How do you build and lead a team of professionals who excel in their tasks and exceed your department’s targets? Some of the ways managers can achieve this have been well-documented and many are in used in practice. But one critical element is often still missing – how to leverage the benefits of diversity and inclusion, including immigrant talent, to create a “dream team.”
Recent research shows that immigrants are more likely to work in a job below their education level than people born in Canada, which means the workforce potential of immigrants is going largely untapped. This is despite the fact that immigrants bring diversity of experience, insights into global markets and expertise from a variety of settings that can enhance an organization’s ability to compete and deliver results.
So, what can you, as a manager, do to create and lead an effective, immigrant-inclusive team that outperforms others? Here are some suggestions:
Create the conditions for inclusion and your team’s success
The facts support building a diverse team where everyone’s voice and inputs are valued. Research shows that diverse teams, that are genuinely inclusive, perform better and are more innovative than heterogeneous teams or diverse teams that are not inclusive. Unfortunately, we usually tend to choose to work with, and support, people who look like us in terms of gender and ethnicity, so a conscious effort is required to establish a diverse and inclusive team.
Remember that diversity without inclusion will not generate high-level performance. As a manager, you can help create an inclusive environment for your team by working to understand the different perspectives and experiences of your staff, being aware of your own biases and blind spots, and taking action within your team to address inequities and bridge differences.
“Unfortunately, we usually tend to choose to work with, and support, people who look like us in terms of gender and ethnicity …”
Enhance your intercultural competence and coaching skills
Intercultural competence – the ability to recognize and bridge cultural differences – is increasingly identified as a key skill for people managers and leaders at all levels. With workplaces becoming increasingly multicultural, developing your intercultural competence will not only help you manage your team more effectively, it can be an asset in furthering your career.
Culture goes beyond language, religion or food. It influences the ways in which we’re used to interacting with the world, such as giving and receiving feedback, how we demonstrate confidence and how to collaborate within a team. We learned this as we grew up, went to school and entered the workforce. This is not to say that everyone from one place is going to do things the same way; rather, it recognizes that there are underlying cultural patterns that drive our behaviour. For example, imagine walking into a waiting room with lots of chairs and only one person already sitting down. Where should you sit? Where should you not sit? The answer depends on your cultural lens.
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Knowing more about how culture influences the ways we interact in the workplace and how to bridge those differences is critical to leading diverse teams. How do you develop this? Learning about cultural differences, including your own cultural lens, and then reflecting on how these things come into play when working with your team is a great way to start. This learning and reflection will give you the foundation needed to develop and implement practices that are truly inclusive.
Ask your team members about their full range of education and expertise
It’s not uncommon for immigrant professionals to remove qualifications and experiences from their resumes to avoid appearing overqualified and hopefully increase their chances of finding employment. Traditional interviewing and hiring mechanisms do not always provide sufficient opportunities for candidates to showcase their full range of abilities – and most organizations do not have an active skills inventory that tracks the skills, outside of their immediate position, that their employees possess. This means that if you’re managing a team that includes immigrants or newcomers to Canada, you may not be aware of all of their skills and talents and could be missing out on expertise that could be leveraged to help achieve your team’s goals.
To avoid this pitfall, make sure that during performance reviews and management sessions, you are taking the opportunity to find out more about your team members breadth of qualifications and experiences. Learning more about your staff’s competencies could open up new possibilities in terms of for creativity, assignment of responsibilities and results.
Guide your staff to access networking and professional development opportunities
Your improved intercultural communication skills and awareness of your staff’s professional strengths will put you in a position to connect them to meaningful professional development opportunities. This will likely increase their engagement and improve retention over the long term. Having a wide range of professional contacts and connections is an important aspect of advancing in one’s field, but immigrants – especially those who are newcomers – often lack strong professional networks. Connecting your staff to the right people in their field along with sources of networking opportunities, such as conferences and events, can be key to supporting their growth and ensuring your team is engaged and up to date on the latest industry trends.
As a manager, adopting a leadership style that is inclusive, flexible and focussed on your team members’ full skill sets has the potential to reap significant rewards. Leveraging and advancing immigrant talent in particular pays off in multiple ways, including improving your own talent set and prospects for career progression as a leader. In doing so, you’ll be helping immigrant talent land where it is most needed and ensure your entire team can participate and deliver at their full potential.