Supporting migrants at work

I was recently on an interview panel for a non-profit organization hiring a Director of Education.

During the process I had a significant ‘ah ha’ moment related to the immigrant experience.

I know the research that says women are less confident than men in applying for positions for which they don’t have all the listed qualifications and realized the extent to which this is further compounded in the experience of immigrant women.

The interview panel experience increased my compassionate awareness and got me thinking about how, as a non-immigrant, I can be an ally for potentially marginalized applicants.

In this particular situation the applicant is Canadian, has been living in the country for several decades and does not have language and communication barriers. The committee valued the expertise and experience clearly evident on their CV.

However, the applicant didn’t interview well and seemed to be held back by a difficulty in articulating the transferability of her qualifications and skills. The panel observed that she undervalued her foreign qualifications, degrees and work experience when they were in fact very applicable to the position and what we were looking for.

The process concluded with us offering her the job and a coach to support her in navigating the new context and relationships.

We don’t want her humility to be an invitation to others to underestimate or take advantage of her in her leadership position, and we anticipate that with discreet, personalized support, she will be able to address the imposter syndrome and self-doubt and thrive as the Director of Education.

Compassion plays a crucial role in understanding and supporting the migrant employment experience.

During the interview process it was important for us to recognize and acknowledge the applicant’s unique experiences even to the extent of making the connections they might not emphasize in terms of expertise in other contexts.

For example, the hiring panel had to more intentionally draw out from the applicant how previous experience applies to the role for which they are applying. This meant asking them to describe what they did in former roles and ask in different ways in order to more fully explore their skills.

Once hired, the compassionate employer can further empower the newly hired employee by investing in their skill development and well-being through coaching and other professional development opportunities. Employers who recognize the unique circumstances and challenges of immigrant applicants demonstrate compassion, unlock their potential and create a more inclusive and supportive workplace while fostering bonds of loyalty that will serve organizational goals.

Upon further reflection on my hiring panel experience and how I can be an ally of migrants, I came across Worline and Dutton’s research which identifies four elements of awakening compassion at work: noticing, interpreting, feeling and acting.

Each of these elements is evident in my hiring panel experience and invites further exploration.

I am particularly intrigued by what the authors call ‘Personal and Organizational Blueprints for Compassion at Work’ which present a process to strategically build personal and group capacity through questions and actions to influence the social architecture of the organization.

Their work seeks to address the reality that “the vast majority of people never get to realize their potential because they are embedded in organizational systems that fail to promote human flourishing.”  I highly recommend their book: Awakening Compassion at Work: The Quiet Power that Elevates People and Organizations (2017).

Adrienne Castellon is Client Partner, People Development at Fraser Health Authority, a scholar, and faith-based leader. They are writing in their own capacity.

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