Pink Shirt Day, or Anti-Bullying Day, occurs on the last Wednesday in February (February 24th, in 2021, if you want to participate!) In honour of this important day, we sat down and had an open conversation with Randstad’s own Patricio Guiterrez to discuss his experiences with bullying when he was younger and how it’s affected his personal journey and work life.
what is pink shirt day?
Pink Shirt Day was first celebrated in 2007 in Nova Scotia. It has since expanded to numerous countries, with the United Nations officially recognizing Anti-Bullying Day in 2012. Pink Shirt Day began when 12th grade students, Travis Price and David Sheppard, learned that a younger student at their school was being bullied for wearing a pink shirt. They came up with the idea to wear pink to school; if everyone was wearing pink no one person could be targeted. They bought 50 pink shirts to distribute and encouraged all their classmates to wear pink. Of 1,000 kids in their school, 850 students wore pink in solidarity. That proud moment of solidarity is now an annual tradition in many parts of the world, with Pink Shirt Day celebrated on the last Wednesday in February in Canada.
To draw attention to this meaningful day and share real-life experiences with bullying, we sat down and had (virtual) a conversation with Patricio Guiterrez. Patricio is an active member of Randstad Canada’s Diversity and Inclusion employee resource group, the RISE Committee, serving as a member of the LGBTQ2+ Affinity Group. When he’s not loudly speaking up for equality for all, he’s working as a Resource Manager with Randstad’s Staffing Division.
an anti-bullying conversation with patricio
Randstad: How has bullying affected your life?
Patricio: To this day I still go through the trauma I endured while being bullied. Though at that time it didn’t directly affect me, as I’ve grown older certain things stick out to me more. Maybe if those things weren’t said or done to me, I would be more confident in myself. Maybe I wouldn’t give a damn what people think or what they say. It's important that we continue these conversations. I’m happy we’re talking about it because we have all been on the receiving end of bullying. Some more than others, based on what they look like or who they love, and it truly affects a person. It really takes a toll.
R: Absolutely. How would you say you’ve coped with it?
P: You can only ignore so much before enough is enough. I don’t know if I knew how to deal with it as a kid. I didn’t feel comfortable reaching out to someone. When you're a kid, you feel like someone you just met is your best friend, then three days later they stab you in the back. It creates trust issues. You don’t know if you can trust people with personal things, like in my case, being gay. Back then, I ignored it. I ignored the pain and suffering and just tried to get through it. As I grew older, I talked about it, but even then not to anyone close, just to random people, anonymously, so people wouldn’t know who I was.
R: Have you reached a point where if people bully you, you’re comfortable saying something back?
P: At this point in my life, I’m super comfortable fighting back. I definitely wasn't when I was younger. I was so focused on what people thought and my reputation. Ugh. I just wish I wasn’t so focused on that as a kid. As I’ve grown older, talking to people is what really helped me. Even if I didn’t really know them, it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.
R: Have you ever dealt with bullying in your workplace?
P: In my current workplace I haven’t. But Randstad is the first place I came into, where I was fully out, like full-blown gay. It wasn’t something I was hiding, it wasn’t something new. At my last job, I was out, but I wasn’t fully comfortable with myself yet. So coming into a new environment where everyone was so accepting, regardless of where you’re from, regardless of who you love or what you do, it’s definitely helped me as a man. It’s helped me boost confidence in myself. Not only do I feel like I’m doing well in my career, the connections I have made are so important to me personally. I really needed that in my life.
R: What do you think makes Randstad such an inclusive environment?
P: I’m a firm believer that good people attract good people. I genuinely believe that the energy that you put out is what you get in return. Randstad has such great energy. We deal with all different types of people, people that are well off, people that are struggling, newcomers, people who don’t speak the same language. Being surrounded by so many different people, cultures and personalities helps Randstad be diverse and inclusive, because we get it! The majority of us put ourselves in others’ shoes daily.
R: What do you think companies can do to create a similar work environment?
P: Embracing diversity and inclusion sets an organization above the rest. That’s why Randstad - I feel like I’m trying to sell Randstad here! - is a cut above the rest! I deal with companies who say “I only want women”, or “I only want white candidates,” or “I only want men,” or whatever it is. But, I have to say, “No, I’m sorry. If they have the skills and qualifications, they can do the job.” Companies with that exclusionary mentality don’t have a good rapport, they don’t have good retention, their environments are toxic. There has to be a balance, for any organization to be successful they need to embrace diversity and inclusion.
R: Pink Shirt Day is very centered on schools and youth. What do you think we should do in workplaces? Do you think we need to talk about bullying as adults?
P: Yes! It’s an important conversation. We need to be open to having tough conversations. Those tough conversations can be hard, so organizations need their employees to know they have support. They need someone who can mediate, resources, and people to talk to. Otherwise it can become a toxic environment. Now that I think about it, when I started, I wasn’t bullied, but I saw other people being bullied. They did it to make themselves look good, for their own benefit. It wasn’t cool, and it created an uncomfortable vibe in the office. That person no longer works here.
R: I can say that too. Anyone who comes into this organization and acts like a bully, they no longer work here, regardless of how much money they bring in.
P: That’s the way it should be. People with a negative mentality won't get along with the group.
R: It’s not even about getting along. Our environment is fast-paced and high-stress. Negative attitudes really affect productivity. There’s just no space for it. It’s nice when an organization recognizes that.
P: I’ve told a story about being bullied in gym class on my podcast. That guy reached out to me recently and apologized. I guess he has two kids now, and he wants to raise them to respect everyone regardless of their differences. It brought up so many emotions; it was crazy, I wasn’t expecting it. He told me I could tear into him if I wanted, and back in the day I probably would have. But I was like, no, what's the point, that just makes me a miserable person.
Because of the bullying I experienced, it’s still a struggle to make plans and execute them. I get anxious and try to make excuses. I think its because, living my life as a closeted gay man, I was always afraid I would run into someone who knew my secret and I would be publicly humiliated and embarrassed. Part of me, to this day, still feels that way: scared to be shamed in public. Bullying messes you up. It starts small when you’re a kid. That's why it's so important for initiatives like Pink Shirt Day to be in the forefront for us and our kids. It’s so important that these conversations happen, to keep sharing. It might not seem impactful, but we need to keep talking about it for the sake of everyone's mental health.
R: If you think about it, you agreeing to be bold and share your story has positively affected generations!
P: It's true. As a kid you just want to live life and have fun. Then there are these bullies that ruin it. So that’s why WE, as adults, need to put a stop to it.