Skilled immigrant women already faced obstacles finding employment. The pandemic made it worse

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Tolu Ademi, who was photographed at her Calgary home, hopes to practice law after being recognized for doing so in Canada.Leah Heinel

Tolu Adeyemi had been working as a corporate and commercial lawyer in her hometown of Lagos, Nigeria for four years when she immigrated to Calgary in late 2019.


Her sister and brother already lived in Canada and she knew there would be a transition period for her legal qualifications to be recognized in Alberta. While waiting for her transcripts to be sent from Nigeria and for the National Accreditation Committee (NCA) to evaluate her qualifications, Ms Adeyemi found a job in sales at a beauty supply store. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She was fired in June 2020 and started working as a delivery driver with Amazon and SkipTheDishes.

In early 2021, Ms Adeyemi caught COVID-19 and reached a low point.

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“It made me reevaluate,” she says. “My father was like, ‘This is not what you came to Canada to do, to work different survival jobs.'”

By this point, the NCA determined that Ademi would need to complete five exams and one year of artistry to qualify to become an attorney in Alberta. She has written three of the five exams and plans to complete the last two by the end of 2021. Meanwhile, she has been applying for legal assistant jobs, over a hundred according to her estimates, to no avail.

“People usually say this because I don’t have Canadian experience, or they’ll say something about [not] Being the perfect fit,” says Ms Adeyemi.

She also participated in a three-month career service program for foreign-trained professionals at the Association of Calgary Immigrant Women (CIWA) to learn digital skills, cross-cultural communication and career counseling, followed by three months of practice in employment and business. Law firm in Calgary.

“We had IT professionals, human resources professionals, accountants from different countries,” says Ms Adeyemi of her fellow program participants. “Even if they had 10 years of experience, they had serious trouble entering the job market.”

The ‘gender effect’ of the pandemic

Despite halting immigration due to COVID-19 last year, the Liberal government remains on track to meet its goal of bringing in 401,000 new permanent residents in 2021. But skilled immigrant women face increased barriers to finding employment, and the pandemic has only made it more difficult.

Luciara Nardon, professor of international business at Carleton University’s Sprout School of Business in Ottawa, Published a paper in June 2021 It shows how much the careers of skilled immigrant women have been delayed, disrupted or reversed during the pandemic. These constraints were due to layoffs, fewer job opportunities and increased household burden during the lockdown.

“The pandemic was especially difficult for women in general because children” [were] At home,” Dr. Nardon says. “It’s a very gender effect in that way.”

Jenny Crabbe, manager of the Department of Employment Services at CIWA, has observed that married immigrant women have had to set their own goals to prioritize their spouse’s career even before the pandemic.

“In Many Cases, Male” [in the relationship] The country they came from has better education and the reason they came to Canada under our points system was because they qualified,” says Ms. Crabbe. “She may have been a professional in her own right, but now she has There has to be a way forward.”

Confidence is another factor that hinders skilled immigrant women in Canada from progressing in their careers, says Ms Crabbe. Training in career service programs, such as the one Ms Adeyemi attended at CIWA, can help build that confidence, she says.

Networking also helps build confidence, and it is what drives the most skilled immigrant women to find meaningful work in their fields, notes Dr. Nardon. But the pandemic has limited these opportunities.

“If you already know someone, you can meet on Zoom instead of meeting in person,” she says. “But if you don’t know them, it becomes very difficult.”

a necessary culture change

Support programs like CIWA offer immigrant women a great opportunity to network, says Dr. Nardon, but she expects to see more government initiatives to support the employment journey of skilled immigrant women. In particular, she highlights the need for programs with longer, more flexible eligibility conditions.

“Sometimes women take longer to integrate because men’s careers will be prioritized and women stay at home to take care of the children,” she says. “By the time women are ready to enter the workforce, services are not available because they have lost eligibility.” Childcare support can also help relieve some of the domestic burdens that migrant women face, allowing them to spend more time building their careers.

But the responsibility is not only of the government. Dr. Nardon also calls for a “culture change” in social attitudes toward immigrant women, particularly from employers and hiring managers.

“There may be assumptions that [immigrant women] Not getting the right experience or the right training, so they are not capable like anyone else,” she says. As employers head toward “great resignations” (Stats Canada reported) 731,900 job vacancies in the second quarter of 2021, which is about 26 percent more vacancies than the same quarter two years ago), Dr. Nardon encourages companies to consider how skilled immigrant women can benefit their businesses, rather than They look for candidates to fulfill a particular requirement.

“Look at the talent that immigrants bring in and be more open-minded than trying to fit them into boxes,” she says. “Some employers are thinking of different modes of recruitment. They are not picking out specific features, but they are saying, ‘We need talent.’ They are creating jobs around the available talent.”

Dr. Nardon says all Canadians can play a part by building relationships with skilled immigrants in their communities or industries.

“Professionals can devote time to mentoring, knowledge sharing, and network sharing,” explains Ms Nardon. “It is not the work of any one person. The whole society has to work together.”

Interested in more perspective on women in the workplace? Find all stories on the Hub Here, and subscribe to the new Women and Work newsletter Here, chain reaction? email us [email protected],


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