Final Report Summary - BROKERING (Employing the Cultural Broker in the Governance of Migration and Integration)
The aim of the BrokerInG project was to investigate the role and position of third sector staff in the migration third sector who have a similar background to the migrant and ethnic minority ‘clients’. For example, a caseworker who is a refugee and now supports asylum seekers for Migrant Help (UK), Vluchtelingenwerk (NL) or Caritas (AT). The research project was carried out in the context of the increased significance of the third sector for the governance of migration and integration. Since the so-called migration crisis in summer 2015, which particularly affected Austria, the role of NGOs in the field of migration has taken a flight, further underlining the need to look at these organisations’ practices in particular and to investigate the labour market trajectories of refugees in general.
Diversity management’s emphasis on the added benefits of diversity, and NGOs’ commitment to justice and inclusion of migrants and ethnic minorities, give an impetus to learning more about the experiences of migrant and ethnic minority staff members and the way in which their knowledge and skills are utilised in third sector organisations. For this purpose, qualitative interview and document data has been collected and analysed in the three case study countries: Austria, the Netherlands and the UK. In each of the three countries, approx. 20 qualitative interviews were conducted, with the combined sample including 30 different organisations. About two-thirds (more than 40) of the total number of interviews were with former refugees, from former Yugoslavia, the Philippines, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Chechnya, Somalia as well as other countries, who have made the transition from being a ‘client’ to ‘service provider’ within third sector organisations. The interviews with the staff members addressed their trajectory, knowledge and relationships with ‘clients’, colleagues and volunteers. In addition, some organisations’ managers were interviewed about recruitment, diversity and staff support. The document analysis comprised data from the national policy and civil society context as well as European policy, reports and agendas, from diversity management documents by national employment agencies to the EC Agenda for the Integration of Third Country Nationals, in order to map the relation between diversity, integration and migration.
As the researcher was based in Austria at the University of Vienna, data in Austria could be collected on a rolling basis compared to concentrated data collection in the Netherlands and the UK, facilitated by research fellowships at the School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds (Feb 2015) and the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University (April-May 2015.
Ethnic and migrant staff of third sector organisations occupies a brokering position in-between: between the state and ‘clients’, between ethnic majority and minority communities, between mainstream professionalised NGOs and migrant self-organisations, standing by the ‘client’ but also looking over and after the client as advisor.
The interviews revealed that the migrant third sector has become an important niche for highly educated refugees as well as other migrants and ethnic minorities who face difficulties gaining adequate access to the labour market, because of the combined effect of discrimination, lack of recognition of former qualifications, language barriers, etc. This specific sector offers opportunities because of the value attributed to linguistic and so-called intercultural competences. In general, in each of the three countries, the staff of migration third sector organisations is not equally diverse as its client base. Migrant third sector organisations reflect the feminisation of labour in the third sector and gender and racial hierarchies in society. Case worker level jobs are typically occupied by ethnic majority female staff and ethnic minority and migrant staff, while directors and managers are generally non-migrant white male, which limits the social mobility of the former. Moreover, if organisations are forced to make cuts, minority staff are often at risk, because they have less (recognised) work experience, or lack the formal qualifications for positions that they have acquired on the basis of their culturalised competences. Staff that has formal qualifications in social work or substantial work experience in the area, risks primarily being valued for their ‘cultural capital’, closing off other employment avenues and being underappreciated for their other competences.
The emphasis on language and culture in diversity management occludes the experiential knowledge, such as the experience of flight, loss, discrimination, exclusion, adaptation, as well as the ability to navigate multilingual environments. The downside of this experiential knowledge is that it can put additional pressure on staff, since they disproportionally need to perform emotional labour in client contact. This labour risks being undervalued and can constitute a further burden if misjudged as lack of professionalism. Moreover, in an increasingly target-driven climate, where all staff come under pressure to see as many clients as possible within a fixed time frame, care and emotional labour is not only undervalued, but penalised. The role model function of ethnic and migrant staff towards clients can be positively inspiring and empowering. However, in a migration regime that holds up certain norms of integration, migrant and ethnic minority staff risk being held up as ‘model migrants’, disciplining individual clients to be resilient and adaptive, leaving structural disadvantage unaddressed and undermining principles of solidarity that underpin much third sector work. Many organisations are dependent on state funding, which means they largely have to comply with national migration policies; this leaves case workers with increasingly less space for discretionary use of power which is essential to deal with individual complex cases.
Migrant and ethnic staff members of organisations in the field of migration/integration are primarily viewed as capable of facilitating client contact and ‘translating’ the so-called host society to the client. This can leave potential of migrant and ethnic minority brokerage untapped, namely the adaptation and re-evaluation of organisational practices. The success of two-directional brokerage depends on the acknowledgement and challenging of power differences and hierarchies between social groups and the creation of spaces for ethnic minority and migrant staff to speak up and initiate change. Also, it is subject to recognition of the different forms that knowledge and professionalism can take. Moreover, effective brokerage requires staff and management to adopt a reflexive approach to societal norms in general, as well as to the specific norms associated with the national integration of migrants and ethnic minorities. Since there appears to be limited international exchange between migrant third sector organisations in different countries about issues of diversity, recruitment and staff support, such exchange about the respective specificities of the national contexts, such as the importance attributed to social work degrees in Austria compared to the unregulated UK sector, could be productive in interrogating current practices and inspiring new approaches.
This research is immediately relevant for the migration third sector itself, including but not limited to organisations participating in the research. The research findings can open space for conversations about diversity, beyond taboos and challenges. To increase diversity at coordination and management levels, organisations can specifically draw from lessons learned in the recruitment of diverse staff to lower level positions. The data encourages organisations to recognise that much brokerage potential is left untapped when not applied to the organisational practices as a whole.
The research is important for other institutions, such as trade unions, who can more effectively lobby on behalf of third sector staff, and social work and social policy education, where standards of professionalism, accountability’, and ‘setting boundaries’, have to be rethought to include affective, embodied knowledge.
It can also inform diversity managers, especially in the public sector, about the potential of diversity, shifting beyond ethnic capital towards migration capital and facilitating all-round organisational change rather than mere change in client services.
The research can impact on policy makers, especially in the fields of refugee employment. As the data is derived from narrative interviews, it offers accounts about the employment trajectories, challenges and successes of (especially highly educated) asylum seekers who get refugee status, from the perspective of the refugees themselves, complementing existing research reports that are predominantly top-down and quantitative. This can feed into new projects and programmes for refugee employment and/or the extension of employment rights for asylum seekers.
email@example.com (University of Vienna) and firstname.lastname@example.org (Open University)