From New Immigrant to Superstar: promoting diverse talent is a business advantage
Even though Canada’s Employment Equity Act was instituted 30 years ago (1986) and diversity in the workplace has certainly improved since[i], we as employers still have a long way to go.
Several studies have shown that while “[o]n average, immigrants arrive in this country better educated, in better health, and at similar stages of their careers as those born in the country…the evidence suggests that…they have been much less successful in achieving success than earlier waves of immigration.”[ii] Access to job opportunities, upward mobility, earnings, and income have been poorer for visible minorities than non-visible minorities in Canada.[iii]
While visible minority men and women have higher educational qualifications (more visible minorities have university degrees than their non-visible minority counterparts in Canada), fewer are reaching top income levels. The earnings of visible minorities simply do not match their educational achievements.[iv]
And while we’re making progress in female leadership (women currently hold 19.5% of board seats[v]), other minority groups are still dramatically underrepresented in leadership roles in Canadian organizations– visible minorities hold only 4.6%, persons with disabilities hold only 2.7% cent, and aboriginal people hold only 1.1% of board seats.[vi] The corporate sector is the worst offender, with only 4% of leadership roles being filled by visible minorities.[vii] While companies may place a great deal of importance on hiring visible minorities, it is clear that they do not do enough to retain them— often creating a higher turnover rate among visible minorities when they see no opportunities to advance or feel they do not fit in.[viii]
These disappointing statistics do a disservice not only to thousands of highly qualified professionals from minority groups but also to the very companies who are failing to promote them: diverse workplaces have more satisfied workers and lower absenteeism, they tend to be more innovative and less prone to groupthink, and are able to reach a more diverse customer base (i.e., there are tangible financial benefits to having a more diverse workplace).[ix]
Canadian companies need to have effective programs for building and utilizing the talents of a truly diverse workforce and recognizing their hard work. Attracting and hiring diverse talent is only a first step.
Adecco doesn’t have all the answers to solve this systemic problem, but we do have a Diversity Committee who is working on awareness, advocacy, outreach, research, client education and having a multiplicity of voices represented in decision making. We also promote the Power of Workplace Diversity to our clients— some of Canada’s largest employers.
Most importantly, we practice internally what we advocate to clients. Hiring and promoting diverse talent is not just a “best practice” for us; it’s our standard practice and commitment.
Today, Sohail Dossani is the manager of Adecco’s Central Order Management and Corporate Recruitment Centre divisions— but he started a long way out from a managerial role in an office environment. He came to Canada in 2002, and within a decade, worked his way up from a fast food restaurant to leading 2 important departments and being the overall “go to” person for the world’s largest Staffing firm. Below is his story. We hope it inspires employers to recognize the benefits of hiring a diverse and talented workforce and giving new immigrants a real opportunity to succeed.
Sohail grew up in Pakistan, where he earned a degree in Computer Science and landed a job with IBM— first working in Karachi and then Dubai.
One day, his boss announced that he was moving to Canada. This got Sohail thinking about his own career and future. He decided that he too would apply to immigrate to Canada for better opportunities. His former boss had been successful in getting a job in the IT field, and Sohail was optimistic and hopeful about replicating his success. In fact, he wasn’t the least bit worried about it.
Unfortunately, his hopes were deflated soon after his arrival in Toronto. He applied for job after job in the IT field but came up empty. His degree was of little help for getting hired, and his lack of Canadian experience was a hindrance to landing a job that matched his qualifications—(a bottleneck many new Canadians face, but has since been banned in Ontario and successfully opposed in court in other provinces). Being new to the country, he didn’t know what employment resources were available to him or where to start; he didn’t know the processes for working with various agencies and community groups, or which were reliable.
“There were plenty of electronic resources but hardly anyone you could sit face to face with to get information,” remembers Sohail.
He decided to just go door to door to businesses to try secure work. “It was very hard,” he recounts.
He eventually ended up getting a job at a factory and was responsible for labeling fire logs. Unfortunately, he saw many health and safety violations going on around him but continued to work there as it was the only job available to him at the time— an unfortunate choice many people in similar circumstances are forced to make.
Sohail approached a popular fast food restaurant for extra shifts to supplement his income and gain field experience. The manager hired him on the spot; after all, a man with a university degree was standing in front of him asking for minimum wage work. While continuing to work at the factory, Sohail lead the night crew at the restaurant.
Before he moved to Canada, he never imagined himself working at a fast food restaurant, but he appreciated the safety and managerial training they company had in place. The role also helped him make an important decision: to go back to university to attain his master’s degree. He soon became the closing manager at the eatery and was eventually able to leave his factory job.
While studying during the day and working in the restaurant at night, Sohail was living next to a large electronics manufacturer in the north of the city and saw workers coming and going day after day. He decided to drop off his resume and learned that the company was using Adecco to fill open positions.
Sohail wanted to be proactive, so reached out to a counselor in the Skills and Employment program (SEP) at his local mosque for assistance in finding new job opportunities. Serendipitously, an Adecco recruiter had been working with the mosque for community recruitment and job support. When the counselor heard about Sohail’s interest in the electronics firm, he quickly put him in touch with us. At that time, the firm was only hiring for an entry level production worker— a role Sohail was overqualified for. Our recruiter advised him to stay in his supervisory fast food role a little while longer, while she searched for a better-suited position for him.
Soon after, the same electronics company was looking to hire a functional tester and debug operator, which was much better suited for Sohail’s credentials and qualifications. He was hired! While the salary was lower than his previous position, he was grateful to be working in a discipline that let him use his resident skill set and put him closer to his primary field of IT. He was confident that he’d be able to work his way up!
Sohail worked in production at the firm for 2 years until Adecco needed a new on-site manager to supervise our staff working there. While he didn’t have much HR experience, he was skilled and highly respected by his colleagues. We interviewed him for the new role and were convinced of the same: he was experienced enough to manage the on-site staff and could learn any HR skills he was lacking. We hired him as the supervisor for the weekend and night shifts. This was one of Adecco’s largest accounts, so to entrust him with this important responsible really demonstrates his competency and our confidence in him. He exceeded all expectations: he became a full-time Adecco colleague and was quickly promoted to Partnership Manager, supporting 4 of our large partnership clients across Ontario along with multiple service delivery teams. Perhaps most rewardingly, Sohail was able to hire other deserving people in this role.
When Adecco had a vacancy for an Operations Manager to support the SW Ontario Region, we didn’t think twice. Sohail had proven his commitment, drive and quick learning abilities. He served as the Ops Manager for over a year and was then given yet another opportunity: becoming the manager of Adecco’s COM department in London, ON. The Central Order Management team provides centralized services for Adecco’s national accounts, particularly those who operate across multiple geographic locations.
Sohail has now led the team for over a year and has worked hard to restructure the team’s responsibilities, processes and customer service delivery. His initiatives have not only streamlined team support across the organization but have also allowed us to pursue and deliver exceptional service to large accounts which we simply would not be able to do without a well-run COM department.
Sohail is in charge of many large accounts, yet still has time to answer questions from across Adecco’s 40 offices, and always seems at ease. He tackles his growing responsibilities and occupational challenges with optimism, tenacity and a smile— much like he did when he first arrived in Canada.
It was this attitude and disposition that lead Sohail’s colleagues to nominate him for Adecco’s prestigious Superstar Award—which he very deservingly won. The award is given to 11 colleagues who demonstrate excellence across our core values and comes with an all-expenses-paid trip with a guest.
Despite all his success, Sohail is still humble about his achievements. “I did not ever expect this in a field that I was not primarily educated or trained in,” he says. “It truly feels like success. I feel that the hard work has definitely paid off in building my profile from the ground up. My family is very proud.”
Sohail got an opportunity from Adecco when he was just starting out, but he has earned his career growth since then by taking advantage of training resources (such as Adecco’s free SkillBuilder application offered to all Associates), and by going back to school. He also took courses in HR to improve his skills when he found himself in an unfamiliar profession. And he turned to his co-workers for advice and support when he needed it.
It’s the same advice Sohail gives to new immigrants today:
“Use the value-added resources available to you and make them work for you. Improve your skills and education in any way possible. Just keep seeking opportunities to learn and grow your skill set. Don’t wait for them to be offered to you.”
Sohail was given an opportunity by an employer who did more than just “value” diversity. We recognized that the talent we hire should be based on merit and commitment, not credentials or stereotypes. When an organization eliminates candidates based on prejudice, they not only break the law, but also hurt their own organizations by smothering varying viewpoints, hindering a diverse workplace culture, and limiting connections to a multiplicity of client groups and talent pools. When they take the time to get to know applicants— and look at what they can do— the organization benefits exponentially.
When asked what has made him so successful in a field he never imagined being in, Sohail cites the same reasons many successful people do— whether new immigrants or seasoned veterans: like what you do and who you work with. “The colleagues within Adecco really helped give me the support that I needed and helped me stay motivated as they believed in me.”
Sohail is such an integral part of the Adecco family, we couldn’t imagine it any other way. We saw the possibility he held, and he has continuously worked so hard to live it up to it. We encourage and advise all our clients and Canadian employers to do the same. Do more than just “value” diversity; practice it and it will reward your entire organization.