Integrating New Canadians in the Workforce

Jun 2, 2017

By Natalie Richter

As Canada celebrates its sesquicentennial, it is important for us to celebrate our new immigrants and the tremendous value highly skilled professional immigrants bring to companies and project teams.

Although national differences are only one aspect of diversity, research consistently shows us that diverse teams achieve the best results.  Why? because of the many perspectives at the table.  When our highly skilled professional immigrants come to the table they bring their education and experience, but the key to leveraging this knowledge and experience is by supporting their cultural integration.

What can we apply from best practices in global mobility?

When I work with expats coming to or leaving Canada, one key element of our program together is developing a strategy on how to effectively integrate into the new office and project team(s).  One of the first things we discuss is what cultural integration actually means and what it looks like in terms of behaviors.

What does cultural integration really mean?

For many people cultural integration means knowing the rules of behavior and fitting in by following these rules.  I have found that memorizing a list of rules is not enough for most people.  In order to really fit in, people need to understand why it is important to act this way.  They also need to know that the unspoken rules are just as important as the spoken ones.

There is more than one culture and it is not static

So what is culture really?  Is it only your company values, mission and code of ethics or is there more to it?  There is so much more.  Here are some key things I’ve learned over the years about culture:

  1. There is more than one culture within an organization you have:
    • Individual (my own code of ethics and way of interacting with others)
    • Team (the interaction dynamics)
    • Functional (for example, do HR and Finance speak the same language and see things the same way?)
  2. Cultures are constantly evolving:

Many of my clients have come to realize that each time they interact with someone else it has an impact on the culture.  If they communicate effectively and each person knows what they are doing and feels respected, their team culture will evolve in a positive direction.  But if they interact with someone and the communication was not clear, the other person does not know how to move forward with their part of the project and they feel disrespected then the culture will move in a negative direction.

How do we leverage these insights?

Like expats, new immigrants are dealing with two main cultural integrations.  They are integrating into Canadian culture either alone or with their families and they are integrating into your organizational culture.  Therefore, the more effectively your organization supports their integration the more you will be able to leverage their knowledge and experience and therefore value their contributions.

What would this integration look like? A best practice example:

Priya has come with her husband as a professional in the pharmaceutical industry.  She has two young children and is highly educated.  Although her own company could not move her she had the right experience for another pharmaceutical company in Toronto.

What does she really need in order to be successful?

The relocation support will be very important.  Having someone to help set up the logistics along with finding the right home, school(s) and activities so that she can integrate (I call this a functional integration).

She will need a good onboarding process

Step 1:  Functional integration

She will need to know about your mission, values and code of ethics.  She will also need to know how to function day-to-day.

Step 2:  Buy-In

Her most important integration is with her team.  She needs to establish credibility and trust so that she can really contribute to her projects.   This is where the right mentor is crucial.  She needs to learn how to get buy-in for her ideas.  She needs to know how to communicate them in a way that speak to her team mates and show that she understands what the team and company stand for.

This requires understanding from the team as well as an effort on her part to try to understand the team dynamics and expectations.  So what can the team do to help her?

  1. Listen to her history and try to understand what her strengths and communication style are
  2. Whenever a team member wonders what she means, ask her in a respectful, culturally sensitive way.
  3. Listen to what values she highlights when she communicates.  This listening starts as soon as she introduces herself.  What does she highlight?
  4. Listen to how she has solved problems in the past. How can you leverage her way of thinking?

What does she need to do in order to integrate?

  1. Listen to the team history
  2. Listen to the way the project is described
  3. Be aware (self-aware) of how much background she needs so that she can ask additional questions for clarification. She needs to understand that asking questions for clarification is not a sign of weakness.

Once she feels trusted and trusts the team then she will be able to fully contribute to the project.  This is what true cultural integration is and this is how we leverage value on diverse teams.