How Being an Immigrant Has Made Me a Better Business Leader
As someone who has lived experience as an immigrant in America, there’s a drive that’s been ingrained into me since I was a child.
I didn’t grow up with the same cultural norms as my peers in South Florida. Lured by the promise of the American Dream, my parents immigrated with my brother and me to the U.S. from Jordan in the late ‘80s.
Even at a young age, I recognized there were learning curves. I spoke fluent Arabic and had to learn English. Then, of course, there were the differences I noted between what was deemed acceptable by my mom versus the new society I was living in.
While my friends were at summer camp, for instance, my mom insisted my brother and I attend summer school because it was free continuing education, and given the associated costs, there wasn’t really another option. One thing was clear: Opportunity was not to be wasted.
Millennials are the first generation expected to be worse off financially than their parents—with one exception: immigrants. A 2019 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed children of immigrants are more likely to experience upward mobility in the workplace than children of those born in the U.S.
While those statistics may surprise some, as the child of an immigrant, they make perfect sense to me. A recent study from Gallup showed that while the majority of Americans still largely support immigration, a growing minority want to see it curtailed. When asked if immigrants hurt or hinder the country economically, the report showed public opinion was split.
As someone who has lived experience as an immigrant in America, there’s a drive that’s been ingrained into me since I was a child. Here are three ways my experience as an immigrant has helped me create upward mobility.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CAPITALIZING ON AN OPPORTUNITY
From an early age, I was taught to capitalize on opportunities we wouldn’t have otherwise had in Jordan. So when someone opened up a door for me, I shouldered the responsibility and felt the pressure of not letting them down—a trait that has shaped my work ethic to this day.
Many immigrants come to America without education or money, but with the motivation to not waste opportunity and to provide for their families. In fact, research by Princeton and Stanford has shown that, “Children of first-generation immigrants growing up in the poorest 25 percent of the distribution end up near the middle as adults.”
When we’re hiring for a position at our company, we look for people who have overcome some kind of adversity. In fact, approximately 50% of our employees are immigrants or children of immigrants. I accredit our diverse workforce as a competitive advantage that has allowed us to successfully compete against multinational telecommunication giants in our industry. Our core value is grit, and when we set out to achieve a goal, even if the path hasn’t yet been carved out, nothing stands in our way.
THE VALUE OF BUILDING SOCIAL CAPITAL
Coming from an underprivileged upbringing, I recognized early on that everyone deserves to be treated with respect. I also relied closely on my network to help me get ahead.
My mother was fiercely selective and often critical of who we were allowed to associate with. Getting good grades in school was the baseline of what was expected, and she ensured the peers we hung out with had similar values and expectations.
These experiences served as early lessons in the value of building social capital. Decades of research have shown social capital—the concept of establishing trusted relationships and shared norms—has clear benefits, both to individuals and to organizations that are successful at establishing it.
In fact, a recent study by McKinsey revealed employees who establish social capital are two times more likely to feel supported by senior leaders toward career advancement and one and a half times more likely to report being engaged at work.
Today, I work with some of the largest companies on Earth, and while I’m direct by nature, I’m also respectful of every person I come into contact with from janitors to CEOs. This inherent understanding of the importance of making connections and being respectful in every interaction is a key trait for achieving upward mobility.
THE ART OF NEGOTIATING A CROSS-BENEFICIAL DEAL
Jordan is a barter and trade society and my mother was a master at making deals. I spent my summers working alongside her at the flea market, selling everything from fruits to clothing to electronics to whatever was in demand at the time. At the ripe age of 10, I probably had more successful trade deals under my belt than many Americans will ever have in their lifetimes.
I learned the importance of being selective in who you partner with and finding ways to make a deal scale for everyone involved—lessons I draw from to this day in my role as a CEO. Negotiation skills are valuable in any career, from advocating for a well-deserved promotion or compensation bump to ensuring your ideas are considered in collaborative decision-making.
And in times of work-life conflict, which we all inevitably face, research shows negotiating your work conditions can be critical in staying gainfully employed and moving forward in your career.
It’s no coincidence that almost 45% of America’s Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Some of the smartest people in the world come from foreign countries, looking for opportunities in America. This presents a great opportunity to grow our economy and enrich our workforce with a diversity of talent that helps propel upward mobility.
Content from this post was originally featured in Fast Company.
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