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Are we Doing Enough to Support Immigrant Women in the Workplace?

Immigrant women face a range of challenges in the workforce, including the gender pay gap, and difficulties accessing executive roles in the workforce. This is made even clearer by the data — a recent study by TRIEC shows that women only make up about 36 percent of executive roles in the Greater Toronto Area, and when those 36 percent are analyzed for immigration status and ethnicity, the number falls further — only 2 percent of executive roles in are occupied by racialized immigrant women.

Our Mentors Share Their Stories

We asked a few of our female mentors to share their stories and challenges in finding a place in the Canadian workforce.

Maral Melkonian arrived from Syria in 2016, with a background in banking. After a challenging job search, she secured a position as a Credit Analyst at TD Bank and joined the Canada InfoNet program as a mentor. Experiences dealing with immigration challenges and assistance she received from employment and mentoring programs inspired her to become a mentor.

She shared the following about her experience:

It is very hard for all of us to be uprooted from our land, home, friends and parents, packing all our life souvenirs in few suitcases, and decide to begin a new life in a very different country like Canada, different in culture, nature, weather and environment. Undertaking the challenge because we all believe we are going to have a better and safer life, a brilliant future for our children and us. 

The biggest and hardest challenge comes when we start to search for a job, related to the same profession and field (we had before immigrating). The main and most important point is to meet the correct person or organization to help and advise you, not necessarily by finding the job, but an encouraging word makes and means a lot, or lead you to dive deeper in searches in the proper sectors, companies and institutions.

In addition to barriers faced by all immigrants, women have to overcome additional challenges, Maral shares:

…the work schedule, the working hours and days, especially if they have families and young kids. It is so hard to manage if both parents are working and they have to accept any offer just to start and survive. For example, I have to work three different schedules a week with one day late shift, other examples some retail workers and bank branches require all weekends, noting here the kids’ drop off and pick up strict times by schools.

These are some of the many challenges faced by women, which can lead to their career goals having to be set aside. The support Maral received from her mentor – whom she calls “a lifesaving angel” – was crucial for her to get her first job in Canada at a leading bank. She emphasizes how her mentorship experience was beneficial, not only for the technical knowledge her mentor shared, but also to keep her motivated and encouraged. For that reason, Maral later became a mentor with Canada InfoNet — to pass on her experience and pay forward for all the support she received when she was new in Canada.

Fabi Ramos, now employed as a Marketing Manager at Next Edge Capital, immigrated from Brazil in 2016. She chose to become a mentor because she saw it as “an opportunity to learn, develop leadership skills and gain a personal sense of satisfaction” from helping immigrants who are now facing the challenges that she previously faced. In regards to being a woman in the Canadian workplace, she shares:

Like most women, I have also experienced challenges in the job market such as gender pay gap, career ladder opportunities, fear of becoming pregnant, appearance judgment, room temperature disparity and other gender bias. I usually say that women need to work harder to prove our worth in the work place, to win our space.

The Role of Employers

Employers have an important role to play in achieving more equality in the workforce. A study by McKinsey & Company reveals the importance of the link between diversity and corporate financial out-performance; one of their findings showed is that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.

We still have a long way to go, but we believe that bringing awareness to the issues and giving an opportunity for women to tell their stories is one step towards finding solutions that will benefit our whole community. JVS Toronto’s Canada InfoNet mentoring program is enriched by all the support offered by our women mentors to immigrating professionals.

Beyond International Women’s Day, diversity should not simply be something to strive for but it should be a given that women have their place in the workforce.