When desi-to-desi is not easy 

Struggling with your fellow Indian colleagues? Auntyji's hot take on navigating cultural differences between Desis in the workplace.

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Dear Auntyji  

My wife and I work as software developers, and have lived in Australia for eight years. We really enjoy our roles, however we have noticed one thing that bothers us. Whenever we get a team lead who is of Indian origin, he (it’s always a he) treats us… not very nicely. He will be almost rude to us, giving us orders, interrupting us, and generally behaving in a boss-like manner.

Even though we work at separate companies, we’ve observed the same behaviours. We have worked as contractors and as permanents, but the behaviour is the same. And the tricky thing is this. The Indian team lead/manager changes his behaviour whenever he deals with local Australians, or even Indians who have been brought up here. It’s as though the manager has a sixth sense and knows that we would rather go with the flow. Can you please give us some guidance on how to deal with this behaviour? It is tiring and annoying and apart from leaving the job, I can’t see how to address it.

Auntyji says  

Oh my goodness! Some of my friends have told me that same thing – that Indian people tend to treat other Indian people a bit poorly, especially if they are lower on the hierarchical ladder in the organisation.

This is a very tricky situation to navigate – especially because most non-Indian people, or white people, don’t know how to address this issue. First, they don’t want to talk about cultural differences, and second, they worry that they will be seen as racist or biased if they say anything.

So, here are two ways you can address the situation.

One. All the companies that work in technology tend to have staff meetings or Town Halls or All Hands. Many times, the leaders tend to invite their people to post questions or concerns. Sometimes you can do this anonymously.  You must bring this topic up, if you want this behaviour to change. Use neutral language and explain what the situation is. For example, say, “Some of our managers have a cultural background – and demonstrate behaviours that do not align with Australian values and norms. When can we expect some cultural sensitivity training for our people leaders?” Keep asking this question – politely and professionally until you see something happen. Keep in mind that HR will probably run around trying to assess the extent of the problem and you may be asked to provide feedback – all anonymous of course. Speak up – or hold your peace.

The second way is to go find an Indian origin person who is senior and who was likely, brought up here. Become friends with them, and then tell them what is happening. If it’s a senior enough person, sooner or later, they will start seeing it. And if they are ambitious, they will want to do something about it.

The situation will change only if you are prepared to speak up.  But only do so if there are others who agree with you. If only you and your wife have this issue, then I suspect the problem lies with you. But I think you are right. I too have heard this – so there must be an element of truth to it.

All the best!

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The original Australian sub-continental agony aunt. Email: info@indianlink.com.au

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