Harnessing the talents of immigrants

Ensuring new immigrants integrate successfully into working life in Canada not only improves employee morale, but can also improve business.

Most organizations acknowledge the business case for diversity. In theory, they have checks and balances in place to make sure their workplaces are inclusive environments where everyone is given the chance to achieve his or her potential. Business leaders realize now more than ever that inclusiveness is crucial to corporate success.

But for those who stand out because they are “different,” many of the age-old challenges remain.

When my husband and I moved to Canada from South Africa in 1987, we were excited about building a new life. Canada has always been a country with great potential and a bright future. But we face real challenges in achieving that potential and reaching that future.

Capable men and women in our communities deal with these challenges every day. We’ve all been in taxis driven by lawyers, doctors or engineers.

Organizations have the ability to change this situation by opening the door to diversity and creating work environments where everyone feels accepted, able to share and encouraged to grow.

Canada’s society is diverse. Imagine what we could learn and achieve if our meeting rooms truly reflected this fact. We have the power to fully engage our workforce by welcoming people and building frameworks to help them succeed.

Striving to ensure new immigrants feel welcome and integrate successfully into working life in Canada not only improves employee morale, but can also improve business. If companies don’t motivate employees to grow and develop, they will fail both their employees and their business overall.

The following formal initiatives can help set up immigrant employees for success in Canada.

Orientation on doing business in Canada. This could include training in technology or communications skills, such as guidance on telephone etiquette, small talk and presentation skills.

Mentoring. Connecting newcomers with mentors within the organization can provide not only practical — and personal — insight on what it’s like to work in Canada, but also new contacts and friends. Buddying newcomers up with someone from their country of origin can also help them feel more at home.

Keep in mind that not all programs have to be formal. The simple gestures below can make a big difference in easing immigrants’ transition to Canada.

Help them build their network.
Let newcomers know about which associations or professional groups are popular in your community and introduce them to friends at work events and social gatherings.

Make them feel welcome.
You can help immigrants ease their transition and get their “life infrastructure” in order by offering tips on how to find doctors and hair stylists or where to apply for a driver’s licence. A little direction can set a newcomer on the right path immediately.

Making sure immigrants successfully integrate into a new company culture isn’t just about offering programs for them; cross-cultural coaching and workshops for all employees are an important part of an inclusiveness strategy.

Employees need to be armed with practical skills for working in diverse teams, including communicating across different cultures.

Harnessing the talents of immigrants is about fostering a culture that supports different kinds of people. An inclusive mind-set gives businesses a competitive edge and a better understanding of an increasingly diverse and global business world. By learning to leverage differences, organizations create better teams that are capable of contributing and achieving their full potential.

Canada is a great country that has provided incredible opportunities for my family and me.

I hope each of us can create similar opportunities for other immigrants by attracting, developing and retaining the best talent the world has to offer in order to build better businesses and a better Canada.

About the Author

Fiona Macfarlane


Fiona Macfarlane is managing partner of EY's British Columbia practice and the firm's chief inclusiveness officer.

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