How To Support Immigrants In The Workforce

July 5, 2023

According to Statistics Canada, Canada’s population has officially surpassed 40 million people and the population growth rate is the highest it’s been since 1957. The total population grew by a record 1.05 million people in 12 months—and about 96 per cent of the rise was due to international migration. With this influx of immigrants coming to Canada, many newcomers have entered (or will be entering) the workforce. So with a larger number of immigrants at work representing a wide variety of cultures, what should workplaces be doing to support newcomers? We spoke with Dr. Sarah Saska, CEO and co-founder of Canadian DEI consulting firm, Feminuity, to learn more. —Vita Daily

Hello Dr. Saska! Please tell us a bit about yourself to start.

Hi! I’m Sarah, CEO and Co-Founder of Feminuity, a Canadian full-service diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) consulting firm. Our work supports organizations by building diverse teams, equitable systems, and inclusive products and workplaces. We work with clients worldwide and of all sizes – from start-ups to Fortune 500 organizationshelping them align their good intentions with meaningful and long-term impact. At Feminuity, we are on a mission to challenge the status quo and use our industry expertise, lived experiences and values to transform workplaces because we know there is potential for widespread change.

    Many newcomers to Canada have entered (or will be entering) the workforce; with a more significant number of immigrants at work representing various cultures, what should workplaces be doing to support newcomers?

    Before workplaces begin implementing policies, programs, and processes to support newcomers, they can start by acknowledging the intersectional nature of people’s identities. For many newcomers specifically, these experiences can be connected to various dimensions of diversity, such as culture, language, nationality, ethnicity, religion/spirituality, and more. 

      From there, they can collaborate with newcomers to design support systems that meet people’s needs.

      How can workplaces create inclusive practices like inclusive policies around holidays and observances or dress codes that recognize different cultural expressions? Inclusive policies around holidays, observances and dress codes are a great place to start recognizing and honouring cultural differences in the workplace. When it comes to holidays, for example, it is typically expected for North American workplaces to take time off for Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving, even though these holidays may not be relevant for all. Workplaces may consider a format for team members to have the option to take time off for the celebrations that are relevant to them and opt instead to work during dominant holidays. Read more about taking an inclusive approach to celebrations and holidays in the workplace here. This is also a good time to re-evaluate dress code policies and consider how you define what it means to dress “professionally.” Traditional dress codes often uphold racist, sexist, ethnocentric and ableist standards (to name a few!). Now that you’re mindful of cultural differences, you’ll want to consider how your current dress code policy may exclude newcomers. Our website has an excellent resource about re-imagining dress codes—here.

        How can we use inclusive language relating to race, culture, and ability and use language in ways that are unbiased and affirming?

        Language is an important part of how we communicate with each other, especially at work. Adopting new and more affirming terminology takes some practice, but it can be an important signal of care to others. And unfortunately, there is a lot of commercial jargon and commonly used phrases with complicated histories, contemporary cultural connotations and meaningful exclusions that are customary across different industries. For example, a phrase like “grandfathering” has racist origins beginning during Reconstruction in the American South as a way to disenfranchise Black voters. You can make others feel welcome and safe by learning to eliminate certain words from your everyday vocabulary and introduce inclusive ones. 

          What is the importance of recognizing foreign credentials in hiring practices?

          One of the most common ways immigrants and newcomers are discriminated against in Canada is employers’ failure to recognize foreign credentials. While few admit it, there is often a hiring bias and preference for employees to have a post-secondary education background from institutions in North America or Europe – and schools from other parts of the world are often undervalued on a resume. For example, while someone may have certification in the medical field in their home country, they can be completely unable to practice in Canada because their experience is undervalued once they move to a different country. Workplaces can do better by eliminating the requirements for credentials and traditional proxies of merit whenever possible and developing intentional recruitment and hiring practices with these issues in mind.

            What are the top three things you’d like employers to know about the benefits of hiring newcomers?

            1. Companies that want to build competitive, strong workforces are well served by hiring those with non-traditional backgrounds. 
            2. Workplaces should design strong cultures that make them an employer of choice and focus on retaining and growing those employees according to their unique needs.  
            3. Employees must be patient; working across cultures requires learning from everyone, and always be sure to design with, not for, your team to ensure the best result.


            Leave a Reply

            Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

            get social


            get more out of


            WHO WE ARE



            contact us

            let's go ⟶

            Enter NOW ⟶

            Chinese VITA

            Toronto VITA

            Want the best, curated headlines and trends on the fly?

            get more out of vita

            VITA EDITIONS

            Sign up for one, or sign up for all!