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People & Org Design

Creating an Inclusive and Welcoming Workplace for Foreign Employees

This is the experience of a foreign employee working within an Italian company. Through the lens of Livia, a team member, we can get a lowdown on what makes the company culture tick, from informal events to work dynamics.

Livia Stevenin
February 21, 2024
minutes read

In an era of globalization, the workforce is undergoing a transformation characterized by increasing diversity. Employees now come from various corners of the world, making workplaces more inclusive than ever. However, with this inclusivity come challenges and opportunities for foreign employees and their employers. The central question remains: how can companies foster a more inclusive environment for their foreign workforce?

Value of Foreign Employees: Advantages in a Global Workforce

Starting a new chapter of my life as a Brazilian UX/UI designer in an Italian company and embarking on this journey for the second time in a predominantly Italian-speaking work environment was a blend of excitement and apprehension. The fear of not fitting in, being on the outskirts of inside jokes or missing the essence of conversations was daunting. Yet, I was equally eager to contribute, share the vibrant nuances of my Brazilian culture, infuse diverse topics into our chats, and enrich our design discussions with unique references from my background.

My experience as a Brazilian in Italy is a testament to the value of embracing a foreign workforce. It opens the door to fresh perspectives and innovative solutions, something I live and breathe as a designer. Foreigners' multilingual skills not only bridge communication gaps with international clients, making us an invaluable asset to the team but also allow us to help our colleagues polish their English, fostering a more inclusive and global work culture.

As foreign employees, we bring a natural adaptability to new environments, showcasing our quick learning capabilities and readiness to embrace change. This adaptability has been my driving force, pushing me to embrace new challenges and seize growth opportunities. My journey highlights the critical role of diversity in fostering creativity and innovation within the workplace, demonstrating that by bringing our authentic selves to our roles, we unlock a realm of possibilities for both ourselves and our organizations.

Navigating Challenges Abroad: the Struggles Faced by Foreign Employees

Embarking on this journey, I was acutely aware of the myriad of challenges ahead, not just in adapting to a new work culture but also in bridging a significant cultural gap on a personal level. My fears often overshadowed the excitement of contributing to a diverse work environment.

One of my most significant apprehensions was the language barrier. Despite my proficiency in English and my efforts to learn Italian, I worried that I might not be able to articulate my ideas as effectively as my native colleagues, potentially leading to my work being perceived as less valuable. This fear extended to client interactions; I was anxious about gaining the trust and authority needed to handle clients and establish myself as a credible designer within the team.

Moreover, I was concerned that my unique cultural identity and perspectives might be diluted as I strived to assimilate into the company's culture. There was a constant battle within me, a fear of losing my essence to fit in better. I also felt the need to work twice as hard to prove my worth as a competent designer and show that my value extended beyond being a mere translator.

In this context, creating an inclusive work environment becomes crucial. It's about fostering a space where differences are celebrated and every team member, regardless of background, can feel valued and understood. Companies looking to embrace foreign employees fully must go beyond surface-level inclusivity to understand and integrate diverse perspectives into the company fabric. This means creating opportunities for meaningful exchanges, offering language support, and actively working to eliminate biases that might hinder a foreign employee's full participation and growth.

As I navigated through these challenges, I found that openness, resilience, and the willingness to share and learn from each other were vital. It's about building a workplace where everyone can bring their whole selves to work, contribute their unique ideas, and feel genuinely appreciated, regardless of where they come from. While fraught with challenges, this journey has also been incredibly rewarding, allowing me to grow professionally and personally, expanding my worldview and enriching my design work with a blend of cultures.

Creating Inclusive Spaces for Foreign Employees at Buildo

Here are some initiatives I have observed at Buildo as a foreign employee that have not only made me feel included and welcomed but also unveiled numerous possibilities for fostering this sense of belonging:

  • Language Inclusivity: One seemingly minor yet profoundly impactful step entails giving foreign employees the choice of language between the company's native tongue and English (mainly if English is not the default language). This eases the pressure on foreign employees as they express their thoughts while still navigating the local language. Recognizing that not all foreign employees have mastered the local language, offering language support programs that enhance their communication skills for both professional and social interactions is pivotal.
  • Cultural Appreciation: Making foreign employees feel that the company is open to learning more about their culture and language can foster a sense of belonging. Homesickness often plagues foreigners, and they relish any opportunity to share their cultural roots. At Buildo, we organized an event called 'Taste of Brazil: Culture, Cuisine, and Dance' to promote culture and integration among employees. I had the opportunity to share my culture fun and excitingly, including a quiz to test my co-workers' knowledge about my country, teaching a native dance, and explaining our food and history. This event made me proud of my culture and the fact that I could share it with my co-workers.
Employees dancing a traditional Brazilian dance knows as "Quadrilha".
Employees participating in a quiz about Brazilian culture.
  • Implementing social moments: Buildo encourages a strong sense of community, promoting events and outings that foster integration and offer an opportunity to interact without the constraints of the corporate environment. These events allow employees to share more about their lives, express their feelings, and engage in discussions unrelated to work.
Employees getting ready together to dance.
Employees enjoying the Brazilian food
  • Recognition and Celebration: Cultivating a culture of recognition and celebration for the contributions of foreign employees is essential, especially during their initial integration phase. For instance, their linguistic skills and willingness to learn new languages greatly benefit the company. When a company can handle translations internally, it enhances its value, and acknowledging this contribution is a meaningful way to show appreciation. However, it's essential to avoid overburdening employees with translation tasks and recognize their broader contributions. In my experience, I took the initiative to demonstrate my value, even though I wasn't initially assigned translation duties. This proactive approach was well-received and acknowledged by my colleagues.
  • Mentorship and Support: Mentoring foreign employees by individuals who understand their challenges and are willing to assist rather than being frustrated by language barriers can be transformative. Mentors can expedite their integration into the workplace and provide invaluable language development support, including language training and feedback opportunities.
  • Constant and correct feedback: When appropriately applied, feedback is a powerful tool for personal and professional growth. It is imperative to provide an environment in which foreign employees can receive healthy and constructive feedback not only about their language skills but also about their work and behaviour. Different cultures have distinct customs, and while it is essential to respect these differences, it is equally vital to elucidate local customs, notably if they are clashing and causing issues within the company. Promoting open channels for feedback allows all employees to express their concerns healthily without bottling up their feelings.

When a company fosters a welcoming atmosphere for foreigners, it should extend to all employees and become an integral part of its culture. At Buildo that's not just some special program for people from abroad; it's the standard way we welcome everyone who joins us. Making sure everyone feels included from day one is a big priority for us, and it's baked into everything we do here.

For those seeking a similar company culture, it's essential to be aware of red and green flags during the initial contact, such as interviews. Here are some tips based on my personal experience. Ask questions about language programs and activities within the company; Observe their reaction to your language skills. Are they getting annoyed? Do they not let you finish your thoughts and want to proceed fast? Red flag! Assessing their willingness to help in these moments is a crucial indicator. It is essential to ensure they understand your challenges and are genuinely committed to supporting your growth and improvement. By addressing these challenges and implementing inclusive practices, companies can create an environment where all employees can thrive regardless of their backgrounds. Embracing diversity benefits foreign employees and enriches the organization as a whole.

Livia Stevenin

Livia is a designer at Buildo, with competence in UI, UX, and design systems. Her Brazilian background adds a valuable layer of cultural diversity and perspective to the team. She is driven by her passion for research and collaborating with others to deliver top-quality projects.

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