Attracting Immigrant Talent

By Lynda Goldman

Monster Diversity Expert

The media headlines say it all: Canada’s multi-ethnic population is changing the face of the country. New StatsCan reports project that nearly 63 per cent of Toronto’s population will be visible minorities by 2031.

Just ride the subway or bus in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, or walk into any major company or retail outfit of a large Canadian city to see that this is already the reality.

How does this affect your business? Whether you embrace the change or try to ignore it as long as you can, your customers are likely to be from different cultural backgrounds, and your talent pool stems from the same source.

In a globally competitive environment, Canada needs this pool of immigrant talent. For example, in 2007, 37% of immigrants aged 25 to 45 had a university degree, compared to 22% of Canadians in the same age group.

The IT industry is already there. With the shortage of qualified skilled workers, they are hiring based on qualifications, and even recruit employees from other countries. Most large IT departments have employees from a variety of cultural backgrounds.

Banks are also at the forefront of recognizing and capitalizing on this trend. They recognize the business case for hiring immigrants, which includes connecting with new clients by mirroring their customer base, and tailoring their products specifically to newcomers to Canada. They cater to these new clients who need their services, even setting up multicultural marketing departments to create specialized marketing campaigns.

The Society for Human Resources Management’s report, “Impact of Diversity Initiatives on the Bottom Line” (Alexandria, Virginia, 2001), indicated that diversity initiatives improve corporate culture, improve recruitment of new employees, improve client relations and increase employee retention.

Forward-thinking companies such as Ernst and Young build on the talents of immigrants with business experience. Jeannine Pereira and Lynn Lapierre, Associate Directors, work with professionals from many different backgrounds. In an interview for the book You’re Hired. Now What? An Immigrant’s Guide to Success in the Canadian Workplace they said, “We recognize that every newcomer brings something unique to the workplace, and adds tremendous insight to our firm.”

Immigrants can open up new global opportunities, and develop products that meet untapped needs. One immigrant commented, “I’ve lived on three continents and held high-level marketing positions in global companies. I bring different perspectives to the job.”

Companies who advertise their commitment to diversity also enhance their reputation with consumers and stakeholders. In the recent “Best Diversity Employers” awards, finalists represented the most progressive companies in their field. Immigrant employees at these companies feel welcomed and are more engaged and productive.

So why isn’t everyone doing it?

It takes time and commitment, and a concerted effort to integrate newcomers, whose first language may not be English. Cultural differences may cause some employers to hesitate about hiring immigrants, worrying that they won’t fit in, or that it will cause them extra work. And not all employees are enthusiastic about working with someone who is “different.”

Small companies may also feel that they don’t have the resources of a large financial institution to integrate immigrants into their corporate culture. But many of these corporations’ initiatives can be implemented at little or no cost.

For example, many companies have a mentoring program for all new employees. Immigrant employees can be matched with someone from their own cultural background at first (when possible) and at the same time, or afterwards, be paired with a Canadian-born counterpart to learn how to work effectively in their company. At the least, matching a new Canadian with a “buddy” for the first few weeks doesn’t cost anything, and helps the employee learn the ropes.

The good news is that companies can benefit from the changing face of Canada. The “Career Advancement in Corporate Canada: A Focus on Visible Minorities–Survey Findings of 2007” reported that most respondents are “willing to put in a great deal of effort, beyond what was normally expected, to help their organizations achieve success,” and they “identify with their employer’s values and intend to remain in their current organization.” The study revealed that they are committed to their organization, and are proud to tell others that they work there.

Attracting and retaining immigrant talent takes commitment from the top levels of the organization. As reported in the Globe & Mail on March 23, 2010, CEO Gordon Nixon has made Royal Bank a champion of diversity through aggressive recruiting and retention. “It’s the right thing to do,” he says, “and the smart thing, too.”

“If you believe that your most valuable assets are human capital, there is a wonderful resource that should be maximized,” says Gordon Nixon, as quoted in the Globe & Mail. “What we’ve really tried to emphasize internally is the business opportunity that comes from having strong diversity and diversity policies.”