Foreign HR professionals bring new perspective

Conference highlights benefits
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/22/2010

When Kamal Joshi immigrated to Canada from India in 2004, he brought his family, his belongings and his HR training with him. But he left something behind.

“The day I landed in Canada, I left at the airport all my designations that I had back home because I moved to this new country and I was fully prepared for how I would like to grow here,” he said.

As an internationally educated professional (IEP), Joshi knew it wouldn’t be easy to transfer his education and experience to a new country. Although he worked in HR for seven years in India and held the position of HR head, reaching a similar role took some time in Canada. He started as an intern at Bell Canada and slowly climbed his way up the ladder. Now, he is the senior compensation consultant at Rogers Communications in Toronto.

Joshi was one of several who participated in an IEP conference in Toronto in June hosted by the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) and the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration.

The major challenge for HR IEPs coming to Canada is adapting to the new culture, said Mike Lipkin, president of public relations firm Environics/Lipkin in Toronto and MC of the conference. The culture in Canada is one of self-promotion, which can be especially difficult for someone from Africa, Asia or Eastern Europe where the culture frowns upon speaking up and challenging the status quo, he said.

Making this adjustment requires a complete attitude shift and a personal reinvention.

“If I was one person in my native country, when I land on the shores of Canada I should take the best of who I am and recreate that and sometimes reinvent myself from the ground up,” said Lipkin.

When Glem Dias came to Canada 11 years ago, he was torn between starting a new life and holding on to who he was in India. In the end, the director of strategic talent management at office services provider Pitney Bowes Canada in Mississauga, Ont., decided to embrace his new country and reinvent all aspects of his personal brand, including “online, internationally, internally and externally,” he said.

“I learned that our best days are ahead of us,” said Dias. “I am now planning for the next 10 years and I am always looking to reinvent myself. It’s a journey that continues.”

IEPs can have a successful transition into the Canadian HR profession if they keep a few things in mind. Being open and flexible are great ways to show employers your willingness and adaptability, said Marni Johnson, president of Workplace Communication & Diversity in Toronto. Networking, seeking a Canadian mentor and socializing with everyone (not just within your own culture) are great ways to integrate yourself into the Canadian workplace, she said.

HR IEPs are a real asset to a Canadian HR department, said Lipkin. The most important quality they bring is a new perspective that gives companies an edge in a competitive environment, he said.

“Having a different perspective, being able to be creative, being able to be innovative and then having the courage and energy to follow through on those ideas and perspective, that’s what the champion HR IEPs bring,” he said.

HR departments should be looking at HR IEPs as a preferable option to local Canadians, said Lipkin.

“When an HR IEP is put in a certain position, they tend to outperform their local counterparts because it took a huge amount of courage, energy, imagination and resourcefulness just to get to Canada,” he said.

Canadian HR professionals can help HR IEPs succeed by seeing themselves, the company and the country as part of a global village, said Lipkin. Employers should try to focus on the bigger picture.

“In my opinion, there’s no such thing as the Canadian experience,” said Lipkin. “There’s just experience that’s right for a company operating in a global environment, and the first thing HR hiring managers need to do is get rid of that obsolete bias.”

Hiring managers looking for the right fit might need to evolve their definition, said Lipkin. Even if an HR IEP doesn’t seem like the right fit on the surface, HR managers should consider hiring her since she may take a company in a new and positive direction.

“They’re going to stretch, expand and redefine the fit because who knows if the fit is where we should be,” said Lipkin. “The HR IEP may represent the future state of the organization and may help get it there faster.”

An inclusive recruitment team with individuals from various cultural backgrounds is important for every Canadian HR department, said Johnson. Employers should also ensure they are aware of the cultural differences and language barriers they may face in an interview. Overall, employers should be “more broad-minded when it comes to hiring,” she said.

There are many resources available to help HR IEPs integrate into the Canadian workplace. In Ontario, for example, the HRPA’s “alternative routes program” for the Certified Human Resources Professional designation fast-tracks verification of foreign education and experience.

Since Joshi moved to Canada, he has been constantly networking, expanding his knowledge of Canadian HR and reinventing himself, and his hard work has paid off. He was promoted four times in the last five years at Rogers, received the company’s 2009 employee of the year in human resources award and was recognized by the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.

This success is possible for HR IEPs new to Canada, as long as they keep one thing in mind, he said: “When you’re hired for a job, just be the best at it.”

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