Refugees and immigrants in U.S. Organizations: What type of leadership is needed?

At no time in United States history have the fields of leadership and management been so profoundly challenged by the diversification of workers in organizations. As two thirds of the global migration heads into the U.S., American companies and organizations continue to witness this spectacular influx. The participation of many foreign workers in domestic organizations intensifies the already-existing diverse workplace.

With entry into U.S. organizations, foreign workers and different ethnic groups raise issues of demographic differences. This becomes a cultural clash, and a rivalry commonly observed within organizations between insiders and those on the outside. From these elements comes the critical issue of leader-follower relationships, which Western-based leadership and management are compelled to negotiate. There is a new organizational culture within this culturally diverse workforce.

Confronted with such a host of challenges, the question becomes: what kind of leadership do U.S. organizations really need to cope with their diverse workforce and stimulate organizational effectiveness?   

It is important to realize that diversity issues include: language, gender, and sexual identity differences; cultural, race, and ethnic differences; education; social status and nationality differences; plus religious preferences and inclinations. These differences are not just merely natural or acquired dissonances to which organizations can remain dismissive or attempt to conciliate through a simple set of organizational policies. When they are not understood, valued, taken into their real context, and effectively employed, they can affect the stability of an organization.

For example, in a dysfunctional yet diverse organization, workers can be operating under a group vibe without caring for each other’s feelings or challenges. This is in contrast to working instead with a team spirit, where differences are transcended by a prevailing collective commitment to achieve goals as one, for the interest and appreciation of everybody.

In most cases, companies overlook these differences and focus on profits.  The apparent organizational stability is used to assume everything is on the right track. But no one bothers to ask how stable and financially-sound the organization would have been if apparent and underlying issues related to differences were treated as part of the main drive to either success or failure.

Many scholars have supported the idea that a well-managed and diverse workforce increases an organization’s performance. However, all we can say or expect regarding effective diversity management within organizations rests primarily on the shoulders of leadership. To build a diversity-sensitive organization, upper leadership, starting with the CEO, should honestly adhere not only to an inclusive-based policy, but also commit to promoting behaviors and procedures which reflect such policies. This is not only to develop a more inclusive policy, but also and above all, to instill among workers the values which promote mutual consideration and respect among diverse groups. In addition, strategies which would unite all ethnic groups are needed to achieve goals while remaining attentive, proactive, and sensitive to issues of each group.

It is always important to note: some organizational behaviors are not driven by demographic differences in the workforce. They are caused by social factors, which organizational leaders should be aware of in dealing with their workers individually, but also collectively as members of a social network.

The need for translators and interpreters becomes highly imperative when it comes to sensitive issues involving workers’ interests. Today’s leaders ought to be culturally literate, globally oriented, and cognizant of all the complex interplays between organizational group members and their respective workplace differences.

Lastly, no one should ignore the difficulty organizations face managing diversity. Like is always the case between in-groups and out-groups in their struggle for primacy on one hand, and integration on the other, native workers or groups within organizations would like to uphold their traditional values and norms, and so would foreign workers. This leads to the proverbial “you can get someone out of the village, but you cannot get the village out of him.” Some natural and acquired values are deeply rooted inside of us. It is difficult to simply trade them in or eradicate them for the benefit of a common, inclusive organizational culture. Today’s workplaces need to accommodate all demographic differences without alienating any ethnic groups.

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