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How to Create an Inclusive Culture for Foreign Workers

Businesses don’t tend to thrive in an echo chamber. In fact, precedent shows you need the contribution of multiple perspectives to inform processes, build a richer cultural environment, and inspire innovation. An inclusive culture combined with a diverse workforce — with representation at all levels, from entry to executive — is essential to success.

One of the ways to enable this is through an international workforce. Thankfully, we are living at a time where global contribution is more practical than ever. Whether you are participating in temporary placement drives, permanently hiring refugees, or operating a remote workforce from across the planet, there are tools and processes in place to help. However, one of the most important elements you need to ensure that you, your employees, and your customers enjoy the most positive experiences, is a robust culture of inclusion.

There are certainly ethical imperatives to enabling a generally more inclusive culture in your business. However, we’re going to focus specifically on how you should proceed from foreign workers’ perspectives. What policies and procedures should you include? What are some of the common challenges, and how can these be addressed?

Provide Support

Empathy is a crucial element when it comes to running any successful business. It is particularly vital when creating an inclusive culture for foreign workers.

You must take the time necessary to understand not just how they can be an asset to your business, but also the challenges that your international employees can face. As such, one of the elements you should make a cultural priority in your company is a robust support system — one that specifically targets foreign workers’ needs.

The legislative minefield that often accompanies the immigration system is one of the common issues foreign workers face. This process can be very complex, particularly in the U.S. So you should have protocols in place to provide assistance even before you have selected your candidate. To start, your human resources (HR) department should know what types of visas are most appropriate for the positions for which you’re hiring. For example, H1B visas are for specialist jobs, H2B for non-agricultural temporary workers, and L-1 if your employee transfers from a foreign branch of your global business. Where appropriate, discuss the process for visa sponsorship with the candidate and your procedures for guiding them through the process should they need assistance.

It may be that your foreign employees need access to additional resources. For instance, consider their need for linguistic assistance; a Pew Research study found that 47% of immigrants are proficient in English. Though merely being around native speakers all the time can help with the acquisition of the language, it can be wise to provide them with information on, and even subsidize, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses.

Encourage Connections

Creating an inclusive culture is not simply about focusing on what can be done to help your workforce’s foreign employees. It also requires attention to creating a positive environment for everybody involved, and empowering all workers to build supportive relationships together. Indeed, this lies at the heart of what it means to foster a truly diverse and inclusive workplace. One tip: Ensure workers from all backgrounds gain a genuine sense of belonging. Start by taking opportunities to celebrate the differences each contributes to the overall culture of your business.

Facilitating socialization is also a significant step here. Of course, it is essential that workers — foreign and domestic — recognize one another’s professional skills. But they should also learn to appreciate one another as humans. By organizing social events, you create the opportunity to gather your employees in a setting that is not affected by the pressure and expectations of the workplace. When workers can relax and have fun together, aspects of their personalities, their interests, and their diverse cultures will come to the fore in a way that is missing in the working environment. This level of familiarity allows employees to understand one another a little better. Over time, it forges stronger bonds of friendship that aid inclusivity.

Connection = Caring About What Matters Most

Building connections should also extend to understanding the issues and cultural practices important to your foreign workers. Whether they are physically in your U.S.-based office, or you are engaging freelancers around the world, get input from workers about what matters most to them:

  • What holidays do they celebrate?
  • What activities do they undertake in their spare time?
  • Which charitable or social causes do they support?

Make time to share in these, to discuss them. Celebrate their holidays and their variations on those already observed within the company. Consider including all staff involved in activism or fundraising for the issues your foreign workers feel are critical to them. Perhaps just as important, ask how you can help bring their customs and traditions into the workplace as their employer.

Utilize Tools

One of the advantages of living in a technological age? Businesses have access to many tools especially useful for ensuring that foreign workers don’t feel excluded. As part of your broader cultural inclusion planning, investigate how your company can implement these tools and technologies. Your goal: To support and integrate all employees.

Communications platforms are most important here, particularly when your workers are operating remotely from across the planet. Don’t just rely on a single contact method that native speakers may feel less confident in engaging with one-on-one. Ensure you have collaborative tools in place that provide opportunities for audio, video calls, and text-based chat. Slack and Microsoft Teams are among the most popular examples and integrate well with most project management processes.

It’s also worth providing access to translation and language learning software. After all, there may be times when language barriers lead to misunderstandings. When left unresolved, these simmering workplace conflicts can lead workers to feel distanced. Lingvist and Duolingo are relatively accessible language learning apps and are popular in helping gain linguistic confidence and fluency in a relatively short period. From a translation perspective, Linguee and MemoQ are both software platforms that allow documents and text to be converted into most languages while also using the context of phrases to enhance accuracy.

Bottom line: Want to build a culture of inclusion for foreign workers? Make even a small attempt to speak their language. And help ensure they speak yours.

Create Your Inclusive Culture

There are distinct business advantages to engaging foreign workers as part of your workforce, not to mention the ethical imperative to improve diversity. However, it’s vital to ensure that you make concerted efforts to encourage a culture of inclusion. Gain an understanding of what areas of support are most needed. Then enable deeper connections between staff members, and explore relevant tech tools.

Only then you can start to provide the best possible workplace for international and domestic workers alike.