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During COVID, immigrants are getting the job done

December 2, 2020, 3:33 PM UTC
Employers say immigrants bring special qualities to the table that are valuable during the pandemic.
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Welcome to Worksheet, a newsletter about how people are working smarter in these turbulent times.

Every week, this newsletter will share analysis on the state of work by S. Mitra Kalita, a veteran media executive, author, and journalist.

Kalita recently launched a series of community ventures, including Epicenter and The Escape Home, and is building a network to connect niche media and big media. Both her startup experiences and background in larger organizations guide and inform Worksheet. She was most recently senior vice president at CNN and previously worked at the LA Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Quartz and Mint (India). She also frequently consults and speaks on diversity, management and digital strategy, and fashions herself an expert on where to eat in Queens.

Here’s what to expect in this inaugural edition of the newsletter.

In the first installment, Kalita explores how an immigrant mindset has helped some employees not only survive 2020, but make the most of an incredibly difficult year. Here’s an excerpt.


There’s a certain worker undeniably in high demand during this pandemic: multi-skilled, flexible, resilient, tolerant of risk and the great unknown. 

Basically, immigrants.

“Immigrants are more likely to be people who inherently embrace uncertainty,” said Brian Laung Aoaeh, who was raised between Nigeria and Ghana and launched a fund, Refashiond Ventures, to invest in supply-chain innovation.“This is actually a phrase I use to describe myself—and it’s come up in job interviews in the past: ‘I embrace uncertainty.’”

The act of migration itself underscores an appetite for risk. Outsiders bring with them fresh perspectives, new ideas, and a certain hustle and hunger to survive. In the middle of this current and historic upheaval of the world order, some employers are finding that’s not just welcome but necessary. 

To be sure, an entrepreneur’s birthplace or country of origin is not actually what makes immigrant workers so valuable. “Are you special because you are an immigrant? No, it’s more about the ethos of being an immigrant,” said Nitin Pachisia, founding partner of Unshackled Ventures, which invests exclusively in startups where at least one founder is an immigrant or the child of immigrants. “For us immigrants, there are creative ways of looking at a problem. When you come from another ecosystem, you question the why behind it. Then you take a variable and change it. That’s how big innovation happens.”


Kalita goes on to talk about specific strategies immigrant-founded businesses are using to pivot during COVID, and the surprisingly high number of Fortune 500 founders that are immigrants. (Can you guess how many?)

Read her full column here.

This week's reads

Emotional labor. From the 'office mom' who knows all the logins and reminds everyone about their deadlines to the millions of moms who keep a running mental list of, well, everything, the gap in who performs the emotional heavy-lifting has only accelerated during COVID. Writer Kathleen Davis and Gemma Hartley (author of Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward) discuss how "how deep-seeded and detrimental the problem of unequal work at home is to women’s careers, relationships, and businesses, as well as to the economy." (Fast Company)

Leadership coaching. If you've ever had an uncomfortable office conversation and wished you could have a do-over, well, maybe you can. A pretty amazing new VR tool from a startup called Mursion lets you role-play difficult or challenging conversations with lifelike 'employees.' And hey, if things get awkward, you can talk it out afterwards with your moderator/coach—and try again later. (Fortune)

Hard time. This is the remarkable story of how Ed Hennings turned 20 years behind bars into a new chapter as a motivational speaker. “It started while I was in prison,” he notes. “I was telling the guys in there, 'Man, we need to change. We gotta push. We gotta go. We gotta better ourselves. We can’t end up like this. The last memories of us from our loved ones can’t be us being hauled away in handcuffs and that’s the last time they see us. We have to come back.'” (Black Enterprise)

Direct shot. Can your boss make you get a COVID vaccine? Fortune's John Jeff Roberts explores the tricky legal territory that's more than likely to dominate many workplaces as the vaccine rollout begins. Roberts writes, "Today, delivering a COVID vaccine is complicated by medical values that prioritize patients' consent combined with the growth of squirrelly conspiracy theories that reject long-held principles of immunization." (Fortune)