It has been well documented that immigrants contribute disproportionately to entrepreneurship. This is true both in the United States, where they represent 27.5% of all entrepreneurs but only 13% of the population, and in many other countries around the world.
On average, immigrants contribute twice as much to U.S. entrepreneurship as native-born citizens do. But immigrants aren’t just creating more businesses; they’re creating more successful ones. A Harvard Business school study comparing immigrant-founded businesses to native-founded ones showed that immigrant-founded companies perform better in terms of employment growth over three- and six-year time horizons. The authors of the study, William R. Kerr and Sari Pekkala Kerr, conclude that immigrant-led companies grow at a faster rate and are more likely to survive long term than native-led companies are.
Why is this the case? Researchers are not completely sure, but as William Kerr has said, “The very act of someone moving around the world, often leaving family behind, might select those who are very determined or more tolerant of business risk.” It’s important to highlight that not all immigrants or non-immigrants are the same, and there is obviously a tremendous amount of variability between individuals. However, many of the qualities that would seem to make immigrants more likely to succeed in building their own businesses are reasons you should consider hiring them to help build yours.
Success in today’s business environment requires having a “growth mindset.” A person with a growth mindset believes their talents are not stagnant. They believe they can do more by working hard, coming up with good strategies, and taking input from others. Such people achieve more than individuals with a fixed mindset, who tend to think they were born only with certain innate talents, which are unlikely to change.
A concept closely related to that of “growth mindset” is that of an “immigrant mindset.” People who are willing to uproot their lives in search of something better are the types of people who are determined to make change happen themselves. To migrate to a new country also takes a high level of confidence in one’s ability to change and a high level of tolerance for uncertainty. More importantly, they believe in their ability to figure things out and adapt once they get there.
Being unafraid of new challenges and proactively reaching for them is extremely important for long-term business survival. Those companies that do not continually innovate and adapt along with advances in technology and changes in society eventually see their products or services fade in importance. Meanwhile, competitors, or simply new and better ways of working, replace them. Growth demands that businesses view change as imperative, not optional. Immigrants, who are veterans of change, would appear to be likely to help businesses remain competitive and thrive.
It requires adaptation skills to survive, let alone to thrive, in a new place. When you’re in a brand new culture, and especially if you’re learning a new language, the need for change isn’t a one-off, but rather a continual daily requirement. This is why even immigrants who might have come from wealthy or privileged backgrounds in their home country tend to quickly lose any sense of entitlement. Adapting can be a painful and difficult process, one that takes place on an ongoing basis. It forces a reexamination of the familiar and requires a person to make changes to how they think and act.
Dharmesh Shah, founder and CTO at HubSpot and an immigrant to the United States, writes about many of the changes he made on an ongoing basis in order to fit in, from getting rid of his accent, to changing his appearance, and even temporarily changing his name to David.
Here too, immigrants may offer a benefit for employers. Businesses are increasingly finding that rapid adaptation is necessary for success in today’s competitive environment. Hiring immigrants may help you build the organizational muscle of adaptability that will enable your company to be more receptive to, and act upon, the continual change that is required of businesses today.
Immigrants usually improve a company’s ethnic and linguistic diversity, and they also bring a plethora of unique experiences, backgrounds, and knowledge to the workplace. And companies are paying attention to research finding that firms with more diverse people on staff have healthier financial performance, largely because non-homogenous teams tend to outperform teams with lots of similar people.
But hiring a more diverse workforce is only half the equation. Without giving people equal chances to participate and truly integrating them into all aspects of the business, teams won’t reach a state of high performance very quickly, and the unique aspects of individuals won’t be leveraged to the highest degree. This is where inclusivity comes in.
Immigrants know what it feels like to be an outsider. Throughout my career, I have noticed that the people on my teams who have either immigrated to a new country or spent extensive time living abroad are highly sensitized to the fact that others might not feel included. They tend to be more inclined to promote an inclusive way of working than employees without this experience. They are also more aware that others might contribute different experiences from their own. So, they tend to be more willing to hear voices that might otherwise go unheard in a business environment. Because they have experienced what it’s like to be different first-hand, they can also be more likely to be in tune with the realities of discrimination, both blatant and the more pervasive subtle kind. This, in turn, may make them eager to help prevent their colleagues from experiencing it.
One of the most frequently overlooked benefits that immigrants bring to a business context is that they have international experience. Knowledge of other cultures and languages might not seem critical for a business that isn’t yet selling outside of its home country, but in order to keep growing, nearly every business hits a point at which they need to expand beyond borders. And today, with most businesses having an online presence, they are global from day one.
Most companies are not prepared to handle global business from day one. They orient their firm around the needs of their home market alone. And when they do go global, it’s usually a painful process filled with plentiful organizational learning and growing pains.
People who bring experience from a different country and cultural context may be more likely to prevent a company from having to deal with such pains, while accelerating the company’s organizational learning about how to become a global company. In my role at HubSpot, leading international expansion and strategy for the company, I’ve found that many of the employees who have immigration experience tend to think about potential international challenges much earlier. They’re not just thinking about the markets you’re in now and the customers have today. They have a more global outlook on life itself, and they bring this perspective to their daily work. They design processes and do their work in a way that prevents global friction later on as the business grows into new markets.
Here are some practical ways to make sure that your company is recruiting adaptive people with a growth mindset and cross-cultural experiences:
Invest in mobility and immigration expertise. Often, candidates who have immigrated might require additional support to ensure compliance with laws and regulations, especially where visas and work requirements are concerned. Make sure your legal team can support you with the ability to advise on the specifics in this area.
Add international or cross-cultural experience to your recruiting priorities. Clearly explain your priorities to your recruiting team. They can help add international experience as a desired quality in job descriptions, screening tools, and so on. You can also tell them to look for people who were born in your home country, but spent a good part of their lives living abroad or have other cross-cultural experience.
Flag people who know multiple languages. It’s not always easy to tell if someone came to your country from another just by looking at their resume, especially if they obtained higher education once they got here. Professional profiles, such as LinkedIn, enable you to filter by language to quickly find people with international experience. Also, consider adding language expertise to your existing systems, so that you can identify employees who might already have this without their managers being aware.
Keep an eye out for candidates with an adaptive mindset. You don’t have to be an immigrant to demonstrate many of the qualities that make immigrants successful in business. Give consideration to employees who don’t shy away from change and have a track record of choosing the foreign over the familiar. Look for people who have made major career pivots, have overcome unusual or significant challenges, or otherwise show signs of willingness to explore uncharted territory while adapting and thriving in the process.
Encourage employees to obtain international experience. If you have offices outside your home country, consider creating incentives for employees to spend more time in those offices. The expenses can add up, but nothing replaces the value of living and working in another country, no matter how long, to help them contribute in a more meaningful way to your business, especially if international business is a key part of fueling your overall global growth.