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Recent discussions on inclusion continue to remind us that women, racialized people and many other diversity groups are underrepresented in senior management and leadership positions. As Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council 2019 (TRIEC) research shows, that disparity is even higher when you look at the intersectionality of these groups – for example, racialized immigrant women.

Creating greater inclusion is not just the right thing for corporate Canada to do – there is a business case that greater diversity in companies results in better financial performance and a stronger competitive edge.

But immigrants, despite bringing market knowledge and international experiences, do not always find jobs that match their talents and expertise. In the Greater Toronto Area, for instance, two in three newcomer women and one in two newcomer men with university qualifications end up in jobs that do not require a university degree. And, even if they find employment commensurate with their experience, this alone does not guarantee equal advancement opportunities.

Moreover, lack of representation in leadership affects employees' perceptions of whether there is a likelihood for advancement. In a recent survey conducted by TRIEC among 400 employed immigrants, 61.4 per cent of immigrant men thought that they had the same chance to advance as others, compared with 47.8 per cent of immigrant women. The same rate was 70.2 per cent for immigrants of Caucasian origin, compared with 52.3 per cent for racialized immigrants, with the lowest rate for racialized immigrant women, at 43.8 per cent.

Employers who can champion inclusive policies and practices will change these statistics, creating a dynamic workplace that reflects the GTA where their customers and stakeholders live, work and shop. While the challenge may be complex, the solutions do not need to be. We could begin by creating relationships that help immigrants to navigate the unwritten rules of the workplace and by building an inclusive environment where every employee feels empowered.

Enter mentoring: Untangling the unwritten rules

Mentoring is an effective way in which employers can support recent immigrant professionals who have not yet found employment in a relevant role by improving their job search skills and helping them to expand their networks. However, the need for mentors doesn’t disappear after finding said role. Mentorship is even more critical within an organization, helping immigrants, especially newcomers, navigate the unwritten rules – norms and practices that are not expressed explicitly in the workplace, but which nevertheless influence one’s career growth and promotion prospects.

Here are some questions you may have never thought about in any great detail: What is the rhythm of a Canadian meeting? Why should I go for lunch or a drink after work with colleagues? What does performance management mean here? How do I build my internal network? Culture – the ways in which we interpret and interact with the world – has a great impact on how you would answer these questions. Mentors within an organization could help immigrant professionals understand these cross-cultural differences by helping them to build strong relationships.

How do we extend the corporate ladder to all?

Making advancement processes more transparent is a good start. Organization and senior-management expectations for advancement should be clearly laid out and data on who gets promoted should be tracked. However, beyond the technical setup of a succession-planning process, more important is the work done by individual leaders to accept the challenge of creating inclusion. We all have biases. It’s inherent to being human and growing up in a family, neighbourhood, city or country. To create inclusion, we need to acknowledge those biases and then take positive steps to address them. Diversity pushes boundaries, generates creativity and frankly, provides greater market reach.

Adwoa K. Buahene is CEO of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC).Handout

Adwoa K. Buahene is chief executive officer of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council. She is the Leadership Lab columnist for October, 2020.

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.

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