Immigrant women in GTA continue to face career challenges, a new TRIEC study shows why


TORONTO, March 30, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — In the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), many immigrant women resort to downplaying their credentials when looking for a job, which risks career stagnation and persistent underemployment.

That’s according to a new study by the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC). The study has revealed the bumpy transitions experienced by immigrants in Canada, where pandemic shocks are hitting companies amid labor shortages. Research shows that immigrant women earn less, on average, than immigrant men and the Canadian-born population. They also face a higher unemployment rate.

Over the past decade, more than a million immigrant women have landed in Canada as permanent residents, many of whom have settled in Toronto, ranked by Bloomberg as the world’s top city for working women. Yet, despite their advanced degrees and international work experience, many immigrant women in the GTA struggle in the labor market due to employer bias, gender barriers and other factors.

According to the study, titled Bridging the Gap: Immigrant Women and Their Labor Market Experiences in the GTA, two in five respondents were in a lower-level job than they did before immigrating. Some reported shortening their names, changing accents, or altering their appearance to try to “match” perceived cultural expectations.

Drawing on data from nearly 400 immigrant women with roots in more than 80 countries, the study provides a snapshot of their career path in a country where immigration is expected to boost economic prosperity. These women, aged 25 to 54, joined the GTA between 2011 and 2020. The study also surveyed more than 600 hiring managers and included in-depth interviews with 19 migrant women.

Almost two-thirds of the migrant women surveyed had at least a master’s degree. On average, they came to Canada with eight years of professional experience. Because of their growing economic status and autonomy, about half of the respondents were prime applicants in the economic migrant category.

However, the TRIEC study shows that almost 90% of respondents found the job search process in the GTA to be difficult. The main obstacle, according to respondents, was the emphasis that employers and recruiters place on Canadian work experience. To partially compensate for this, almost two-thirds of those surveyed completed further studies in Canada.

“On the world stage, Canada is committed to gender equality and the empowerment of women. But immigrant women’s career setbacks undermine the achievements they have made in their former countries,” argued Sugi Vasavithasan, research and evaluation manager at TRIEC and author of the Toronto Star study, commented earlier this month.

The majority of respondents came from professional fields such as economics and finance, law and public service, and natural and applied sciences. Among them, the top 3 birthplaces were India, Nigeria and China.

The reasons for their professional hardship are varied, including employer discounting of international experience and education, childcare responsibilities, and gender stereotypes. During the TRIEC interviews, some survey participants reported experiences of removing skills to secure entry-level positions. Others have been advised by employment counselors to hide their PhDs when looking for a job.

“Underemployment of immigrant women not only undermines their dignity, it also imposes costs on the Canadian economy,” said Debroy Chan, interim CEO of TRIEC. “Canada attracts the brightest and brightest through its points-based immigration system. Let’s make sure their talents are recognized and they are given the opportunity to contribute.”

After welcoming a record number of permanent residents last year, Canada plans to increase its immigration targets yet again. More than half of the immigrants are expected to be placed in the Economics category – a cohort of highly skilled newcomers.

Despite barriers to entry, the TRIEC study shows that some immigrant women have managed to advance in their careers, a testament to their resilience and Toronto’s vibrant economy. Meanwhile, provincial and federal governments have vowed to empower women’s careers by promising better childcare and investing in skills-based support for racialized newcomers.

However, many women have yet to break through the glass ceiling. According to the study, there are few racialized women in senior leadership positions, with inclusion efforts failing to address multiple marginalizing identities.

For some, the feeling of depression is palpable. A Nigerian lawyer told TRIEC that “dumbing down” her resume was “disheartening” but necessary to get an entry-level job in administration. “You get to a point where you want a job because you have to survive,” she said, “when what’s desirable isn’t available, what’s available becomes desirable.”

Owen Guo
Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC)
[email protected]

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