Fiona Macfarlane immigrated to Canada from South Africa in 1987 armed with four degrees, including a law degree from England’s Cambridge University. But, like so many other skilled immigrants, she struggled to find work.
After months of sending out resumés and garnering only a few interviews, she accepted her first and only job offer — as a senior staff accountant at Ernst & Young.
“My story is not that different from the story that many immigrants face. I was given a chance by Ernst & Young and I was able to translate my foreign experience into Canadian experience,” said Macfarlane.
She has used that experience to climb the ranks at the accounting and tax firm, moving from Calgary to Vancouver to Toronto, and eventually becoming the chief operating officer of the Americas tax practice.
Throughout her career she has created and supported many programs to promote the development of immigrants within the firm’s tax practice. These include EYU, a development program that ensures all employees have access to the experiences and training they need to grow their careers, and an accelerated leadership development program, which pairs visible minorities with a champion and focuses on improving the opportunity for minorities to be promoted to the senior ranks.
“We really focus on building their enterprise knowledge of the organization, helping them build networks,” she said. “Some of the things that might happen informally, we make sure that it’s very deliberate.”
Because of these efforts, the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC), a non-profit organization that supports skilled immigrants, granted Macfarlane the CBC Toronto Business Leadership award, one of five awards handed out as part of the third annual Immigrant Success Awards.
Macfarlane’s purposeful approach to helping skilled immigrants succeed and advance in the organization is something Elizabeth McIsaac, executive director of TRIEC, has seen more of since the awards were launched three years ago.
“We’re seeing an emergence of some very strong leadership among individuals who are in very senior positions who are really demonstrating an understanding of some of the internal and systemic issues that immigrants might face when they come into a workplace,” she said.
At Ernst & Young, 1,026 of the firm’s 4,099 employees are skilled immigrants and most of them are in client-serving positions at the supervisory level. Having a diverse workforce is a definite bonus, said Macfarlane.
“Most of our clients are global, so having people who have that natural connection to other countries is an advantage,” she said.
Engineering consulting firm CH2M Hill, one of two winners of the RBC Best Immigrant Employer Award, also recognizes the business advantage of having a diverse workforce. The firm employs more than 1,400 staff nationally and about 60 per cent are skilled immigrants.
“It’s a long-term goal of ours to be a leader in our industry and that demands an international flavour to our workforce,” said Bruce Tucker, the firm’s president.
With many multinational clients and employees working on projects all around the world, the firm’s multicultural workforce gives it an advantage in the market, said Tucker.
One way the firm has accessed diverse talent is through a 10-year partnership with the Community MicroSkills Development Centre, which provides settlement, employment and self-employment services to immigrants, youth, visible minorities and low-income women in Toronto.
Every year, CH2M Hill takes on about five to 10 MicroSkills students on eight-week, paid work placements, hiring many of them after their placements are complete. The firm also sponsors the CH2M Hill MicroSkills resource centre and many staff volunteer their time to teach classes, including English as a second language and workshops on the Canadian workplace and HR trends.
To ensure new immigrant hires integrate into the workplace, CH2M Hill connects newcomers with an established employee who speaks the same language. The firm also has several employee networks where employees from the same culture can come together to share information and experiences.
And the winners are…
Awards honour organizations and individuals for leadership in integrating skilled immigrants
Canadian HR Reporter Individual Achievement Award: Jane Lewis, country human resources manager at Procter & Gamble.
RBC Best Immigrant Employer Awards: Nytric and CH2M Hill Canada.
CBC Toronto Business Leadership Award: Fiona Macfarlane, Americas chief operating officer of the tax group at Ernst & Young.
Toronto Star Immigrant Champion Award: Patricia O’Connor, co-ordinator of field programming for the internationally educated social work professionals program at Ryerson University’s G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education.
Canadian HR Reporter Individual Achievement Award
‘A diverse company will outperform a homogenous company’: Jane Lewis
Several years ago when Jane Lewis heard Career Edge, an organization that arranges internships for recent graduates, was starting Career Bridge, a similar program for foreign-trained professionals, she knew the program would fit perfectly with her organization’s commitment to tap into Canada’s diversity.
Lewis, the country human resources manager at Procter & Gamble (P&G) in Toronto, couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be involved in such an organization and volunteered to be a member of Career Bridge’s advisory board at its inception. She then enlisted P&G as a host organization for Career Bridge interns, who have worked in various functions including marketing, customer service and external relations.
“We see diversity as a competitive advantage. We have a fundamental belief that a diverse company will outperform a homogenous company,” said Lewis. “Career Bridge is such an excellent concept, providing the opportunity for skilled immigrants to find work in their chosen field.”
For her involvement with Career Bridge, as well as many other initiatives to help skilled immigrants succeed at P&G, Lewis won the Canadian HR Reporter Individual Achievement Award at this year’s Toronto Region Immigrant Council Immigrant Success Awards.
“Jane’s leadership, personal passion and strategic HR Initiatives directed towards diverse individuals and skilled immigrants alike indeed make her an ideal candidate for this award,” said Natasha Kargov, associate HR manager at P&G.
When Kargov approached her HR colleagues about whom to nominate for the award, she received unanimous support for Lewis.
Encouraging a supportive workplace is an important component of how Lewis helps skilled immigrants integrate into the P&G workplace. This includes distributing a diversity calendar to senior leaders to ensure important dates are respected and cultural faux pas, such as lunch meetings during Ramadan, are avoided.
At P&G, all employees have to take diversity training to increase awareness of different work styles and cultures, said Lewis. But perhaps most importantly, managers need to have the skills to lead a diverse workforce, which is why Lewis developed a diversity leadership assessment tool and brought in an external trainer to provide inclusion training for managers.
The assessment tool allows managers’ direct reports to provide regular feedback on how managers are performing on various diversity leadership behaviours. Managers are given the chance to grow and be assessed again to measure their development, said Lewis.
Lewis is also responsible for a quiet room at P&G’s head office in Toronto, which is most often used by employees for prayers, and she is leader of the company’s diversity strategy team, which encompasses all the members of the company’s diversity networks. In this capacity, Lewis mentored an employee to establish and grow a Latin network.
“My role was as a mentor and a coach. As an HR professional I can help define objectives, strategy, action plans, help be an advocate and a mentor,” she said.
Her mentee learned well and under Lewis’ mentorship, the network grew from eight members to 48.
The work that Lewis has done over the years to welcome skilled immigrants and help them succeed hasn’t been out of a sense of altruism, despite the fact diversity is one of her personal values.
“As an HR business partner, diversity is a strategic way to broaden the talent base, build capability and achieve business results,” she said.