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The Case for Hiring Refugees During a Humanitarian Crisis

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused the greatest humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War Two. Like so many others, I too have been deeply disturbed by the unfolding crisis and daily gut-wrenching images. With the number of refugees increasing by the millions, it is easy to feel a sense of helplessness when confronted by the unconscionable displacement of the Ukrainians.

But how can organizations (and indeed individuals) respond constructively to this refugee crisis that is engulfing Europe and beyond? As the New York Time reports, many companies across the world are now offering employment specifically to Ukrainian refugees. (1) These jobs range from high level specialist roles such as engineering to retail and factory work.

More than 200 companies have now posted employment opportunities on a platform specifically built by Adecco (recruitment firm) to match Ukrainian job seekers with prospective employers. Organizations like the Tent Partnership for Refugees, funded by the CEO of Chobani, Hamdi Ulukaya, work with organizations to hire refugees and to provide them with economic opportunities in the supply chain. Over 50 companies have signed onto their statement of support for Ukrainian refugees.

As I reflected on the current refugee crises, I was reminded of the example that I share in my book, Leading Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, about DHL DeutchePost, one of the world’s leading logistics company. They addressed their commitment to refugees to both benefit the business and to address social justice in the community.

In my book, the third principle of 5 principles is: And its Good Business Too. Any successful and sustainable transformation effort requires a coherent rationale for change. Without a compelling change narrative, most DEI efforts are likely to be unsuccessful. The most successful DEI change efforts embed DEI in their business model to be both purpose driven and to advance business outcomes. DHL did precisely this.

Why? Because the case for hiring refugees is clear.

Lower Turnover Rates

Refugees often seek stability after forced dislocation and have been shown to have higher employment retention and lower turnover rates. The Fiscal Policy Institute and the Tent Partnership for Refugees “found that 73% of U.S. employers interviewed... reported a higher retention rate for their refugee employees.” (2) These lower levels of employee attrition translate into lower recruitment costs, which are typically one fifth of an employee’s salary—a significant sav­ings for the business.

Filling the Talent Gap

“Many refugees arrive in Europe with a great diversity of skills, experience, and specializations that could make tan­gible contributions to the EU workforce.” (3) Given the talent shortage in Europe with an increasingly aging population, refugees are a skilled talent pool that organizations can draw on.

Increased Loyalty from Younger Generations

Research reveals that clients and customers gravitate to orga­nizations with initiatives that positively impact society. This is particularly true of the Millennial and Gen Z populations. 76% of Millennials “consider a company’s social and environmental contributions when deciding where to work,” and as a result, this generational cohort are more loyal both as workers and consumers to companies with socially responsible business practices. (4) Additionally, employees feel enriched by the opportunity to engage and support their refugee colleagues.

Financial Outcomes

Hiring refugees results in greater racial and ethnic diversity. McKinsey’s global “Why Diversity Matters” research finds that “organizations in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.” (5)

DHL has been supporting aid projects in Europe with a commitment to hire refugees for several years. Not only did DHL see a clear business case in hiring committed talent, but for them it was also about fairness and social justice. Their employees advocated for supporting refuges during the Syrian refugee crises in Europe in 2015. The company delivered language and professional development classes to over 12,000 refugees in Germany. In Sweden, forklift drivers were in great demand and through DHL’s refugee inclusion program, 9 out of 12 refugees passed a rigorous forklift drivers test in 2018. As a result, word spread through the refugee community and more refugees applied for these jobs. Over time, these committed hires were able to advance to take on greater responsibility in the company. Click here to watch a video highlighting DHL’s hiring of refugees.

The company tapped into a skilled and motivated talent pool, alleviating challenges caused by a talent shortage, while addressing a humanitarian crises by providing opportunities for refugees and increasing employee engagement and pride in their company.

DHL, reached out to recruit refugees combining both a business case with addressing fairness and equality, resulting in a tangible business outcome, as well as addressing social justice as illustrated in the visual below.

"And it's Good Business Too" is principle 3. Below are all 5 principles. The principles are simple yet disruptive. They are iterative and work in concert with each other as a holistic ecosystem. These principles can be applied with sensitivity to any culture.

The situation in Ukraine is urgent and I am encouraged to see organizations stepping up to support the refugees displaced as a result of this crisis. Organizations know that employing the Ukrainian refugees can address the talent shortage and also address a humanitarian crisis – doing good while doing well. While governments and organizations must do their part, each of us as individuals can play a role, however small that may seem. In the words of Mother Theresa:

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed one.”

To learn more about what you can do support Ukraine and those displaced click here. Let's each do our part.

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I am excited to be partnering with to promote a special giveaway of 20 copies of my book, Leading Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

The book has received some fantastic reviews on Amazon and has a rating of 5 stars on a 5 point scale.

The winners will be selected at random and be notified by the 15th April. Enter the giveaway now to be in the running for a free book!

Learn from My Experience

Live Q&A | May 26th @ 10am EST

I'm excited that on Thursday May 26, 2022 @ 10am EST I will be hosting my 6th Learn from My Experience session, a 1 hour live virtual Q&A session facilitated by Laura Shipler Chico, an actress and facilitator based in London.

I look forward to another engaging session and to answering your DEI questions. To register and submit a question for this session, please click on the link below.

Please do share the link with colleagues and friends who may be interested in joining and learning more about Global DEI.


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