Immigrants should assimilate

A current re-analysis of Eurobarometer data by the OECD reveals that European public opinion expects immigrants to blend into their future home countries. This understanding of integration of migrants has implication for D&I, as our considerations show.

The large-scale Eurobarometer survey of the EU provides a rare opportunity to understand and compare public opinion in key D&I areas. Hence, the latest re-examination of the “Integration of immigrants in the European Union” data, which was carried out by the OECD, offers interesting insight into the state of EU society and societies as it relates to cultural and ethnical diversity, and origin.

3 steps to successful integration

Across Europe, the top three dimensions for a successful integration are

  • the ability to speak the country’s language
  • the contribution to the welfare system by paying taxes
  • the commitment to the way of life by accepting the values and norms of the host country’s society

The results, however, also show that European respondents have high expectations about integration. “Citizens want their new neighbors to assimilate and contribute from day one”, the European D&I Engineer, Michael Stuber, observes, “while they seem to be less aware of the value additional diversity adds to their society”. He questions if the respondents themselves would be willing and able to dive into another culture themselves, even during a holiday trip.

Sorry, we don’t speak foreign

The OECD analysis shows language is rated the highest average score in 15 out of 25 countries and second highest score in seven more countries, including Germany. On the one side, the importance of language is obvious: we use it to communicate with and understand each other. Depending on the country or culture, language also may have a deep cultural value – for example in France, Poland, Spain or, with additional dynamics, in the former Yugoslavian countries. “Requiring foreigners to speak the local language is a coded request for them to subordinate themselves to the culture”, Stuber explains. Mother tongues are used to protect identity and multi-linguism is considered a threat. “Companies experience similar dynamics when they introduce a lingua franca – usually English”, he adds. However, this and multilinguism is essential to develop business and to open our minds to other cultures, he adds.

Read more about the financial impact of foreign language skills

Experience to engage with ‘the unknown’

The survey also confirms that people that maintain contact to immigrants tend to have a more positive opinion about integration in their own country, but are nevertheless often skeptical about immigration as such. However, the chance of seeing immigration as a benefit increases up to 12 percent when having immigrants as family or friends, compared to not having these relationships. This shows once more, that constructing the unknown in a homogeneous environment prevents us from recognizing benefits from Diversity.

A study from the University of Bremen found that intercultural (and interreligious) conflicts and prejudices improve through dialogues, which can even generate ties of friendship. By getting to know each other outside of their daily workspace, the participants in the study were able to develop a more holistic understanding of each other – eventually fostering open-mindedness.

Both studies underpin the importance of a broader and deeper interaction across differences beyond having a token friend. “For D&I, this is a clear advice to re-think simple celebration events”, Stuber comments, “for cultural transformation requires reflection and experience over time.”

Read more about dialogues between Christians and Muslims and on the importance of open-mindedness in D&I

Exploitation vs. saving our welfare

The OECD analysis also highlights the fiscal element of integration and found that ‘contributing to the welfare system’ ranked second as an overall perceived sign of integration. In eight countries, this aspect ranked first, and second in fifteen more. The finding illustrates the persistent myth that ‘migrants live of the state / our money’ and eventually ‘take away employment’. Both were busted by several studies but are too easy to belief – and hence stay around.

Read more about post truth dynamics within D&I

ReConsider your values and ReInvent your Norms

The OECD analysis shows that committing to the way of life, the norms and values of the host country, is ranked third or higher in 12 countries. This finding is most remarkable for a few reasons:

  • in most countries and let alone for the EU as a whole, norms and values have not been identified or defined beyond basic legal rules (unlike in many companies) and there is little agreement across societies what these shared norms or values should be
  • explicit norms in the EU include specific rights based on various diversity grounds

Ironically, minorities including immigrants, find it relatively easy to identify implicit rules and related privileges while dominant mainstream groups need to be made aware. This shows two similarities to corporate D&I work where ‘cultural fit’ often serves as an implicit criterion and where dominant groups need to be made aware of existing barriers and biases.

Read more about the power of norms  and about culture fit and Diversity

Conclusions for D&I practitioners

The perceived importance of language for societal integration shows both the wish to protect identity and to request adaptation with built-in disadvantage. Combined with the expectation to adhere to non-explicit (aka imagined) norms and values, this creates a hierarchy in which Diversity cannot be easily turned into a benefit for all. But that, in turn, is another expectation from the general European public. Data seem to suggest that Europe is not well-prepared to continue to make the most of additional diversity and secure its welfare in the future.

For Diversity & Inclusion practitioners the insights reconfirm that

  • Equal opportunities, e.g. regarding languages, are an essential pre-requisite for D&I to possible be successful. In many situations, this may mean that we all talk in our second (or third) language…
  • Positive experiences through exposure facilitate a development process toward the required open-mindedness
  • Myths are toxic elements in any system and provide barriers to development
  • Highlighting the benefits for all fosters the readiness to consider learning and changes
  • Implicit norms must be identified and then reflected collectively in order to be either verified or developed