Attention FAE Customers:
Please be aware that NASBA credits are awarded based on whether the events are webcast or in-person, as well as on the number of CPE credits.
Please check the event registration page to see if NASBA credits are being awarded for the programs you select.

Want to save this page for later?

NextGen Magazine


Managers Can Assist First-Generation Americans Who Face Cultural Obstacles at Work

Ruth Singleton
Published Date:
Jul 5, 2023

iStock-475791139 Green Card Resident United States Immigrant

First-generation Americans may finding it difficult to succeed in the workplace because of cultural differences, consultant Bhavik R. Shah writes in the Harvard Business Review. For example, he notes that members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community may find it difficult to self-promote, as many have been raised to be humble and not to assert themselves in front of authority figures, as a sign of respect. But because self-promotion is often necessary to thrive in Western workplaces, they face a quandary. Managers have a role to play in creating environments where all employees can feel secure in raising their hands for support, Shah maintains.

Shah suggests three specific dimensions that contribute to a comprehensive approach to understanding an organization’s context, culture, and intent, so as to foster substantive inclusion. They are:

• Co-creating success as a team;

• Fostering communities with purpose; and

• Evaluating the effectiveness of feedback mechanisms.

Shah argues that using an approach encompassing all three dimensions can help leaders investigate prevailing processes to determine if the company climate integrates the differences that first-generation employees bring to the table, and allows them to be part of the decision-making process to achieve strategic objectives.

With regard to co-creating success as team, Shah suggests "first evaluating the level of collaboration and inclusion you provide for your own team. Commence reparative practices and invite all team members to define what success looks like for them. By doing so, you are providing first-generation employees the permission to relinquish their previous notions of the perfect employee, and create a culture of solidarity where they will be more likely to voice their opinions."

He notes that if managers continue to invite employees to offer opinions, the stigma against raising concerns "will slowly diminish. Further, maintaining these work relationships and reciprocally committing to meet each other’s needs will allow for an equitable decision-making process and boost morale among all team members."

Shah writes that fostering communities with a purpose may be the most important component of the inclusion assessment, "because it offers up a safe haven for first-generation employees to discuss how they navigate unique workplace stressors that only apply to them." He suggests setting up an employee resource group (ERG) led by a business sponsor who is already practicing inclusive leadership to lead the ERG with empathy and strategy.

As for evaluating the effectiveness of feedback mechanisms, Shah suggests that managers "actively analyze what type of culture they are promoting in order to retrieve an accurate glimpse of the work environment. Without this core component in psychological safety, employee engagement surveys will remain a false illusion of the organization’s actual reality."

Once there has been a careful examination of workplace practices, Shah writes, then seeking individual feedback by way of engagement surveys, team forums, or even via one-on-one meetings can help empower first-generation employees. "This continued course of action achieves a positive cycle of consistency where self-advocacy is encouraged, rather than expecting first-generation employees to overcome their reservations without the proper groundwork," he writes.

Shah concludes by noting, "As organizations continue to correct a flawed system by building inclusion for all communities, it is imperative to support those who may not be able to advocate for themselves. First-generation employees sit at a unique juncture in applying determination and diligence in a new era of work, continuously shifting between cultures. Organizations need to create an environment where we can shed our layers and authentically thrive in the hopes of creating a more equitable world."