Hiring immigrants, then guiding them, makes sense for a company’s bottom line

May 5, 2010
Globe and Mail

Sarah Boesveld

Every strong business knows the capital potential of hiring new Canadians. Or they should.

By 2030, immigrants from other countries will be Canada’s main source of population growth, Statistics Canada reports. Many who have already come are well trained in their home countries and eager to contribute to the Canadian economy.

But throwing these often highly qualified employees into the fold without knowledge of the work environment or any kind of guidance could be crippling not only to the new immigrant but also to the company bottom line.

Enter the concept of mentoring – matching current employees with new additions to the company to help show them the ropes. Mentoring programs are flourishing at top-rung companies across the country such as TD Bank, KPMG and Deloitte and are expanding across the country. They’re also coming out of immigrant employment councils and organizations helping new Canadians adjust to the professional landscape here.

How mentoring works

Usually, a new Canadian will enter a workplace and be matched with a more senior or more established colleague at the same professional level. They’ll connect a few times a week to discuss the transition into the workplace.

Deloitte, recently named one of the Best Employers for New Canadians, encourages all employees to join its mentoring program but started a new network in 2009 that speaks to new Canadians. The pilot partnership with the Canadian Asian Network assigns newcomers a mentor who comes from the same culture, says Jane Allen, partner and chief diversity officer at Deloitte.

“It eases people’s way into our business environment and helps to avoid any culture shock or any issues that they may have had if they hadn’t had a mentor from their same culture,” she says. “It eases their anxiety about being in a workplace where they’re not the dominant population.”

Benefits for the employer:

By giving new Canadians the confidence to show their stuff in the workplace, productivity is bound to improve, says Peter Paul, the project leader of Assisting Local Leaders with Immigrant Employment Strategies (ALLIES), a pan-Canadian project out of Maytree and the McConnell Foundation that helps new Canadians find work in their new home.

That confidence helps employers become better performers in a market that is becoming ever more globalized.

“One of the challenges that companies have faced is suddenly their market looks quite different than it did 15 years ago,” he says. It’s much more cross cultural, and having an outgoing, team player who has context from other world markets can be invaluable for the company, he says.

The mentorship programs also boost morale. Fatima Laher, 42, an associate partner at Deloitte and a long-time mentor, says gets a lot of fulfilment from helping others build up their careers in the company. She’s currently mentoring eight people. “I think I get more out of it than they do,” she says. “It constantly reminds me of how thankful I’ve got to be.”

Benefits to mentors and mentees:

Often mentors and mentees can relate to one another, having shared the immigrant experience. Ms. Laher, who moved to Canada from South Africa about 12 years ago, says she tries to relay some tales from that transition when connecting with her mentees.

The Canadian workplace culture was different from what she was used to abroad. “I always said it was a very humbling experience. I came here and dropped a few levels,” she says. “I knew the South African market inside out and I needed to master that in Canada.”

The mentorship program also improves coaching and leadership skills in mentors and builds confidence and skill sets in mentees.

Mysteries of the Canadian workplace might be solved with the help of a mentor, Ms. Allen says. “Say they’re not getting feedback they expected from their manager. It’s probably very different from where they come from … they don’t know who to turn to,” she says. “They don’t know the norms of the office and what would be typical and expected behaviour.”

Some mentors and mentees have formed strong friendships, Mr. Paul says. “We hear anecdotes about people who’ve gone on vacations [together] later.”

The challenges/drawbacks:

Not everyone makes a good mentor, Ms. Allen notes.

“People find that out pretty soon into a mentoring relationship,” she says, adding that many people will opt out on their own, realizing it’s not working out.

“Really what makes a good mentor is someone who’s willing to devote the time and really shows an interest and cares about the person they’re mentoring for. If someone doesn’t have the time or doesn’t have the attitude for it, then it’s not going to work.”

Personality conflicts aside, the mentorship program can also be a huge time commitment, if a mentor takes on more than a few mentees. Many new Canadians are eager to discuss their career trajectories. In that case, mentors and mentees have to try to strike a balance in their schedules, Ms. Laher says, and perhaps try to do more of the correspondence over e-mail.

Do’s and don’ts for the employer

DO: Ensure your mentees are absolutely job-ready, Mr. Paul says. “If the mentee is not job-ready, either their credentials have not been assessed or their language is not up to par for the Canadian workplace.” Most employees hired by Deloitte already have fairly strong language skills, Ms. Allen says. It’s often just the workplace culture they need to adjust to.

DON’T: Forget to check in to see whether the relationships are working out. Feedback is important to the health of the program, Mr. Paul says, and employers are just as much a part of that as the participants. It’s also helpful to have a structured mentoring program, such as Deloitte’s.

Do’s and don’ts for mentors

DO: Give mentees access to your social and professional network. Ms. Laher tells her mentees that networking is one of the most valuable tools in the Canadian working world if you want to eke out new opportunities or seek recommendations.

DON’T: Be too shy to offer hard feedback – you’re not helping the mentee by skirting around any issues, Mr. Paul says. If their resume is too specific, tell them. Ms. Laher has recommended mentees tweak their workplace attire, a somewhat thorny topic that’s easy to take personally. “You really don’t want to get into the whole professional look, but it’s very, very important. Sometimes it’s hard to bring up,” she says.

Do’s and don’ts for mentees

DO: Try to open up to your mentor. Career anxieties and even personal problems can overlap and impact your work. It’s okay to bring up that stuff with your mentor, Ms. Allen says, as it’s all part of the normal transition. Your mentor is meant to help with things as seemingly innocuous as finding a good neighbourhood to live in, not just how to get ahead in the boardroom.

DON’T: Lean too heavily on your mentor. Use the tools they give you and try to be a self-starter. They’re there to help, but they can’t necessarily earn you the promotion or job, Ms. Allen says. Ms. Laher, who has also mentored employment-seeking new Canadians through the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, says it’s about giving them the skills and the empowerment to land work for themselves. “I can’t always get them a job at Deloitte,” she says.


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Reference: Globe and Mail