The future of diversity in the workplace

When thinking of refugee integration, the job market is always a topic. So, it is not surprising to know that, when asked, ‘What makes you feel integrated?’, employment is the first aspect mentioned by refugees.

This article features Menino Aguiar, the founder SPEAK, who participated in the third edition of the Dela programme, a global systems change accelerator co-created by Ashoka and IKEA Social Entrepreneurship. The article first appeared in Alliance Magazine

When thinking of refugee integration, the job market is always a topic. So, it is not surprising to know that, when asked, ‘What makes you feel integrated?’, employment is the first aspect mentioned by refugees.

Despite this strong connection between having a job and feeling integrated, refugees and migrants find plenty of obstacles in the job market. Many are at risk of unemployment or underemployment; others, although they have a job, are not fully integrated into their organizations. This means they will not be able to perform to their full potential and will likely suffer from poor well-being, a low sense of belonging, and decreased loyalty to the organization.

Fostering the social inclusion of migrants and leveraging diversity for a more equitable world is the goal that led Ashoka Fellow, Co-founder of SPEAK Hugo Menino Aguiar, and his colleague Mariana Brilhante to launch the Diversity & Inclusion Journey (D&I Journey) after joining the Dela systems change accelerator, co-created by Ashoka and IKEA Social Entrepreneurship. Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Journey is an impact venture that enables organizations to achieve their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEl) goals and helps individuals of all backgrounds and walks of life to reach their full potential in the workplace.

Activating companies is key in the social integration process

Over the course of 10 years working on the social inclusion of migrants and refugees, Hugo and Mariana have understood that companies are key stakeholders in the integration process. Access to employment leads to financial autonomy, which has many more positive externalities related to integration such as access to housing, access to health and financial services, contact with locals, and a chance to practice the local language.

"If companies are implementing diversity and inclusion best practices, they will be more interested in recruiting migrants and refugees, and so the likelihood for employability increases. Moreover, the ones that land a job in these organizations will be able to live up to their full potential," shares the Founder of SPEAK, Hugo Menino Aguiar.

The Diversity & Inclusion Journey is supporting companies on the road to becoming more open to diversity and creating an inclusive environment where everyone can access the same opportunities. ‘We realized we can support companies with valuable insights and strategies that allow them to adjust recruitment, hiring and integration practices to foster inclusion, and prepare their teams to truly welcome migrants aboard," adds Menino Aguiar.

Recent studies show that diverse teams and an inclusive culture help increase creativity, innovation, and problem-solving ability. It also reduces employee turnover and positively impacts a company’s reputation and overall performance. To succeed, companies need to bet on diversity and inclusion. So why aren’t all of them doing it?

When analysing where companies stand regarding DEI, the Diversity & Inclusion Journey team splits them into three different groups according to their status on the matter: companies that are not aware of the need for DEI nor its benefits at the social and business levels; companies that are aware of the need but are still not willing to focus on DEI because they might not understand the full scope of benefits it can bring; and companies that are willing, but don’t have the capability to do it by themselves.

During an intensive 10-month Dela accelerator program, Hugo and Mariana received support from business experts in DEI to implement a system change framework, uncover insights, define the problem, and understand how their set of skills can better benefit migrants’ workplace integration and improve company performance. This resulted in four key milestones that will help build DEI capability within companies: developing a visual map of early adopters and best practices; building DEI online tools and know-how available for self-assessment and initial implementation; making online peer exchange available and providing in-depth support and tailormade consultancy programs.

‘We want to ensure that all employees across the company’s hierarchy are willing and capable to implement DE&I principles in practice so that every stakeholder of the system can benefit from it.’, Hugo Menino Aguiar.

At the same time, when companies are willing and have the skills to foster diversity and inclusion, they broaden their talent pool and allow people from different backgrounds to access the job market and develop a career, thus advancing in true systemic change. According to the Tent Foundation, investing one euro in welcoming refugees can yield nearly two euros in economic benefits within five years.
Hugo and Mariana SPEAK
Hugo and Mariana, Diversity & Inclusion Journey founders
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Advancing refugee integration through philanthropy

Foundations play a crucial role in driving initiatives and projects aimed at promoting the inclusion of migrants and refugees in the workforce. These funding initiatives unlock economic potential by providing access to education and employment, fostering diverse and skilled workforces. This is an integration that not only enhances business productivity and innovation, but also creates a sense of belonging and well-being among refugees.

By addressing the obstacles migrants and refugees face in the job market, such as unemployment and underemployment, philanthropy plays a crucial role in enabling individuals to perform to their full potential, promoting loyalty and a stronger connection to their organizations. Philanthropic efforts focused on social inclusion and leveraging diversity are instrumental in striving for a more equitable world where everyone, regardless of their background, can reach their full potential in the workplace.

Through philanthropic support for refugee integration, foundations contribute to key areas that facilitate the integration of refugees and migrants, encompassing education and language acquisition; employment and entrepreneurship; legal aid and advocacy; social services and healthcare; housing and shelter, as well as community integration and social cohesion.

What’s ahead? The future of DEI in the workplace

Having a DEI strategy in place is not yet a common practice across all industries. Yet, there is increasingly significant pressure on companies to be diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

As in many countries, the pandemic brought to light many systemic inequalities and accelerated employee demands for more diversity, inclusion, and flexibility. At the same time, Gen Z is now having a very significant role as new customers in guiding the path companies lead by prioritizing companies with good ESG practices. And, finally, investors and clients are putting more and more emphasis on DEI results when the time comes to seal the deal, forcing suppliers not only to bet on DEI but to track the success of their practices.

With the spotlight on the companies and the increased media coverage of DEI-related topics, it is becoming harder to remain aloof. This means that many businesses worldwide are finally getting the push they need to start integrating DEI into their business strategies.

You can follow the work of Diversity & Inclusion Journey at diversityinclusionjourney.com and on LinkedIn.