How has Malta changed over the years? What impact has multiculturalism had on the island? And what can business leaders do to better promote awareness related to diversity and inclusion at work?

The Maltese archipelago has been tested on numerous occasions over the last decade, observing a shift from a purely monocultural to a multicultural society.

Since 2004, the year in which Malta entered the European Union, migratory flows to this little island in the Mediterranean Sea have exponentially increased. The influx of a new and diverse population has been accompanied by the inevitable challenges that follow a process as complex as the integration and coexistence of people from a wide variety of cultures.

In just seven years, the population residing in Malta increased from 422,509 in 2013 to 516,100 persons at the end of 2020. According to the NSO (2021), the increase between 2019 and 2020 has been the lowest since 2010, showing the impact of COVID-19 on the demographic shifts.

Malta’s economic development is mainly linked to the growth in financial services and the online gaming sector. These industries have attracted a new source of capital and foreign investment, yet bringing with it a shortage of the required skills to meet the needs of the emerging sectors. This void began a new wave of foreigners living in Malta. Prior to COVID-19, most foreigners were employed full-time, and mainly in the hospitality sector.

Overall, all sectors have been experiencing an increase in foreign employment. According to the Malta Employers Association (MEA), this is the result of two main trends. First, Maltese citizens have moved away from manual and lower-skilled jobs found within the cleaning and construction sector. Secondly, there is a shortage of locals with the desired competencies and qualifications required to fill certain positions on the island, especially within the information technology (IT) and financial sector. In 2018, there were challenges to find qualified candidates in 36.6 per cent of positions across all sectors.

Another contributing factor which was highlighted last year is that Maltese employees are showing a preference for the public sector. These jobs are considered more secure compared to those within the private sector, and tend to involve less demanding work. As reported by the Times of Malta, Joseph Farrugia, MEA Director General, said this ‘talent drain’ is happening across the country but it is affecting mostly unskilled and semi-skilled jobs, particularly in hospitality and security, thus forcing private sector employers to find foreign workers.

The Malta Gaming Authority also explained that the emergence of new jobs is creating the need for a new set of skills that were not needed before. Therefore, the industry is facing a shortage of talent also due to the increase in so-called hybrid jobs. These consist of a combination of skills including technical, financial, marketing, legal and compliance skills, IT, mathematical and statistical skills.

Malta is a top choice for many skilled workers who have the opportunity to scout and research different options; they deliberately decide on relocating to Malta. Their reasoning is related to specific jobs, the salary commensurate based on their experiences and skills, however, the climate and the fact that Malta is an English-speaking country are also important factors for their decisions.

A second group of migrants is made up of those with lower qualifications, who come to Malta without a job, looking for opportunities. For some individuals, the biggest obstacle they face is the lack of English-speaking abilities. For those who do not speak the language but want and need to start working immediately; and do not have the luxury of time and money to invest in an English language course – this leads them to accept any job available, even if they are underpaid with no real opportunities for skills development and career advancement.

In certain sectors, this group of migrants runs the risk of experiencing severe forms of labour exploitation, in the form of inadequate wages. This is currently the case within the construction sector. It is difficult to find local candidates who are willing to fill certain positions; and the migrants are willing to fill the vacancies, agreeing to lower wages.  

One issue is also linked to the high turnover of migrants, in all sectors. As highlighted by Clyde Caruana who was head of  JobsPlus, “in recent years the island has attracted thousands of foreigners. Unfortunately, these do not stay long and attracting them again and even in greater numbers is now one of our main priorities”. Among the causes for departures are reasons related to the increase in the cost of living, particularly in the cost of rental prices without a parallel increase in wages. However, sometimes personal reasons are responsible for this, sped up by global events like the recent pandemic.

This temporary condition perceived by the locals and experienced by the foreigners, despite professional satisfaction, risks negatively influencing the individuals’ well-being, but also the quality of the services available to them if they are constantly considered temporary workers and not actually residents of Malta like any other Maltese citizen. This aspect was also highlighted at the recent Guardian of Future Generations, Malta’s Demographic Challenge conference, held in December 2021.

As highlighted by Gellel, Arvanitidou and Rossi in an article for the project Living Together: Towards Understanding Each Other’s Culture, carried out by the University of Malta, “the increase in the population of foreigners residing in Malta has multiple implications, particularly with regard to the social composition of the community and possibly its effect on social cohesion”.

Indeed, according to the 2020 Eurobarometer report, 62 per cent of respondents stated that the main issue facing Malta was migration, followed by environment, climate and energy issues (37 per cent), and rising prices and inflation (19 per cent). The last Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) reports that the public in Malta has less positive attitudes towards immigrants than on average in other European countries.

The cultural climate, social inequality and economic rifts are all important factors to consider when discussing migrant integration and social cohesion and the impact on the psychosocial development and the mental wellbeing of the individual.

Promoting an inclusive workplace and valuing cultural diversity means being aware of the complexities of migration and the nuances of migrant groups residing in Malta.

We need to be cognisant of both the similarities and differences between cultures in order to promote respect and foster a sense of belonging in the welcoming community. The entry of foreign citizens, each with their own cultural background and skills, allows a rapid development not only of the economy but also of the general vision of work: local citizens can experience a healthy competition with newcomers and this involves a considerable incentive to acquire new knowledge useful in the world of work, allowing a more diversified and qualified economy.

However, we must not neglect the cultural aspect: together with challenges, the convergence of habits and worldviews so distant from each other allows a massive enrichment of Maltese society and culture, it is thanks to the contact with people different from us that we can look at our own culture with new eyes.

It is precisely in the contrast and in the differences that each element acquires strength and validity: if on the one hand there is the possibility of creating something new, a lifestyle and a different perspective of the world as a result of exchanges and mutual enrichments in which our native culture plays a key role, on the other hand it is thanks to the juxtaposition of diversity that our identity acquires toughness and definition.

In Malta, there is currently a strong need to promote awareness related to diversity and inclusion and integration at the workplace. Because even if employers agree on paper, in most cases they are unsure as to how to turn their good intentions into the necessary policies, plans and practises needed to build and sustain a dynamic and inclusive workplace.

Here’s what business leaders can do about it

Based on the experience of other European countries, the Maltese context and the lessons learnt from working with Maltese companies and employer organisations, we suggest awareness as the first step in which to focus your attention and actions in 2022. Here’s how.

  • Promoting awareness is the starting point towards the creation and implementation of a culture of diversity that can infuse every company and society as a whole. Increased awareness of the cultural and religious differences and the challenges posed is the first step. Only informed and aware teammates, colleagues, managers, directors and citizens can develop tools, synergies and strategies to cope with diversity and create more inclusive companies and societies. Within companies and organisations there is a need to promote the idea that diversity and inclusion shall not be treated as an HR function alone, but it needs to be recognised as a business strategy of the company. Convince employers that diverse organisations are not only more innovative and smarter, but also more efficient at employee retention and profitability. The advantages of a diverse workplace are multifold. From different cultural and work ethic backgrounds, experiences and work practises, a diverse workplace helps foster creativity and increased readiness for change. Employees from different cultural backgrounds contribute to more effective decision-making and problem-solving, while also offering a range of perspectives, a broad spectrum of expertise and a more robust process for critical evaluation. A commitment to diversity demonstrates that a company values fairness and equality. These characteristics have a positive effect on its reputation with clients and other stakeholders. Studies have shown that diversity can increase innovation and inspiration (Levine 2020) but this can only happen if everyone feels as if they belong to a safe space where they can be themselves and voice who they are and what they believe in and that they can contribute to the organisation. Inclusion and sense of belonging also improve the retention rate of an organisation and reduce the turn over.
  • Companies and organisations should organise programs and activities throughout the year to develop cultural appreciation and competence that result in an ability to understand, communicate and effectively interact with people across cultures and with varying cultural beliefs. Also, it is important to promote awareness of the different religions of the employees and their religious celebrations so to be able to recognise them, respect them and provide the employees, if needed and if possible, with places and time to celebrate them. Awareness-raising campaigns and events at national, local and company level should be organised to discuss findings of research and studies to contradict fake news and their effects, community-based discussion of proposals for policies should be promoted involving locals and foreigners to help them feel the and share responsibility for creating an inclusive organisation and society.
  • Awareness campaigns and training on cultural intelligence, conscious and unconscious biases, diversity and inclusion and inclusive language should also be developed and addressed. Leaders and employees throughout the organisation should receive cultural intelligence and diversity and inclusion training that is specific to their area and level, focused on achieving the organisation’s goals. Discussion and consideration of integration at the workplace issues should be integrated into all learning and education programs and events. The role of the Diversity and Inclusion officer should also be promoted as the one in charge of developing and implementing the diversity and inclusion policy of the company and coordinating with all the other departments. Moreover, inclusive language should be addressed starting from internal and external communication of the company and the role of the media. The discriminatory tone in media is in fact something adversely affecting the impact of integration practices at the local level.

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