While employers are showing an increasing willingness to hire skilled immigrants, they still need to build more inclusive workplaces, according to a report released by the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC).
For one thing, many employers are reluctant to consider immigrants for leadership roles. Twenty per cent would not consider hiring a recent immigrant into a senior leadership or executive position, according to a 2015 survey of 92 employers conducted by Canadian HR Reporter in partnership with TRIEC.
And in the Peel and Halton region in Ontario, 28 per cent of employers would not consider newcomers for supervisory or manager positions while 37 per cent would not consider them for senior leader or executive positions, according to a survey of 484 organizations by the Peel Halton Workforce Development Group.
“Yes, the willingness is there but when you get to management, senior management, executive-level positions, they’re not seen as a talent force,” said Beth Clarke, director of employer programs at TRIEC.
While minorities are being hired into pipeline positions for future leadership at a greater rate, change is still needed, according to Ratna Omidvar, executive director and adjunct professor for the Global Diversity Exchange at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto.
“There’s absolutely no doubt that the leadership profile in Canada… looks remarkably homogeneous.”
It’s an issue the Canadian Board Diversity Council sees in its surveys, according to founder Pamela Jeffery. In 2015, visible minorities made up just 7.3 per cent of the board seats at FP500 companies in Canada, she said.
“Not only are they not on boards, they’re not in the pipeline to be on boards because they’re woefully underrepresented at the executive team level,” she said.
“The challenge that these folks have is very much the same challenge that women have, which is that there is bias and that the individuals are seen not to have the expertise that is required.”
HR policies should include unconscious bias training for everybody, “so managers and those reporting to managers are aware of the biases they have,” said Jeffery.
Many employers prefer to hire from the school they came from, said Clarke.
“It’s biases like that that often have an impact in terms of immigrants getting hired… The more risk involved in the position, higher level position, there’s more concern or they’re sometimes less willing to go outside of the comfort zone.”
But in looking at the immigrant population, many of them have worked at multinationals all over the world and they manage to adapt from one culture to the next, she said.
“Why wouldn’t they able to do that in Canada?… Why is it in Canada, we don’t trust the experience and the background?”
Written by labour market expert Tom Zizys, the TRIEC report also included interviews with about 20 respondents made up of senior HR staff from the finance and insurance sector, recruitment and HR advisors, and individuals knowledgeable about skilled immigrants and the Toronto region labour market.
They spoke about employers’ prevailing focus on the short-term versus the long-term, which can drive just-in-time hiring to fill a staffing need, rather than investment in the development of a worker.
“Pretty well everybody wants somebody to come in and hit the ground running, with no onboarding, no real time to adapt to the environment,” said Clarke. “Many immigrants can but there’s just a really risk-averse mindset that’s going on right now, so immigrants are the unknown.”
Hiring managers say it’s important to keep shareholders happy and the quarterly report is one of their most pressing priorities, said Omidvar, who was also TRIEC’s founding executive director.
“The hiring has to align itself with that, so if there are any extra concerns about onboarding or about training or about orientation, then people choose low-hanging fruit.”
There are also structural issues, she said, such as the need for a particular licence or accreditation.
“Canadians tend to undervalue international experience as opposed to the United States, for instance, which values international experience very much and they do business all of the world,” said Omidvar.
There can also be internal barriers once people are hired, such as cultural issues, said Clarke.
“How leadership skills are demonstrated in some cultures to another is quite different.”
Policies and practices may unintentionally be a factor, as an immigrant might come in at a lower level and be suitable for another job two levels up, but the hiring manager may not be able to see that because of how eyes in the talent pool are organized, she said.
“Sometimes, there are structural and process issues that are in place, so it’s… not all bias-driven, some of it is simply process-driven and until you start pulling back the layers and looking deeper at what’s happening can you start to understand what’s happening.”
Labour market trends
TRIEC also looked at labour market trends that could be a factor when it comes to employment of skilled immigrants, such as polarization — growth of jobs in higher-paying, higher-skilled sectors or lower-paying, lower-skilled occupations — and new business models such as temporary employment or contract work.
When it comes to polarization or the hourglass economy, a lot of immigrants are competing with students, said Clarke. There’s so much emphasis put on student unemployment right now, but if more immigrants could get into higher-skill positions, it would allow more room for students to enter the labour market.
“Oftentimes, the groups are played off each other or oftentimes strategies are looking at one or the other, and I think really it’s part of broader issue that we have — there are a lot of jobs, it’s just how do you make sure the right people are being considered at the right level?”
The middle-income group was the traditional way many immigrants found progressive careers, and that’s been lost, said Omidvar.
As for just-in-time hiring or temporary work, that’s a challenge for anybody, she said.
“But for someone who’s starting to get their feet on the ground, it’s particularly hard because they don’t have savings or they may not have EI credits that they can call on because they haven’t been in the country long enough, so it’s particularly challenging for newcomers.”
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