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Immigrants In The Workplace: Strategies For Inclusion

Immigrants in the Workplace: Strategies for Inclusion

These days, immigration is an inescapable topic. Politicians, media personalities, celebrities, and others are constantly discussing the topic on television, social media, radio, and elsewhere. Unfortunately, much of the conversation paints immigrant communities in a negative light. As a result, experts note that immigrants in the U.S. – especially those from Latin American countries – are experiencing high levels of stress. While leaders and managers may not be able to control the news cycle, they can take steps to ensure that employees from all nations feel welcomed in the workplace.

Immigrants in the U.S.: A Quick Summary

According to the Migration Policy Institute, in 1970, immigrants comprised just 4.7 percent of the U.S. population. By 2017, that number had skyrocketed to 13.7 percent. Currently, nearly 45 million immigrants reside in the U.S.  Roughly one million new immigrants arrive in the U.S. each year. Despite the politicized campaigns, according to the Pew Research Center, the vast majority of immigrants – 76 percent – come into the U.S. via the standard, legal immigration procedures.

Immigrants come to the U.S. from a variety of countries. According to Pew, most U.S. immigrants arrive from Mexico. However, Pew notes that the number of immigrants from Asia is steadily increasing. Contrary to popular belief, since 2010, the majority of U.S. immigrants have come from Asia.

Immigrants settle in a variety of locations across the nation. However, some areas are more popular with immigrants than others. Pew reports that most U.S. immigrants live in California, Texas, and New York. Large immigrant communities also thrive in cities such as Detroit, Chicago, Seattle, and Philadelphia. Though leaders in all areas should work toward inclusion, leaders in these states and cities should take special care to welcome employees from all nations.

The Value of Immigrants in the Workplace

Companies have many reasons to nurture their immigrant employees. According the Harvard Business Review, immigrants bring several desirable qualities to the workplace. Research indicates that immigrants are more likely to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset. Moreover, because of their life experiences, immigrants are often more adaptable and open to change than employees overall. Experts note that these characteristics often help businesses succeed.

In addition, businesses should not overlook the obvious. Years ago, most businesses confined themselves to one nation’s borders. However, technology has created a truly global economy. Immigrants’ life experiences, language skills, and cultural knowledge can be valuable assets for growth-minded businesses.  In fact, research indicates that some businesses and industries could not function without significant support from foreign-born workers.

Immigrants in the Workplace: Working Toward Inclusion

Legally, businesses are not allowed to discriminate against employees or applicants based on their actual or perceived national origin. However, discrimination can be difficult to prove, and laws cannot eradicate all biases. So, leaders must ensure that their teams understand the value of all workers and adopt values that include every member of the team. Here are a few simple suggestions leaders can employ to help immigrant employees feel welcomed.

–  Avoid language “barriers.” The United States has no official language, yet most U.S. citizens speak English. Therefore, many in the U.S. view speaking a language other than English (or speaking less-than-perfect English or accented English) as a problem to be solved. In fact, many refer to it as a “language barrier.” However, in today’s global economy, leaders should view linguistic differences as opportunities rather than problems. Bi-lingual or multi-lingual employees can help businesses communicate with new clients, customers, and markets. They may even be able to help other members of the team learn new skills.

When employees do not speak English, refrain from making them feel self-conscious about that fact. Rather, try to meet them where they are. If feasible, print important company documents – particularly those about safety, benefits, and other important issues – in multiple languages. If necessary, communicate messages orally and in writing to prevent misunderstandings.

– Be flexible. Family emergencies affect all employees. However, immigrant employees may need more than a day or two to attend funerals or address other family concerns. Indeed, if they have been recruited directly from another nation, they may need more time to get settled than a U.S.-based employee. Whether issues arise at the outset or during employment, adopt an understanding attitude. Allow time off. If company policy permits, allow other employees to donate leave in times of severe crisis.

 – Examine your company’s culture. Every organization has its own culture. In an inclusive culture, employees feel free to be themselves and use all their talents to produce the best results.   However, in less-inclusive environments, employees may hide aspects of themselves or their backgrounds if they feel the company’s culture will not fully accept them.

When it comes to immigrants in the workplace, leaders should be aware of creating an environment where those from other countries feel excluded. If your profession permits it, consider allowing employees to wear cultural clothing. Review your company’s dress code to determine if certain requirements impact immigrants more than other workers.

– Make your values known. As previously noted, the current discussion of immigration has caused stress for many immigrants. While leaders may not be able to control the news, leaders can let their employees know that they value them and their contributions. After the current administration announced its travel ban, many companies took to the news and social media to announce their opposition to the plan, the importance of immigration to their success, their continued support of their immigrant employees, or other positive messages. Despite your political views, reminding employees that they are valued is your role as a leader, and is good for business.

People from many different countries have helped make the U.S. the nation that it is today. As the number of immigrants increases, leaders will need to adopt new and more creative ways to be inclusive. For more information about culture, inclusion, and other topics, please consider enrolling in The Equity Toolkit. This series of courses will give your team the tools it needs to be competitive in today’s global workplace.

DeEtta Jones

DeEtta Jones is an invited speaker, equity, diversity and inclusion strategy consultant and author with more than twenty years of experience working with people from around the world to on personal effectiveness and building workforce capacity.

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