How Workplaces Can Support Refugee Women

Offer and actively connect immigrant women to relevant resources.

Given how acculturative stress already impacts these women, organizations need to invest in a robust workplace well-being program. Companies can be crucial in directing immigrant women to services they need. These include domestic violence hotlines, shelters, financial well-being contacts and referrals, legal expertise for documentation and visa processing, schooling, child care, and other resources devoted to emotional, economic, and physical well-being.

Build awareness of their challenges through an intersectional lens.

Refugee women are far more disadvantaged than native women as they are less resilient financially and socially. A report on Immigrant Women’s Experiences of Acculturative Stress reveals how visible immigrant women of color experience far greater exclusion from ordinary privileges than non-visible immigrant women. This type of exclusion is as detrimental to psychological health as more overt forms of discrimination. Leaders must also recognize that these immigrant women might not fit society’s stereotypes, so one-size-fits-all solutions might fall short.

Consider benefits that can make a difference.

The disproportionate burden of home chores and family responsibilities has squeezed women during the pandemic, leaving them exhausted and anxious. That burden is especially encumbering for refugee women as many can’t turn to outside help — they typically lack a support system of family and friends that is more readily available to native women. Since most refugee women fall within low salary bands, affordable child care is often out of reach. Refugee women also face double financial ramifications and are already behind men in terms of pay, pension, and health insurance.

Assign “assimilation buddies.”

Allocating “assimilation buddies” can help refugee women feel included, respected, and valued.

Embrace language, skills training, and other educational opportunities.

Critical gaps in tailored skills development can impact the ability of refugee women to realize their full potential as leaders. Education is one influencing factor of labor market integration, primarily through diplomas/certifications and work experience. In general, first-generation immigrants tend to have lower skill levels than the native population, with refugee women being the most poorly educated. These low levels of education greatly influence a refugee woman’s employment prospects and constitute a principal obstacle to integration.

Recognize and celebrate their national days, festivals, and holidays.

Sometimes, differences in lifestyle and values can lead immigrant women, particularly women of color, to be unintentionally excluded as outliers. To help them reconnect with their roots and own their heritage with pride, make a conscious effort to celebrate their cultural and religious holidays. This intention and respect can facilitate positive representation and help colleagues feel included and valued.

Establish safe spaces.

Employees feel secure when they are part of affinity groups with members who share the same fears and challenges. Therefore, providing them with opportunities to be vulnerable and share their challenges in a safe space that encourages open and candid conversations is essential. This safe space is essentially a place where they can freely express their point of view and listen to other perspectives without judgement or blame.

Showcase role models.

“I cannot visualize and aspire to be at some level if I do not have examples in front of me,” confessed a client I recently coached. It’s a sentiment we can all likely identify with, but even more so for immigrant women. Spotlight success stories of immigrants that have boldly overcome challenges and penetrated leadership ranks/upper echelons of workplace power to promote a narrative and culture of inclusion and optimism. Immigrant women who ascend to leadership positions signal that all women can progress and succeed within that organization despite their immigration status.

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