From an interview with Vivian Li – Senior Manager, Inclusive Recruitment, RBC.
Vivian came to Canada in 2003 with her partner and son. She had no friends and no job. When she landed at Toronto Pearson Airport, she wanted to turn around and take the next flight back to China. Instead, Vivian stayed. Over the years, she was able to find her strength and uniqueness through curiosity and the learnings of both eastern and western culture. Today she applies her unique approach to help thousands of newcomers like herself.
Coming to a new country brings challenges and opportunities. At first, I just wanted to find any job to pay the bills, and then I realized that, hey, it’s a great opportunity for me to reflect on what I want to do – to choose something in my own interest. Maybe I could do something that I really like, that I really enjoy. That was the idea, and I just went for it.
I chose to go back to school to study human resources, which was not one of the popular subjects that you took as a new immigrant: it wasn’t IT, finance or accounting. It was human resources – where they didn’t hire visible minorities, not to mention immigrants. It was very much a Caucasian role seventeen years ago. That was the challenge I knew I was walking into but I really wanted to do something I was interested in. I took the road less travelled, and that made all the difference
Even though English was my major in China, I was sure everybody else here would speak better English than me. There was a lot of self doubt and there was a lot of, “You don’t know where you belong in the society.” I questioned myself, “What skills can I apply, and what kind of job can I ever find?” But when I got to school I soon realized that I had a lot of skills that I could apply in my studies and then maybe in my future career.
It’s a kind of personal strength you carry with you and bring to your life. After a lot of reflection I started to understand I could never become a Canadian who was born here; I would always have my accent. There would always be certain cultural elements or certain words I wouldn’t understand – and that’s okay!
Your heritage, language, and experience add up to strengths
I brought my uniqueness with me – my cultural background where I learned to be very hardworking and to treat people fairly. I realized that there was a lot of value in the background I was brought up with and that I should be very proud. These are my strengths. So, not trying to be like someone who grew up here but really finding myself and redefining myself to make my own new life here and naturally integrate. That is the beauty of Canadian culture.
I learned to be open minded. I learned about diversity and inclusion in Canada and about the beautiful people here who helped me when I first arrived; I received so much kindness and generosity. I’m now in the unique position to really combine the Eastern culture and Canadian culture, the essence and beauty of both. And that is my strength. That’s my uniqueness.
Our motto at RBC Inclusive Recruitment, where I work, is ‘Your difference is your strength.’ It’s what you bring: your heritage, your language, culture and experience. When you combine that with the true values of the Canadian culture, that’s what makes you unique. You now have the perspective of both cultures and the strength of both cultures. And what really helps you advance in your life is how you perceive things.
For example, if you grew up in China, and only saw the Chinese way of doing things, you may have a lot of biases and might end up having prejudice against people here – and vice versa. You don’t see the totality or you don’t see the real truth. You only see the truth in your eyes.
In China, where I was brought up under the Chinese communist principles, it was about country and community. There are downsides to it – I wish I had more freedom to express myself as an individual, which is why I came to Canada – but there are elements that you can take: the beauty of people trying to help each other and working together to achieve a common goal. It’s called teamwork.
A lot of the Eastern cultures (as well as indigenous peoples of North America) also think about harmony with nature, and harmony with the universe – that’s how you achieve the highest stage of life. When I visited India, during my yoga teacher training last year, they were talking about the same thing. You can achieve only so much as an individual but when you are aligned with the universe, aligned with nature you can achieve way more because you are thinking of the oneness: Everybody, everything has a share.
Canadian culture or Western culture in general, is more about individualism: what we want to achieve as a person, ‘ my own personal goal and how I can achieve it.’ I can understand why Canadians do things the way they do and why the Chinese do things the way they do. In Canada, I can hold my own personal beliefs strongly and at the same time understand other people’s. You understand the two cultures, and you understand where people are coming from, and you don’t apply your own judgment to either side. It’s not an ‘us versus them’ mentality. That’s the strength I think I’m able to gain from combining and really learning about different cultures.
Whatever goals you want to achieve in Canada, my advice would be to own who you are first and to love who you are and where you come from. But also have that open-minded attitude and learn about other cultures in the true Canadian spirit. Embrace that with an open heart and open mind.
Diversity is what I do, and it works
At RBC Inclusive Recruitment, our mandate is to help RBC build an inclusive workforce. So basically we reach out to those communities that usually would experience some employment barriers, like people with disabilities, indigenous people, newcomers to Canada, people from the LGBT community and women in certain roles. We provide support and we bring awareness and education internally and try to make that connection between our hiring managers and these very talented people who would otherwise face employment challenges.
For example, when managers are creating a job posting, what are their potential biases? Who are they leaving out? And in interviews, is there appearance bias? When managers are offering people jobs, do they offer someone more money because they speak in a British accent versus someone who speaks in an Indian accent?
Some of the creative and innovative initiatives we are working on:
- Develop strategies and initiatives to help RBC attract and recruit a diverse workforce globally
- Employ strong market expertise to leverage knowledge, data and competitive intelligence to develop customized and robust global diversity sourcing strategies
- Develop strong networks and centers of influence regionally, nationally and globally to identify qualified talent and build the RBC brand in the communities through diversity and Inclusion
- Enable recruiters and hiring managers to apply inclusive hiring through targeted training on cultural diversity, disability, LGBT+, Indigenous communities and more
When I deliver workshops on unconscious bias, the closing line I usually use is, “Think about your biases as the dust on the window; when you open minded and you’re consciously unbiased you clear that dust away and give other people who are not like you the opportunity and allow them to present themselves to you. We see the potential in others and in ourselves.”
Inclusion: The best of all worlds
My life is coming full circle because, when I first came to Canada I was thinking, one day I ‘d like to be one of those human resources professionals that gives guidance to employers and helps them understand the value of newcomers and immigrants and what they bring. And now I’m doing it.
Because I don’t live in China and am no longer limited to the Chinese way of thinking, I can learn about Indian, Canadian, and indigenous ways of thinking – and more. That’s a huge opportunity to really grow as an individual.
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