(Migrants’ Rights Network) Diversity in the Migration Third Sector: Practicing What We Preach

by , under Sara de Jong

Has the migration third sector got a problem with diversity? Do migrant and ethnic minority staff find it tough to break out of front-line roles and into management? A recent survey takes a look at the situation in the UK, the Netherlands and Austria to find out.

Näyttökuva 2016-8-30 kello 9.41.50

Does the migration third sector practice what it preaches? Is there an inclusive and diverse ‘mini-world’ inside migration NGOs?  The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’

I carried out more than 60 interviews with migrant and ethnic minority staff, especially refugees, in the UK, the Netherlands and Austria, for the EU funded BrokerInG project. It’s clear that to get to a resounding ‘Yes’, we need to listen to what they say and acknowledge the obstacles to diversity in the migration third sector.

Some might say we have more urgent things to worry about. The lack of political solidarity in supporting refugees; plummeting funding; staff insecurity; and forced false choices, such as between political autonomy and financial security. Key issues and understandable as these are, they are no justifications for not doing something serious about staff inclusion and diversity.

What are the obstacles and challenges?

The migrant third sector organisation has become an important niche for highly educated refugees who face difficulties gaining access to the labour market. At the same time, migrant third sector organisations reflect the feminisation of labour in the third sector and gender and racial hierarchies in society.

Case worker level jobs are typically occupied by ethnic majority female staff and ethnic minority and migrant staff. Directors and managers are generally non-migrant white male. If organisations are slimming down, minority staff are often at risk.

Still face barriers

The interviews show that the success of refugees in getting paid jobs depends on volunteering opportunities, migrant role models and explicit encouragement, such as vacancies inviting refugees to apply. These examples can – and should – be used to make management more diverse.

That means recognising that migrant staff still face barriers in the job market. One refugee staff members from Zimbabwe described  going to a meeting where people think “she is one of the asylum seekers. Or a meeting where you are the only black person and wonder whether your contributions will be welcomed or not.”

Another  highly-educated refugee with long work experience in the sector told me: “I do have a good job now, but deep inside me I think I could have been the director. But with my language, you hear that I am not from here. So I do not dare to apply for a director position”.

Inclusion is not ‘ethnic matching’

We need to ask why front-line roles tend to be more diverse than coordinating and management roles. The recognition that migrant staff can bring different skills and knowledge risks them being reduced to language skills and ‘cultural competences’.

Inclusion is not ‘ethnic matching’ between client and case worker, or the (understandable) cost-saving measure where minority case workers act as interpreters. The experience of flight, loss of status, discrimination, and navigation in new environments is just as, if not more, important. This knowledge should not merely be applied to client counselling. It can feed into organisational practice, by recognising the blind spots that inevitably come in a homogenous organisation.

What do we mean by ‘professional’

Effective, embodied knowledge that is in tension with the ideal of the neutral professional worker, means asking what we mean by ‘professional’, ‘accountable’, and ‘setting boundaries’. One black refugee worker and former client said: “When I saw Kenyan men that were working for Refugee Council, it was actually reassuring, in a way that I can’t explain, just to see them, because they understand what you are going through.”

Another compared the refugee experience to pregnancy: “A pregnant woman knows that this is the way she should be walking. People have read and studied, people have heard testimonies [about asylum], but it is totally different from somebody who has gone through the process, because you know exactly what it means.”

Target-driven climate

In an increasingly target-driven climate, where all staff come under pressure to see as many clients as possible within a fixed time frame, care and emotional labour gets undervalued, but penalised. In a migration regime that holds up certain norms of integration, migrant and ethnic minority staff risks being held up as ‘model migrants’, disciplining individual clients to be resilient and adaptive.

So, diversity in the migration third sector is not a luxury or an afterthought once other crises have been resolved. Instead, it goes to the heart of broader issues and challenges faced by the migration third sector.

Download the Third Sector Dissemination Brochure of the Research Results ‘Employing the Cultural Broker in the Governance of Migration and Integration’, 2016

Read original posting here.

This piece was reprinted by Migrant Tales with permission.