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Chat With Associate Professor Marte C.W. Solheim: "Culturally Diverse Talent Facilitate Innovation".


“Inclusion is not a matter of political correctness. It is the key to growth.”

— Jesse Jackson


The reason I started Skillfugees was simple: I saw firsthand how hard it was for my husband, a skilled immigrant in Norway, to land a skilled job.


In my efforts to research this lack of cultural diversity at a workplace in Norway, I came across Marte C. W. Solheim's research that "investigated how foreign-born workers might be linked to innovation".


Marte is from Dale i Sunnfjord in Norway. She currently serves as Associate Professor & Head of Stavanger Centre for Innovation Research, at the University of Stavanger Business School in Norway.


"I carry out research within innovation studies. My main focus has been on the various forms of diversity and combining insights from organizational theory, innovation studies, and economic geography."


Marte shares that she is particularly interested in understanding how innovation is inspired when diverse minds meet, and the circumstances influencing this association.

We asked Marte to share a little about her research, among 500 companies across Norway, on how various types of diversity affect different kinds of innovation.


"This research investigated how foreign-born workers might be linked to innovation. Professor Fitjar and I first identified that while there was a wealth of empirical research examining the potential relations and effects of foreign-born workers, immigration and cultural diversity on wages, employment, economic growth, and in the recent years, innovation; very little of this research has provided a convincing empirical demonstration of the methods through which foreign-born workers would affect innovation."


For them, that was their motivation to build the paper on survey data from approximately 500 firms in Norway, with more than 10 employees, covering all sectors and regions.

They found evidence that firms with highly educated foreign-born workers collaborate more frequently with international partners.


They also found that there is a positive association between having a variety of international partners, the probability of product innovation, and new-to-market product innovation.


"Innovation means new combinations of knowledge that already exist. Imagine a kaleidoscope. Its countless tiny pieces in different colours and shapes form a picture. The picture changes if you twist or shake the kaleidoscope."


Solheim further explains, "For companies, this kaleidoscope translates into creating new combinations of known knowledge and people. Thereby, utilising knowledge in new ways."


But, there is no automatic relationship here. According to Solheim, organizations need leaders that are able to take advantage of this and create creative and constructive dynamics between and within groups.


"My first encounter with this line of research was in 2005, and my first work during my Bachelor thesis on foreign-born workers in the maritime cluster in terms of safety and information. This motivated me to do my Masters as well as report for Møre forskning in 2011, investigating highly-skilled foreign-born workers, their perception of the place they lived, and their role in innovative processes in the maritime cluster of Møre, Norway."


We asked Marte for her opinion on some employment challenges migrants face in Norway, "I think that there are a lot of “unwritten rules” and informal channels that might be difficult to “tap into”. 


“Moreover, there could be some barriers, which makes it increasingly harder for someone coming from “outside”/and to get a foot in the door.”


Would Marte say businesses would benefit greatly by creating a diverse work environment? 

Yes!


In Marte's view, and in line with past research, there is an emphasis that being born in different countries could reflect deeper-level differences, such as different experiences and world-views.


"Your birthplace, upbringing, or international experiences could affect the way you “approach the world”.


Cultural diversity could be more than just “where you are born”, but could also include international experiences and exposure.


"Culturally diverse workplaces could benefit from this diversity because their workers have experiences from other contexts and institutions. They could bring with them different routines and different perspectives. This could facilitate innovation, as innovation often takes place when a variety of knowledge intersect."


But Marte doesn't just focus on diversity as a single concept. "I also believe that some effort is required in order to benefit from having a diverse workforce. You need to create a safe, learning, and trust-based environment to be able to draw out diverse knowledge."


According to Marte, our mission at Skillfugees to match skilled immigrants with skilled jobs is an important one.


“In my opinion, this involves really getting to know the candidates, mapping and scanning the environment for suited job-matches; which in-turn facilitates the job-match process.”


Marte further adds that such efforts increase the possibility of these skilled migrants’ knowledge and expertise becoming useful in the job market.


“In a larger perspective, Skillfugees has taken a first large step in acknowledging and facilitating the expertise of skilled immigrants to become useful at the “right” competency level.”


Marte reminds us again that this is a two-way effort, “Companies or leaders need to realise the benefits of a culturally diverse workforce and foster creative and constructive dynamics in the company.”


“The job-matching process facilitated by Skillfugees could be useful to “get a foot in the door”.


Profile: Marte C.W. Solheim:


Marte is from Dale i Sunnfjord in Norway. She attended high school at United World College of the Atlantic in Wales, an international high school with 350 students between 16 and 19 years of age, from over 90 nationalities.


She then travelled around the world and lived in the Dominican Republic for a few years.

She later pursued a career within communication, worked in the maritime cluster in Møre, Norway, before obtaining a PhD in management at the University of Stavanger.


She currently serves as Associate Professor & Head of Stavanger Centre for Innovation Research, at the University of Stavanger Business School, and is on the steering committee of Smart City Research Network at the University of Stavanger, in Norway.


She is also a member of the Academy of Young Researchers in Norway.


Find her research/studies here:


  1. Foreign Workers Are Associated with Innovation, But Why? International Networks as a Mechanism

  2. A study of the meeting between highly competent foreign labor and the maritime cluster on Møre

  3. Relationships between foreign-born labor and innovation: are there gender and geographical differences?

  4. Foreign workers and international partners as channels to international markets in core, intermediate and peripheral regions

  5. Fostering Innovation Through Workplace Diversity 

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