Companies stepping up to mentor refugee women

The Tent Partnership for Refugees announces 21 companies – so far – are participating in the women-focused initiative

The Tent Partnership for Refugees (Tent) – in partnership with Catalyst – is in the process of launching a U.S. mentorship initiative specifically for refugee women who are navigating their way into the workforce. Among the companies that have committed to participate are Accenture, Chobani, Etsy, Indeed, Ipsos, and Pfizer. Each company has committed to mentoring 50 refugee women or more over three years.

The mentoring period is six months. Various organizations recruit the women mentees and Tent matches the participants with companies.

“We will pair employees at companies with mentees based on a few different criteria – languages spoken, professional interests, location. And we provide a whole range of recommendations for the curriculum to cover,” says Scarlet Cronin, vice president of the Americas and global strategy, Tent. The first cohort of mentors and women mentees is expected to start working together in July.

Scarlet Cronin, vice president of the Americas and global strategy, Tent Partnership for Refugees

Tent is an international network of 300+ companies already committed to creating economic opportunity for refugees. The organization has previously announced mentoring initiatives for LGBTQ refugees and Afghan refugees who are matched with U.S. veterans.

‘The most loyal, the most dedicated, the most resilient’

“What we hear from companies is that refugees are among the most loyal, the most dedicated, the most resilient. These are people that risk their lives to come to a new country to provide for themselves and their families,” says Cronin. “The attributes these people have once they’re employed are what we would all want in the workforce.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, immigrants are 13.6% of the U.S. population – some of whom are refugees. It’s of note that more than 18% of this group make up the country’s workforce. The BLS reports regarding labor force participation – the rate is almost 66% for those born outside the U.S. versus 61.5% of the U.S.-born.

Cronin says, “There’s a whole set of challenges around knowing how to go about navigating to find a job. If one does land an interview, there’s a whole set of challenges around how to prepare for an interview. It’s obviously an American cultural thing to really sell yourself and to brag about yourself, to be really forward about your experiences. That isn’t always the culture in other countries.”

Cronin says refugee women face particular barriers to economic integration in the U.S., “We think about refugee women and they really do face a double disadvantage. Refugee women are, of course, women, so they face their own gender stereotypes, lower wages, not necessarily being in a culture where one is very forward about themselves and their backgrounds, child responsibilities, maybe being the one at home who’s responsible for aging parents. And then you add on that layer of what it’s like to be a refugee.”

‘As women, they have the balancing act’

“I think 80% of their barriers are consistent – male, female, young child – it doesn’t make a difference. Literacy is definitely a big one,” says Reena Roy, senior client officer at Ipsos, a multinational market research and consulting firm, and an Ipsos Foundation ambassador.

Ipsos has been a Tent partner since 2018 supporting refugee resettlement. In 2020, Ipsos signed on to Tent’s mentorship for refugees who are part of the LGBTQ community and is now waiting for the mentor/mentee match to support refugee women.

Mentee and mentor participants in Tent’s initiative to support LGBTQ refugees (Photo: Tent Partnership for Refugees)

Specific to women, Roy notes, “A lot of these women that arrive to this country have two consistent issues. Number one – they don’t have the skill to fend for themselves. The other is they have an education and a skill, but it’s not recognized.”

Roy echoes Cronin regarding the challenges faced by women, “As women, they have the balancing act. It’s like walking on a tightrope of being a mom, a wife, a sister, a daughter, and then trying to go out there and do something from a career standpoint or bring some additional income back home. Besides all the other overarching cultural assimilation, language barrier, unrealistic timelines for employment benefits when they get cut off, I think women – as a whole – tend to face these additional layers that need attention.

Reena Roy, senior client officer at Ipsos and an Ipsos Foundation ambassador

Being hired by Ipsos is a possibility as the company is an equal opportunity employer, according to Roy, but mentors are encouraged to reach out to their own contacts on behalf of their mentees to explore opportunities. That is one reason mentors are matched to mentees in cities where Ipsos employees are based so they can leverage local market networks and knowledge.

Cronin reiterates, “It might lead to a job. But we do ask that they [mentors] open up their social networks, that they encourage their peers to consider that woman for a job. It We haven’t quite gone down this road yet, but what more of a role might we play in terms of connecting these mentees that have gone through our program to employment?”

She notes, “The U.S. is seeing historic levels of forcibly displaced people coming here – whether that’s from Afghanistan, Ukraine, Latin America, or other parts of the world there’s a huge need. We know these are people that want to find jobs and integrate. Programs like this are one way to, hopefully, make that possible. But just to underscore the fact that people that are coming in through systems and processes in place.”

Roy says the company’s participation in these mentoring initiatives benefits the employees, not just the mentees, “From our perspective as a business, it creates a lot of empathy. We see within our mentors that they understand and bring that empathy to their work which means they are far more resilient. They’re far more grateful. They’re far more patient because they have another life’s perspective and a different value to that. We’ve heard our mentees tell us it’s been a gift.”