Global Talent Bridge Partner Blog

News on practice and policy affecting internationally trained immigrants and refugees

Investing in Immigrant and Refugee Talent Through Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives

Wednesday February 24, 2021 | by Hillary Gardner

WES Global Talent Bridge’s 2020 Immigrant Economic Integration Virtual Summit (#IEISummit2020), Building Momentum for a New Decade, featured state and local practitioners, immigrant leaders, and policymakers committed to advancing the academic and economic mobility of immigrants and refugees. The four-day summit took place in conjunction with the third annual convening of the WES Global Talent Bridge Skilled Immigrant Integration Program (SIIP).

Check out our recent blog post recapping the SIIP 2020 Convening.

The summit’s interactive sessions sought to help practitioners reflect on programming needs and devise plans to effect an equitable economic recovery. The initial session, “Investing in Immigrant and Refugee Talent Through Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives,” engaged employers, service providers, and funders who are collaborating to help immigrants and refugees connect to workforce opportunities that value the newcomers’ international education and experience. Session moderator Anson Green of Tyson Foods, recognized as a COABE 2020 Outstanding Administrator of the Year, led discussions on how employers can radically transform existing workforce models.

Internationally trained immigrants and refugees transitioning to the U.S. workforce encounter significant barriers to professional recruitment, retention, and advancement. These obstacles inspired summit panelist Sanjita Pradhan of the Greater Des Moines Partnership to create two toolkits to help employers in her community better understand diversity as a driver of success. Pradhan encourages employers to consider the effectiveness of diversity initiatives through three areas of impact: the workforce, the workplace, and the marketplace. The toolkits provide community resources specifically tailored for immigrants and refugees in the workforce.

“The workforce strategy involves understanding who is in your workforce and where they are coming from,” Pradhan observed. “Employers need to understand that having only one talent source will not work in the future given changing demographics.”

“The most productive teams are made up of people from different backgrounds with varied experiences and perspectives,” noted Jina Krause-Vilmar of Upwardly Global, citing research indicating greater productivity for companies with diverse workplaces. Upwardly Global supports skilled immigrants as they enter the workforce in the U.S. Over the past 20 years the organization has helped place more than 13,000 skilled immigrants in their professional fields of training. It also leads initiatives to improve employers’ ability to measure advancement in creating a more diverse immigrant and refugee workforce.

Upwardly Global released its Employer I&D Services Insights Guide, created with support from Accenture, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund, and O.C. Tanner, to help employers identify practices that erect potential barriers to an inclusive workforce.¹ Online employment applications with drop-down menus that do not allow for international credentials, or recruiters who mark gaps in work experience as “red flags” or who label applicants with international experience as “overqualified,” for example, can prevent immigrant and refugee candidates from securing a much-needed first opportunity in the U.S. workforce. Such practices contribute to the underutilization of newcomers and lead to the underemployment and unemployment that affects nearly 2 million immigrants and refugees in the U.S.²

Emmanuel Owusu, executive director of the African Bridge Network in Boston, discussed workplace strategies that may be especially helpful for immigrant and refugee employees.

“In order for there to be representative leaders, we need to actively promote minority leaders to middle and upper management,” Owusu observed. “We need to empower individuals to grow. One way to do this is through strong mentorship programs and clear career pathways. Giving access to mentors and especially career sponsors is important to bridge gaps in work experience that cannot be fixed by further schooling.”

Read more about the African Bridge Network in our recent blogpost.

Panelist Monica Munn of the WES Mariam Assefa Fund encouraged panelists to consider resources from a variety of areas of influence, from both within and outside the employer framework. Munn spoke about philanthropy’s role in supporting fund research, exemplified by the recent report released by JFF, a WES Mariam Assefa Fund grantee.

Ensuring that immigrants and refugees have opportunities to reach their full potential is critical to our nation’s prosperity and essential to growing a strong economy and building vibrant and resilient communities. Find out more about how diversity and inclusion investments are yielding results for immigrants and refugees with international training and experience by clicking here to access the dynamic dialogue, strategies, and resources shared during this session.

¹ Organizations with inclusive cultures are two times as likely to meet or exceed financial targets, three time as likely to be high-performing, six times more likely to be innovative and agile, and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes. Source: Juliet Bourke, Which Two Heads Are Better Than One? How Diverse Teams Create Breakthrough Ideas and Make Smarter Decisions (Australian Institute of Company Directors, 2016); Deloitte Insights. Ethnically diverse companies perform 33 percent better than the norm. Forbes’ best workplaces for diversity enjoy 24 percent higher revenue growth. The most productive teams are made up of people from different backgrounds, with varied experiences and perspectives. It’s our job to make those connections with immigrant and refugee talent. Per the Fiscal Policy Institute, refugees have higher retention rates than other hires.


Hillary Gardner is a Project Consultant for WES Global Talent Bridge.