know, maybe this is an opportunity to bring in someone from LUNA Language Services so that you can be sure the right message is being spoken and not to put that person in the position of being the one to share the message.
JoDee, you bring up such a good point. And it’s…it demonstrates why we enter so often into a company through HR, because a lot of times the personnel and the team in the HR department understands what is appropriate and what is not appropriate in terms of information sharing, and especially if there’s a conflict or someone’s doing a review or something like a termination. So you’re…you bring up the perfect opportunity to have a third party come in and just help support information, but in a confidential manner.
So important. You know, Marina, we understand that language services is one of the fastest growing industries in the nation. Why do you think this is so?
Well, it is. It’s amazing. So I think if you look at the dat,a in 2014, one in five U.S. residents spoke a language other than English in the house. So that’s a lot of people not speaking English as their primary language. And so why? I mean, I think we’re a global economy. And America, in the United States, continues to be the place in this world that provides a lot of opportunity for people, so we have immigration here, we have refugees being placed here, and we just have more families that are choosing to speak a language other than English in their home, by intention. You know, so I myself send my children to a language immersion school. They learn Spanish all day long and they don’t need an interpreter when they go out. But there are a lot of families who, by choice, will immerse their children in a language other than English.
What language do you speak?
So I speak a lot of languages, but just enough to get myself in trouble. When I was practicing law, I worked in a lot of Spanish speaking countries, so I learned a lot of legal terminology and a lot of street Spanish.
I myself am a Greek American, so I was raised primarily in the U.S., but going to Greece quite a bit. So I know enough Greek to have a great conversation with my grandparents, who are no longer alive, but I did that over and over and over again, and then, you know, working in my industry, we pick up a lot, so I can do some basic phrases in…even in sign language, which is really good to know.
Oh, that’s important.
Yeah. Nice. So I’m headed to Poland in a few days. Do you have any tips for me? I didn’t…I didn’t prep you for this. If you know any Polish words for me.
I would say go on Amazon, and same day delivery, get a phrase book. But also, you know, YouTube is one of the best sources right now for language learning. Duolingo, I have no affiliation with them, but Duolingo is an amazing website and app that will help you learn phrases a brilliant way.
Yeah, I did…I went to Germany last year, and I used Duolingo before I went, and my daughter’s a big fan of that, and it is a really cool tool.
It is. It is.
JoDee, you can’t go wrong saying “toilet.” I’m telling you, they seem to pick up on that one anywhere I’ve ever been.
Good, good. So Marina, teach our listeners about the landscape of languages spoken across the U.S. and maybe specifically, right here in Indiana.
Each state is a little different in terms of what languages are needed. I can speak…here in Indiana, our top languages are not the languages you would expect.
Nope. Um, you know, of course, we have a big showing of Spanish speakers here. But one of our top languages, especially in Indianapolis, is actually Burmese.
Yeah, we have over 15,000 Burmese residents here in Indianapolis. And so what you’ll find is some key languages, like Spanish and Chinese and Arabic, those major languages that you see across the world now, right? And then depending on what city you’re in, there are the immigrant and refugee populations that cluster. So we also have a big showing of Pennsylvania Dutch here.
Oh, my goodness.
Because of the Amish communities. Yeah.
Oh, that would make sense.
So, yeah, so it’s one of the top 15 languages that are prevalent here, Pennsylvania Dutch, but you would never guess it. But in Burmese…with the Burmese language, we have several dialects here spoken, and I mean, every city has their own languages and…and that’s why it’s important to look to a company or resource that has trained professionals.
Because if you’re looking at communicating topics, such as an employment package, or if you have a insurance issue that you’re trying to work out, a complaint, God forbid, you know, a workman’s comp issue, something that has…there’s a lot on the line, you need someone with a really high level of whatever language you’re speaking. So when you’re talking about some of those rare languages, it’s really good to to have a resource you can trust.
Marina, does your firm get involved in compliance types of documents and when an organization that might be customer facing needs to have all their terms and conditions translated, is that something that your organization does?
Yeah. So sometimes what we’ll go in and do is help create something called a “language access plan.” And I like to equate it to almost like a evacuation plan in a building. You know, it’s something that every building needs to have, in case there’s a need for it, right? And a language access plan, really, we go in and HR is a big voice at the table, and we look at the needs of the organization from beginning to end and…and then sort of try to plan ahead. And that plan is evidence of compliance. Having that plan is evidence of compliance for organizations that are required to provide those language services. And, you know, we get calls at LUNA quite a bit. “Are we required to provide an interpreter here?” There’s this sort of a simple test. If your organization has any crossover with the federal government, federal funding, and that can come from all kinds of sources. Healthcare is a huge one, because a lot of people will accept Medicaid or Medicare. There is a requirement, a black and white kind of requirement, that there has to be a plan in place and some sort of accommodation made. And then beyond that, you know, companies are just more and more doing it, because they need to let their employees and staff know about their own processes, about their own policies. And just to avoid that sort of liability that may not be set in stone from the federal government, but that just makes business sense.
Because, you know, if someone can’t communicate back and forth about the problems they’re having at work, they’re likely…there’s going to be a retention problem, right? There’s gonna be issues that come up and no one’s gonna know why. So the idea of translating all the employee handbooks, it’s a preventative solution to avoid quite a few problems, you know, just having that spelled out when an employee comes on board.
And so just to clarify that, too, it sounds like you do a lot of verbal translations, but also written communications as well.
So you want to know a fun fact?
Okay. So every time I when I talk to people in an audience, or, you know, on the radio, or on a podcast, I try to give them a good takeaway. So here’s a good thing to know. And now that I’m teaching you this, every time you hear it incorrectly, it’s gonna annoy you.
I need one more thing to annoy me.
So, interpretation and translation are two different things. Translation is the process of taking a written communication and changing it from one language, a source language, to a target language.
So, translation is the exchange of communication, written…written process. And then interpretation is an oral process, or sign. So for American Sign Language, it will be, you know a signed process, but translation always refers to some sort of written communication.
I am so glad to know that, as I’m sure that I have called…when I’d hired someone to come in to do sign language, I’m sure I said the translator will be here at ten. You know, and I was wrong! The interpreter will be here at ten.
So, there are some nuances. But, in general, those are the those are the categories we talk about in our industry.
Yeah. Good to know. Good to know.
Do you feel that diversity is becoming more important to organizations today?
Oh, I mean, absolutely, for so many reasons. Our diversity makes us stronger. I mean, if you just look at genetics alone, and look at that…but if you look at just the diversity of ideas, diversity of cultures, I think so many organizations are trying to reach out to a diverse society, the diverse society we’re living in. And they need to be able to source diverse candidates, they need to be able to have their input on, you know, how to outreach their services or products to a diverse audience. So the idea of taking the concept of diversity and all it represents and then ingraining it into your business processes through language and culture are just really important, and it’s…what we see, you know, are the companies that are seeking that support and really integrating a commitment to diversity at all levels, we see them really thriving, you know, and…and all different levels of…Would you like to hear a few examples of that?
Would love to.
Okay. So, you know, we hav…have a lot of clients that are, like, hospitals and courts, but then we have some companies that are very mindfully using language services. And so one, for example, could be Pepsico, Gatorade, another that I can think of is Walmart, DHL. And these are companies that are hiring people that English is not their first language, and they’re bringing them on and they’re very mindfully going through a process of not only, you know, translating the documents and having the interpreter there during shift changes and reviews, but also looking at how to bridge diversity gaps within their organization. We have a company here, Telamon, who brought us in to actually do some training on that very issue, multilingual training, because when you have different languages and different cultures, you know, that also creates conflict, right? It’s really conflict we all have, even when we speak English. And so the idea of looking at internal biases, it really is beneficial to the whole team and the whole organization. But we’ve seen some companies very mindfully look at that.
You know, I really find that encouraging, especially given in the United States today, how politically charged all the issues are about immigration and language, and yet…and contrary to that, we’ve got companies that are embracing it, working on assimilation, and using your services. So that gives me hope for the future.
Yeah. Well, and I think, too, we’re…we’re in an economy where unemployment is so low that employers need to be creative at thinking of different ways to hire people. And I suspect, to some extent, some companies might be focused on the recruiting and hiring piece, but not following up with the integration assimilation of that, so I’m glad to hear some success stories. But I’m sure you see some the other way, too.
Sometimes we’re brought in because there’s been problems or there’s a problem with retention. But we’ve seen some great success stories with companies that are actually targeting specific cultural groups. And so, in a way, instead of, you know, trying to source information in 12 different languages and English, maybe they’ll focus on three, and really focus on three communities. And so…and in that way, you allow people even within those groups to rise up in their own positions and take on a managerial role, and…and so that provides a lot of interesting opportunities for people, as well, when they’re thinking of different strategies for staffing.
Right. Very good. Marina, why should our listeners intentionally think about hiring culturally diverse employees, even if they don’t speak their language?
Yeah, well, that’s an easy argument for me to make, only because I’ve seen, even within our own staff, so much talent that’s coming into the country, into our communities, from other countries. So, so often what you’ll find is immigrant or a refugee who comes to this country, they’re…they have professional degrees. They’re doctors, they’re lawyers, they’re business owners. And because of their language barrier, they may not be able to practice here, they may not be able to pass certain tests, or they might just not…they might be looked over entirely. And what we find is often people are working janitorial jobs, which is…nothing wrong with those jobs, but that might be someone who’s been running a bank in a foreign country. So this idea of kind of getting beyond our own biases, again, our own internal biases that because someone’s English isn’t as smooth as ours. What’s behind that? You know, what have they learned already to prove their ability to learn? Most people that are out there looking for work here want to learn English and will if they’re given the opportunity. One thing we find is some companies are actually providing English training inside of their corporations. So that’s another service we provide and another strategy, you know, so they’ll give their employees an hour, two hours, three hours a week.
And it’s a benefit to those employees. And it’s sort of a win win situation for them.
They’re going to be able to retain those employees. I think it’s a brilliant idea. So Marina, how about telling us and our listeners….where would you start if you’re a company that really has not been trying to attract a very diverse workplace because they were afraid that they would not have people, would not have the language skills they needed? What type of tips do you have for any of our listeners that are thinking, hey, I want to do this?
Yeah. Well, I think what you first start with is, are you prepared? You know, because going out to source talent in multilingual and multicultural communities might take multilingual posting.
And knowing where to post and knowing who’s going to answer that call or answer that email. And so that’s why, a lot of times, just knowing you do have a resource available and a company to call. So one thing a lot of language services companies provide is a phone number, a simple phone number, that they can call in and get a phone interpreter on the line within a matter of seconds in any language, and just so knowing you have that resource available. You know, I think you plan ahead. You decide what sort of resources your company is willing to invest in, translating a handbook, putting a multilingual posting on a website, you know, those sorts of planning. And then when it comes to source the talent, I mean, there are a lot of resources that are out there in the community. A lot of times, there’s actual organizations that are…one of their services is to help these different cultural and ethnic groups find work. So…
And I know you’re not, probably, able to recommend any group, but do you have any suggestions of names of ones for employers out there that would want a partnership with some of those organizations?
So, yeah, a great resource to look at is actually, in every city there…almost every city, all major cities, there’s going to be, actually, a refugee resettlement organization or two or three that usually have an employment arm. Here in Indiana ours is called Exodus Refugee, and there’s also Catholic Charities. But there are organizations like this across the country, and one of their actual responsibilities, or one of the services they provide, is usually employment services, so they are going to be well linked. There’ll be other multicultural groups out there, Latino groups, or, you know, even just looking to your language service provider to recommend, you know, the groups that they are sourcing for their own talent, because remember, language service companies…
You’re an employer, too!
…are employer, we’re a big employer, you know, we have close to 1,000 interpreters here in Indiana, and so we are constantly also looking to source talent. So a lot of times, we might know people who are looking for, you know, a good opportunity, or at least the other organizations that you could source.
So, once an organization does hire some diverse applicants, we talked a little bit about the retention of those, but if there is no shared language, and besides hiring LUNA Language Services to help them, what other things might they do to help retain their talent?
Well, there’s a lot of tips that I can offer. And, you know, if you think to creative ways that you can share information…I look at IKEA. You know, when’s the last time you bought something at IKEA? And did you notice the manual and…or…you know…
I can’t read it.
Well, there’s no words in it. Okay, so if you look at the instructions on how to build something very complicated, there are actually no words in there. So there are three ways that you can communicate a lot of information. Through images, through video that doesn’t necessarily even have an English narrator, but some organizations will do safety training, they will take, say, one video and then have us do voiceover in…or we could provide a script, you know, that they can read along. There are other techniques, you can use just simple phrase books that are specific to that company. So, say there’s five languages spoken at, you know, a bicycle building company, we might go in there and help them identify a glossary of terms, right, and then translate it. And so that way a manager, if they’re trying to address, you know, a key issue with their team, they might be able to know a few command words or questions. You know, more importantly than that, though, JoDee, I think, is just the bonding that needs to happen, the relationships that need to be built inside an organization, and so it’s just as important in that phrase book to ask questions like…How are you? How was your day? What are your children’s names? You know, how is your family? So those are the other kind of things we always recommend is just team building and understanding how you can create important relationships by just exchanging a few things in someone’s sort….first language.
You know, speaking of that, now that I know in Central Indiana we’ve got 15,000 Burmese individuals. Could you share with our listeners and JoDee and I, are there a few phrase words in Burmese, maybe like please or thank you, that we could learn?
Oh, wow. I can…I can do that. I can try my best. So you know, to say hello in Burmese, it’s “mingalaba.”
Yeah. So, okay, I’m gonna say “my name is Marina.”
Then I want one of you to try it.
So, “ja ma nau na meh Marina ba.” There it is.
“Ja ma nau na meh JoDee ba.”
Wow, that was very impressive.
I have one more. This is my favorite. Ready?
I’ll say it and then I’ll tell you what it means. “Ja ma bama saga ah chenay ma gong bu.” Any guesses?
The weather is going to be very nice later today.
I’ll say look for the joy in your day.
You know what it is?
It’s an expression in Burmese that means “my Burmese is in really bad shape.” It’s basically “my Burmese is in a bad situation.”
Oh, that’s funny. Well, it sounds very good to me.
So what else, if anything, do our listeners need to know about this topic, Marina, as we wrap up for today?
Yeah, I think that one thing I like to point out to, especially my HR people, when I talk to them, is just identifying, like, your whole process of hiring and then retaining. We talked a lot about that today. But if there is a deep commitment to diversity inside of your organization, try to integrate that from the very first content…contact, all the way through. So I think a lot of organizations say I want to be diverse, and I want to do the right thing, but maybe they’re not communicating that in their first interview. And that’s not to the people who are not the English speakers. I’m saying to everyone they hire, right? So the idea is, in every interview we do at our company, you know, we’re just sure to communicate that, hey, this is a company that values diversity of all types. One of them is language, culture. You can go on and on with that, we go on and on with that, and expand that further. But then every time there’s a training opportunity, you can sort of integrate that into it. Another thing that’s really good is to just identify what I kind of talked about as crucial conversations. And it’s…it’s identifying those opportunities we have at work to build relationships and trust and try to capitalize on those. And so there’s things that the HR department can do to help set up prime cultural exchanges that may not require language. Those might be making sure there’s a shared meal where people bring in food from their own culture.
I love it.
That idea of exchanging not words, but other offering. It might be making sure that a manager knows they need to connect with everyone on their team in the same way they would with most people at a water cooler, right? So that means just intentionally setting aside some time, and it might be to call in an interpreter or have an interpreter on the phone and say, hey, I just want to connect with you. Right? What’s going on with you in your life? And, you know, those are the things we take for granted…
But it’s, there’s a real dearth of connection there when the language isn’t…isn’t available. So those are the kinds of reminders I like to give, and…and…and that will help build that relationship and trust that if there is a problem that arises, there’ll be some confidence in having a conversation and a possible resolution.
Right. I love it. I love it. So how can our listeners find LUNA Language Services on the web, social media, phone number?
Yeah, we’d like to be a resource to anyone who needs it. So we are online. We’re www.luna360.com. We’re on social media, I think @GoLUNA360. But most importantly, you know, we can be a resource to anyone. We often get calls from other states, companies all over the nation, and if we can’t source a need, often we will, but we can find them a resource closer by to do that. So we have interpreters all over the nation and companies that are like ours that we have a strong connection with, as well. So if I can be a personal resource, but there’s many people in our company who can, so…yeah, we can be found online.
Oh, you do important work. So we’re so glad you shared it with our listeners.
Thanks for joining us today.
Thank you so much. Thank you so much. I look forward to seeing how our society continues to integrate all of our diverse population and and really help them all get a fair shot at work opportunities. And so just happy to be here.
Very good. Thank you. Thank you. Marina will also be a speaker at the HR Indiana Conference this summer between August 20 and August 22, so please look for her if you’re planning to join that event, as well.
And thanks to LUNA for being a sponsor of the add-on Disability and Diversity Inclusion Conference following it in August.
Yeah. Thank you.
JoDee, there is a listener question we had left on voicemail for us.
It was from Alex, who’s from Noblesville, Indiana. She just started a new job, which she thinks she’s going to love. But she hasn’t had the courage yet to let her boss know that she’s got a two week vacation planned to Poland in just two months. Now she knows every year she gets enough hours to cover that through her PTO program, but she’s just not sure if it’s going to be approved or not. Do you have any suggestions for that new hire, Alex?
Well, Alex, if you had called in earlier, I would have told you to get approval before you start. And I’ve had numerous people over the years asking me about that. They have a vacation planned, they’re starting a new job. And I always, always, always recommend that they tell the employer about it before they start, but we are where we are, so let’s go forward. Ask about it. I think many employers are fine with allowing employees to go, but that might not be paid time off. The key is to understand your company’s policy. What is…some company policies are set up that you have the ability to take time off right away at any time, some employer policies might say you have to wait X amount of time or that the time is not earned until after the first year is served. So before I would start asking any questions, I would look at your employee manual or go to your HR department and find out what the policy is. Even if you might have to ask for permission around something different from the policy, at least you understand what the policy is first.
And Alex, have fun in Poland.
In the news today, there’s an article that said that marijuana use by adults in the U.S. almost doubled between 1984 and 2015. And this was a study from one of the Public Health Institutes.
Marijuana use remains illegal under federal law, but there is confusion among employers regarding state laws. We know that it’s been approved to be legal in a number of states now.
Many companies are removing marijuana from their testing panels as a direct result of the change in those state laws, and in certain industries, such as hotels, hospitality, where they don’t implement marijuana testing programs due to concerns that firing those who test positive would cause significant staffing issues.
Wow. It said in the article, even New York City’s Fire Department loosened its zero tolerance policy on drugs, according to Yahoo.
Yikes. Some organizations test because it’s required by law, such as with the Department of Transportation roles, or because the position is deemed to be safety sensitive. Others test because they’ve always tested, it’s just what they’ve done ever since the Drug Free Workplace Act.
Many employers in or near states where marijuana has been legalized increasingly are dropping marijuana from drug test panels. Attitudes about the use of marijuana are changing, with a recent national poll suggesting that 60% of people in the U.S. favor legalization of marijuana. What kind of advice do you have for employers out there, JoDee?
Well, I think one advice for employers is be sure to check your state laws regarding marijuana use. But I also think for employees to be careful and understand that even if marijuana is legal in your state, your employer still might be testing and have a policy against drug use. And I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding around that, that it might be legal to use in the state, it does not mean it’s acceptable to have it in your bloodstream while working.
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