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Karima-Catherine Goundiam is the founder and chief executive officer of digital strategy firm Red Dot Digital and business matchmaking platform B2BeeMatch.

When you’re a new immigrant to Canada and entering the corporate workforce, you need to strike a fine balance. You need to believe in your value and in what you bring to the table, but also work to integrate into a whole new culture in which the learning curve can be steep. In the decades since I began that journey myself, I’ve gained a number of insights I wish someone had told me when I first arrived. I’ve also learned what some of the obstacles are that hinder growth and how to overcome those hurdles.

Obstacles that hinder growth

Communication styles may not be what you’re used to

I once had a manager who was a senior vice-president and managed more than nine nationalities. He said he initially tried the Canadian approach in other places he worked, but quickly discovered that each group wanted to be spoken to in a certain way. The British wanted things non-emotional while the Spanish were the opposite: he had to show he cared. French people wanted to start with an argument. He had to develop a playbook for speaking to groups from each nationality. But not every manager will have this skill level, so you may need to adapt.

In Canada, people often take a softer approach to communication than in some places. Feedback is often sandwiched – a positive, a negative, then another positive. If you don’t understand what a person means, be straightforward and ask direct questions. Don’t just let your imagination fill in the blanks. Also, be curious. Take the time to learn about what’s considered rude, passive-aggressive and so on, to prevent possible missteps.

Canadian corporations operate with flatter hierarchies than in some places

While there is hierarchy in the corporate structure, it’s not exercised the same way you may be accustomed to. I have seen examples of people who come from cultures in which having a title means they expect to be trusted blindly and to be treated like the boss. That’s acceptable in some cultures, but it doesn’t work that way in Canada. Leaders and managers are often less autocratic. This can play in your favour, in the sense that if you’re adaptable, you can gain advantage in a flatter structure that generally has decent respect for workers. However, if your mindset is stuck and you come from a place of entitlement or thinking that people owe you something, it will backfire.

One major difficulty can be feeling undervalued

Employers are often proud of being Canadian, and it can make employees, potential hires and even students feel that others are not good enough. Despite Canada’s messages about welcoming immigrants and valuing diversity, there is a difference between that initial PR machine and the on-the-ground experience, where people may make you feel like you don’t have the right accent or sufficient Canadian work experience.

And let’s be real – you may be subjected to discrimination, bias and racism. I myself have been isolated and bullied, and I’ve faced language barriers as a francophone; even after all these years, my mind works differently than those whose first language is English.

These factors can hinder your growth.

Tips to thrive

Networking is key

If you come here as an adult, you may not have school or university networks or friend circles. Join organizations, attend events and seek out networks to join. Find mentors and people who can guide and support you. Doing this, and finding the right mentor, can give you a real boost. Canada is a place where, overall, people take a favourable view of immigration and where there are many opportunities, but it’s important to be proactive.

Learn about your host country

Of course, you both should be learning about each other, but as an immigrant, you should take the lead. Learn about Canada’s customs and traditions. Don’t stay within your community exclusively – expand and meet others, including people who aren’t like you. It may be worth investing some time and money into additional formal education, too. It might not be easy, but it’s worth the effort, both for the diploma and for the connections you make while you’re doing it.

That being said, when you’re an immigrant, it’s not about becoming a different person.

Remember your value

You’re willing to face risk – or you wouldn’t be here. Keep that bravery, that sense of risk-taking. You may need to work harder or prove yourself more, and without drawing on that strength, you may quickly become disgruntled.

Be confident that you add value. Don’t come at it from the perspective of begging. If you’re here, it means you are adding value to this country. You add diversity to the table and it’s important. Celebrate your difference and see it as the positive that it is.

Finally, be willing to help other immigrants with the things you learn along the way. That, too, is an added value you can bring to Canada thanks to your own perspective and insights. Entering the workforce as an immigrant can be tough, but you’re tougher.

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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