By Marsha Gozhansky, Career Counselor
The old cliché that “America is a melting pot” is tested daily in the workplace. Many immigrant workers have few or no problems assimilating into the American workplace. They speak English well and understand the business and social culture and climate. However, others find it more challenging. With the great diversity of workers streaming into the workforce, it is important for employers and fellow employees to understand the many cultural differences and nuances among immigrant workers so they can help them acclimate faster. Americans are often quick to assume that “everyone thinks like we do” and that people from other places should just naturally fit in.
The reality is that language, as well as cultural barriers and misunderstandings, can get in the way of effective communication and can create complications in the workplace, including problems with safety. Attitudinal barriers, biases and stereotyping by co-workers, supervisors and managers can hinder the ability of a business to recruit and successfully employ immigrant workers.
In addition, barriers such as employment policies, practices and systems can adversely affect certain groups. For example, some companies require certain education credentials, with no consideration given to equivalent combinations of education and experience, thus eliminating otherwise qualified applicants from the potential labor pool. A surprisingly large number of immigrants, particularly refugees, have considerable education and experience in their native countries, but because of their limited English speaking abilities and their cultural differences, their credentials and experience may not be recognized.
Ethnic diversity is part of the new reality of the American workplace. It is important for the business community, work force educators, trainers and other human resource professionals to gain a better understanding of language barriers and cultural differences among workers from all backgrounds. Greater understanding and sensitivity will help employers increase recruitment, hiring, retention and advancement of immigrant employees. Ultimately, this will help businesses remain competitive by maintaining a stable, productive and safe workforce.
If you are working with New Americans, whether as an employer or a fellow employee, here are some tips to help break down barriers:
• Assume that a person who may happen not to speak English fluently is an intelligent and interesting person.
• Invite a new employee to sit with you and your friends at lunch.
• Show interest in the person’s native country. You could learn a lot.
• Speak a little more slowly and distinctly. For people who are trying to improve their English and follow what native speakers are saying, speed and clear enunciation make a big difference.
• If you are in a group and you see that a person is not understanding something because English is not his native language, quietly offer to explain it to him.
• Be patient and empathetic. Imagine what it would be like for you if you were adjusting to life in a new country with different customs, language, and traditions.
Even though people may share a common language or culture, it doesn’t mean they are alike, any more than all Americans are alike. Stereotyping discounts individuals and can limit options for them in the workplace. Getting to know a person’s culture is a first step to getting to know him or her as an individual.
By Marsha Gozhansky, Career Counselor, Jewish Community Services Career Services, Baltimore, MD
JCS offers a full range of career services to help individuals find and maintain employment, whether in one’s chosen field or in building a new career. JCS Career Services also offers career assessments, resume and cover letter services, career development workshops, and more. To learn more about these and other ways JCS can help, visit http://www.jcsbaltimore.org, or call 410-466-9200. Jewish Community Services is an agency of THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.