Irma Vartanian Balian is a trusted Consultant to corporations and professionals on developing their Cultural Intelligence, Communication and People Skills, Leadership Brand, and Motivational Drive in a diverse environment. She also provides leadership training to women across cultures. Irma mentors and empowers emerging women leaders in the WIL foundation. She has a background in Pure Mathematics, with a Master’s in Business Administration, and a Master’s in Protocol and Soft Diplomacy. She’s a certified ICQ Global DISC and Growth 2.0 practitioner with work experience in the corporate world of over 25 years.
Article by Denise Young MAct who offers empowering Keynotes, Training and Facilitation services to a variety of organizations in areas of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Leadership and Communications.Development
Immigrating to another country can be exciting but also imitating at the same time. Irma Vartaina Balian immigrated to Canada last month. Irma was my mentor in the WIL mentorship program and she inspired me with her advice on what she has done to make the transition easier as well as advice on what organizations can do to support immigrants.
Denise: Tell us a bit about yourself, Irma?
Irma: I was born in a Patriarchal conservative society but luckily raised in a family with an ambitious successful father who thought that knowledge is power, money is a tool for comfort, integrity is a high virtue, life challenges are there to shape our character, the women are as capable as men and that hard work and persistence pay off even when some take no for an answer.
I have lived, studied and worked in North America, Europe and the Middle East. My curiosity and respect for everything that’s beyond the ‘norm’ or what is ‘usual’ to me, helped me see things from another perspective and exposed me to new horizons which I didn’t even know existed before.
As a trusted consultant for corporate professionals, my expertise entails Cultural Intelligence, Communication and People Skills for leaders and executives at all levels.
Denise: You recently immigrated to Canada. What was your experience coming to Canada?
Irma: As an intercultural consultant, immigrating to Canada is an exciting project for me and a wonderful story which I love sharing about!
Once the decision to move to Canada was clear, I decided to fall in love with Canada! I convinced myself that Canada is my Utopia and I chose to see only the good things this amazing country can offer me and my family. The downsides which I can’t think of right now, are facts of life, just like everywhere else.
I researched everything related to my new home, the mystery of the weather, the quality of schools, the lifestyle I want to live, the places I want to visit, the things I want to learn and the experiences I want to live. I was all ears about positive advice from friends and family living in Montreal.
Although I somewhat knew, but I was still grateful for all the accurate information provided online by the Canadian Government on its official sites. I quickly got familiar with what I need, without having to depend on second opinions. Canada is an amazing country and I consider living here a blessing!
Denise: What were the challenges?
Irma: The repercussions of the pandemic are still creating delays in appointment bookings and shortages of staff. Even if one plans ahead, things can still get postponed. In the meantime, my free time gave me the opportunity to explore more.
Otherwise, my main challenge is still finding and leasing the car that I want, given that I have no credit history here. But that too can be solved.
Denise: What do you feel helped your transition, what were the successes?
As soon as I arrived, I made contacts with communities and social groups I’m familiar with. I attended a couple of meetings and whoever I met with, I made sure to let them know that I’m a newcomer. It’s amazing how people responded warmly. Even when I didn’t end up as friends, I was able to get a lot out of these friendly conversations. People are helpful, in their own capacities. There is always something to learn from every experience, every acquaintance and every encounter. I’m curious and I ask questions, I share my genuine, non-judgmental perspective and people appreciate hearing about another way of thinking.
My background in soft diplomacy was a great help when I needed to negotiate or even get things done from administrative people.
Immigrants need to absorb the culture they are exposed to. As soon as I arrived, I avoided making comparisons with where I come from. If that’s hard for some, at least avoid doing it in the beginning, because it helps to focus your positive energy on the present, to live in the moment and be efficient. I tell my children to look at all the memories they are building now and the fun they will get out of sharing about their integration period one day when they look back.
Setting up reasonable daily goals, showing respect and humility, lowering my expectations and kindly sharing my humane concerns at times, worked wonders for me.
Denise: What would you recommend to companies to support immigrants?
Avoid looking at new-comers or immigrants as less just because they lack local experience. Many who have just arrived here are still in the learning process, and being unfamiliar with the know-how of company procedures should not be held against them as professionals.
Once they become as part of the team, their performance and contributions must be treated fairly. They are valuable assets to the company and must therefore be appreciated and compensated accordingly.
Diversity and Inclusivity go hand in hand. Immigrants must feel welcomed to bring their authentic selves at work. Companies must be clear and transparent about the business norms adopted and expectations must be discussed clearly beforehand, so that there is no room for misinterpretation, misbehavior or miscommunication. The more one feels mentally comfortable, the more one is able to deliver and grow.
Language might be a barrier to some. Don’t underestimate the capacity or the performance of those who speak with an accent. Just imagine for a second if the tables were turned and you had to familiarize yourself, deliver in a totally different setting or a new environment. It’s hard to focus on your responsibilities when you’re still learning about the culture and basic know-how of your work. Therefore, empathize support and acknowledge the efforts made.
Immigrants need coordinates of services they look for while getting established and appreciate contact references. I know that firsthand! Companies can benefit local industries by referring their newcomers to a list of services offered by national businesses and even national minority suppliers, in a way similar to what the government does by promoting national financial institutions to newcomers. This encourages local business, promotes the economy and saves time to newcomers.
Instead of just giving time to adjust, include them intentionally, familiarize them with local customs and company culture and even language slang, without making them feel that they’re different!
Sometimes new-comers want to impress at all cost, and thereby avoid asking questions from fear of looking unprofessional in the eyes of locals who have been there and done that thousands of times. Be patient with their insecurities, don’t marginalize them for their mistakes, embrace their vulnerability, comfort them and share with them similar experiences, whenever possible.
Besides onboarding and other regular procedures, companies must prepare both the newcomer joining the team and the existing team members with customized cultural intelligence training and people skills to ensure a smooth and inclusive process for both.
The new dynamics are mutually beneficial to newcomers and the welcoming teams, because there is always something to learn or to teach, something to offer or to take, something to hear or to share, something to like and appreciate.
Cultural intelligence training is crucial for the success, the growth and the sustainability of multicultural teams. Training for effective communication and an open mindset benefits the team and thereby the company.
Denise: I have heard from several immigrants that their credentials in another country do not transfer here. This must be extremely frustrating. Any words of advice?
Irma: One can only imagine how frustrating that can be! But there are solutions, there are always ways to rise above these challenges.
In some cases, building a network before arriving in the province where the immigrants want to reside in, can be advantageous. Use all your resources, contacts from friends, family, social acquaintances, you name it! LinkedIn however is my favorite platform for this purpose. But mind you that networking means more than increasing the contacts-list on the profile. It is about connecting with like-minded people, even inviting them to chats on Zoom, exchanging ideas, finding out in detail about the current market trends, the needed transferrable skills that one could have and make an effort to stay in touch. Persistence and determination are key, and flexibility and adaptation are crucial.
When job descriptions require local certification or degree equivalences, newcomers must research about their field and prepare for exams even before arriving. That saves them a lot of time and effort. It also eases the stress and pressure upon arrival.
I believe volunteering for positions similar to the job you want to land on is very important. I was fortunate enough to volunteer as a mentor for the amazing Women in Leadership foundation and for that I am forever grateful. One of the main upsides of the pandemic is the online work-environment. Immigrants can undertake projects and work online with Canadian companies or institutions even before getting established in Canada. They get familiar with the local market, the local mentality, build a somewhat Canadian experience by working with Canadians and grow their knowledge of the business here. This helps them during their interview sessions, they will come across as more relatable, serious and therefore more trustworthy, with all the first-hand experience and knowledge they have gathered from their volunteer positions.
Once the job is completed, remember to get a good reference that supports the work you’ve done or the responsibilities you’ve accomplished. Local references are invaluable!
Denise: You offer intercultural competency training. Why is this important?
Irma: Globalization is here to stay. Companies small and big, aim to stretch their presence beyond local borders. To do that successfully, company people must undergo training that improves the quality of relationships with themselves and with others. After all, people are the most valuable asset of companies. The Intercultural competency training helps them adopt an open mindset, acknowledge unconscious and cognitive biases, address their saboteurs, understand cultural sensitivities and treat others the way they want to be treated. With the right approach, continuous self-improvement, culture-wise communication can bridge gaps, resolve misinterpretations and most importantly turn clashes and differences into synergies. Business success relies on people focused solutions with intercultural competency!
Denise: How can executives benefit from your training?
Irma: The era of constant change is continuing. Leading wisely and managing effective teams with a growth mindset are vital for executives and leaders on all levels.
85% of business success is down to people skills and that leaves only 15% of company success due to technical skills. When companies focus only on financial models, strategy, profit margins and meeting targets, they fail to realize that the core essence of their success and sustainability is related to their people, and how these people convey company messages to stakeholders, including ‘the Client’, across the globe. Therefore, looking beyond technical skills is vital.
In our globalized world it is not enough to know how to lead locally. Leaders need to be trained properly and consistently to carry themselves as global professionals who know how to motivate teams to thrive, as well as ensure that they have the right skills and the open mindset to communicate in the right way with the right person at the right time and adopt cultural intelligence to turn conflicts into Culture-Wise situations.
So, my training provides up-to-date tangible solutions which combine culturally intelligent communication and people skills for professionals, with the necessary tools for creating or managing teams effectively in our globalized world.
Irma Vartanian Balian offers Training and Empowering Facilitation services in areas of Cultural Intelligence, Communication and People Skills for corporate professionals.
Connect with Irma:
LinkedIn Irma Vartanian Balian
Connect with Denise:
LinkedIN: Denise Young
Denise Young, CEO/Founder/Consultant: Tiger’s Eye Advisory Group. Denise creates collaborative work spaces where “everyone is at the table”. She has a Bachelor of Management and a Masters of Arts in Communication and Technology from University of Alberta. Reach out to Denise, if your organization is interested in EDI, Leadership or Communication Workshops, Keynotes or Facilitation Services.
Connect with Denise:
LinkedIN: Denise Young