• Livonia chamber panel discusses stereotypes, diversity in the workplace

    So much is made of the disconnect between cultures when it comes to business. Caroline Vang-Polly has an instance where her heritage helped connect and make a sale.

    Vang-Polly and her mother own Thai Feast, a frozen food and seasoning company, and were headed to Grand Rapids to meet with representatives from Meijer. Upon hearing her last name, the Meijer representative recognized it from an event he attended in Detroit months before. That led to her company's products landing on the superstore's shelves.

    "As soon as we sat down and introduced ourselves to him, he said, 'Oh, Vang. Is that Hmong?' And I said, 'yes,'" Vang-Polly said. "He starts saying, 'My daughter-in-law is Hmong and she has a beautiful granddaughter for me and months ago I went down to Detroit for a Hmong party and I was amazed by the food that they had.'

    "He was so happy to tell us everything he knew about the Hmong."

    Vang-Polly's story was just one of several conversations at the Livonia Chamber of Commerce's third Connecting Cultures to Business luncheon panel, held Sept. 13 at Schoolcraft College's VisTaTech Center.

    Even with the panel being made up completely of women, moderator and Crain's Content Studio director Kristin Bull said the issues discussed that day weren't simply women's issues, but issues that affected everyone.

    "We're not here to talk about work-life balance," she said. "We're here to talk about stereotypes and assumptions in gender, in cultures and in generations, too."

    Those stereotypes can happen even before meeting someone for a business opportunity. Sumaiya Ahmed Sheikh, executive director of the Michigan Muslim Community Council, said many times in business for her, potential employers would craft an image of her just from reading her name.

    "People hear the name 'Sumaiya Ahmed,' they see it on a resume, they already have started their presumptions before I even walk in the door," she said. "I've always thought about what do I do with my resume or what do I do with my hair or how do I present myself. I realized I'm me and people have to understand that and they have to learn to appreciate people, regardless of their background or what their name is."

    The discussion eventually shifted to (what seems to be) business's favorite topic: millennials. The generation that grew up post 9/11 has the tools to make the world a better place, said Mary Engelman, deputy director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

    She used the example of her own children, who aren't Chinese but speak Chinese, as how younger people are embracing technology.

    "We like to put things in boxes, because it's easier to compartmentalize," she said. "I personally believe that we are all people. We're all exposed to society. We have the smartest kids in the history of any time period because of the technology."

    Contact David Veselenak at dveselenak@hometownlife.com or 734-678-6728. Follow him on Twitter @davidveselenak. 

    Leave a Comment
    * Required field
    • Add-a-heading-(1).png
    • Add-a-heading-(2).png
    • Add-a-heading.png