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What’s a Welcome Ambassador?

Katie Burke

Written for VentureWeb by Katie Burke

If you haven’t lived the immigrant or refugee experience, consider for a moment trying to get on your feet while learning the language, systems and cultural norms of a foreign country completely from scratch. Imagine your skills, experience, credentials, and education not being recognized and having to re-establish your professional path from zero.

The good news is, there’s nothing you need that you don’t already have to make a difference.

Want to be a change agent? Here are some simple things you can do to act as a welcome ambassador in your organization:

Widen your circle. You never know when someone’s been feeling invisible or ignored—try being that person who says hello to everyone. Go out of your way to make sure everyone who should be included is included in meetings, information sharing, activity planning and gatherings. And don’t forget your online circle—following a broad range of voices on social will help to start cultivating even more common ground.

Speak clearly (not loudly). English as a second language-speakers in your network might be processing information quickly and searching for the right words to express themselves. Be inclusive—not exclusive—by choosing clear, concise, and jargon-free language, and be mindful of moving too quickly.

Make space for all voices to be heard by explicitly encouraging equal participation in conversations and meetings. Model patience and active listening by letting everyone take the time they need to express themselves. Confirm when you understand or ask for clarity without getting hung up on delivery. Help a newcomer or a typically quiet participant gain status by giving credit wherever credit is due, from big wins to good ideas.

Challenge attitudes that you know are not right. The status quo never went away on its own without some discomfort. But, be sensitive to putting someone in the spotlight who doesn’t want to be in trying to support them. A true ally does the work to find out how they can be helpful without assuming they know best.

Be brave. Imagine the mental fortitude it takes to put yourself out there each day when the public and professional spaces you navigate don’t seem to fully understand or accept you. If immigrants and refugees can do this, you can be brave enough to put yourself out there to introduce yourself, offer a small kindness, ask questions (respectfully), and integrate feedback—both subtle and overt. You’ll make mistakes, and be better for it.

Cultural diversity isn’t just a complexity to navigate, it’s something we should aspire to in order for our communities and workplaces to better produce creativity, innovation, relevance and quality of outcomes. By being a welcome ambassador in your organization, you could help make the re-establishment process easier for someone deserving of an equal chance.

Do you have an immigrant/refugee story to tell? Share your experience with starting over in the full article comments here.

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