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Shared interests facilitate integration in companies

How do Swedish global companies receive highly qualified migrants? This autumn a large comparative study will start in 11 different countries. “It’s essential to get beyond the group formations,” says Lena Zander, Professor of Business Studies, who is heading the project in Sweden.

Zander has long specialised in cross-cultural research.
PHOTO: SARAH THORÉN

Lena Zander has long specialised in cross-cultural research on leadership and teams.  Her new project focuses on highly educated migrants. How can one address integration issues and help these migrants find their feet in a new company and a new country?

“We often look at integration from an individual perspective, but research on migrants in small companies in Austria and Germany shows that integration is largely dependent on companies’ behaviour. This involves both their attitudes to diversity and their corporate culture,” says Zander.

The upcoming study takes the research a step further and covers 11 different countries, including Sweden. It is a comparative study in which the same questionnaire will be sent to large companies in the different countries.

The findings will then be followed up by means of in-depth studies by Zander herself and a new doctoral student at the Department of Business Studies.

Overcoming cultural differences

Previous research has shown that people have a tendency to divide into groups, which leads to conflicts. Zander is interested in cases where integration works well, despite differences, large and small, in areas ranging from language to values and attitudes towards leadership.

“I’m interested in how individuals from different groups find one another despite cultural differences. Often, they are linked by shared interests or values. Is this a result of individual personalities or are patterns discernible at group level?”

In a previous study she received different answers from managers in different parts of the world. In northern Europe, many people thought individual interests like sport and culture were an important factor for cohesion, while in other parts of the world, religious matters or a shared historical background were considered most important.

“What sort of shared interests can surmount the stereotypes so that we see the individuals and get beyond the group formations? That’s what I’d like to go further into. The results could be helpful not just for companies but also at a societal level, for example in schools,” says Zander.

A growing group of migrants

While there is a lot of research on interculturalism and integration, relatively little attention has been paid to highly educated migrants. But this group is growing.

“More and more people are coming here from different countries around the world and applying for highly qualified jobs. They may come here, bringing their knowledge, in search of a future for their family or because they are interested in the specific company. The question is whether their reason for coming also plays a role in their integration.”

The project starting this autumn will yield a good deal of comparative material at a societal level as well, as the various countries differ in their approaches to cultural differences and migration.

“The study will apply individual, company and societal perspectives. It involves an intriguing mix of countries – Sweden has similar conditions to some of them but differs from others, such as the UK. We will have interesting results to present,” says Zander.

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Facts:

The research programme “Migration and integration: Highly qualified migrants’ cultural integration in Swedish global companies” starts this autumn and will last for three years.

In Sweden, two research projects are being funded as part of the programme, one by the Torsten Söderberg Foundation and the other by the Jan Wallander and Tom Hedelius Foundation and the Tore Browaldh Foundation (the Handelsbanken research foundations).

The countries included in the project are Australia, Austria, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Annica Hulth

2017-08-17