The JGM BitBlog: Knock on the right door! Organizational culture, diversity management and career of skilled migrants in Sweden

Journal of Global Mobility

Ali Farashah, Mälardalen University, Västerås, Sweden

Tomas Blomquist, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

Among the dimensions of diversity, the Swedish society at large is mainly concerned with the issue of gender equality. This prioritization is a logical choice as women who historically had less opportunities and power include about half of the population. However, the Swedish society is becoming diverse in terms of national origin. Proportion of residents with a foreign background increased from 14.5 % in 2000 to 28.3% in 2020. The majority of this group are educated and are strongly tied to Sweden (e.g., have Swedish citizenships or are born in Sweden). Therefore, the cultural diversity at Swedish organizations is a contemporary issue of great importance and impact.

The Swedish culture is known as an individualistic culture and people prefer autonomy and independence. An individualistic culture implies that the relationship between employee and employer is contract-based on mutual advantage, and HR decisions are mainly based on competency of the employee. Interestingly, when it comes to the workplace, other dimensions of Swedish culture such as feminism and low power distance outweigh. Swedish working culture, unlike the private sphere, is distinguished with democratic decision-making, dialogue and consensus-building and pursuit of unity.

In an investigation of Swedish medium and large organization, we focused on the relationship between the culture and the cultural diversity management to see whether a meaningful relationship between these constructs is there. We identified five clusters. Expectedly, the largest cluster in Sweden included organizations with clan culture characterized by cohesion, collaboration, and commitment in the form of teamwork, participation, and consensus. These organizations mainly utilize homogeneity strategy for cultural diversity. Their selection and promotion decisions are mainly based on the cultural capital of the candidate/employee. This means they prefer a typical Swedish mentality, an individual that has Swedish as mother tongue and is able to understand and conform with the societal shared norms and values. The cultural capital is necessary to make a relationship with and serve the local customers and manage the domestic operation of such organizations. This might negatively affect the employment and career of migrant job workers, particularly, for newcomers as mastering the language and culture is a slow and lengthy process. Therefore, this type of organization should not be the target for migrant jobseekers at their early career in Sweden. We like to emphasize that the typical Swede here is not referring to typical physical characteristics but mentality, communication, and behavior.

But there is also some good news. There are clusters that provide plenty of opportunities for employment and career development of workers with a migrant background.  The Adhocracy culture cluster is an example. Businesses in this cluster emphasize creativity, change and risk-taking. This cluster considers migrant workers as a source of competitive advantage since they can offer new perspectives for problem-solving and can foster innovation due to their foreign experiences and training. This cluster employs international talents and utilizes intensive internal training and mentorship for personal development of employees. Multinational and larger companies with lots of resources and global operations are mainly in this cluster and can be the first employer of a newly arrived migrant with international qualifications. 

There are even organizations where migrant workers have an advantage due to their unique competencies. In some of the organizations with a market culture, serving the diverse customers, is the main target the qualified migrant workers due to their bicultural identity that can fulfill this task most effectively. Migrant workers in market-oriented organizations are employed frequently as cultural brokers, in jobs for which a dual cultural background is an asset. At the Swedish employment office, an HR coach from Syria familiar with the educational system and labor market of Syria can assist fellow Syrians regarding the job seeking strategies and activities. A Polish-Swedish person is probably the most qualified candidate as sales manager for a Swedish business that wants to enter that eastern European market. 

It appears that, at the organizational level, there is a relationship between the culture and cultural diversity management. This relationship is polymorphous and occurs in various forms in various clusters depending on the demographic characteristics of the business, the market structure, and the strategic structure and focus of the business. Skilled migrants need to be aware of such differences and target a cluster matched to their developments in re-establishing their career in a new country.

To read the full article, please see the Journal of Global Mobility publication (OPEN ACCESS):

Farashah, A. and Blomquist, T. (2021), "Organizational culture and cultural diversity: an explorative study of international skilled migrants in Swedish firms", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 9 No. 2, pp. 289-308.