Canada is facing a labour market crunch. Research by the Conference Board of Canada shows that, due to an aging population and low birth rate, Canada needs to tap into as many talent pools as possible to keep the economy strong. Immigrant women can contribute to Canadian economic development as they are growing in numbers and significantly underrepresented in the labour force.
They, however, face a variety of barriers to employment. Addressing the following challenges will open new doors.
Access to child care
The lack of accessible, affordable child care has a significant impact on a woman’s ability to find employment. Immigrant women may be particularly affected. They are more likely to work variable hours, have smaller family networks close by, and have lower wages than Canadian-born women in the short run.
One solution is to address the cost of child care. Research by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows the cost of infant to preschool care has risen higher than inflation for much of the country over the past five years, making it increasingly unaffordable for many.
Another piece of the puzzle is expanding the hours of available child care to accommodate work schedules that run later than many day cares provide. Current child care programs are based on regular 9-to-5 hours, which does not reflect varying schedules in today’s changing work environment. This is of particular concern for immigrant women, who are more likely to hold on-call, casual and informal jobs.
Child care is also critical for accessing settlement services and programs, such as language training. For programs offered by settlement organizations, successful programs would pair language lessons with childcare options; studies have shown that women are more likely to drop out of language classes due to family responsibilities.
Education and experience recognition
Immigrant women have higher rates of post-secondary education than Canadian-born women, but these credentials and foreign work experience are not always recognized by Canadian employers.
One way to address this is by providing employers with more information on qualification recognition and skills assessment. The Government of Alberta, for example, has provided employers with resources and tutorials on its International Qualifications Assessment Service. This information may be especially important for small businesses, which may not have the human resources capacity to properly recognize foreign education and experience. This is an issue for immigrant women because, per Statistics Canada, they face higher rates of education-to-job mismatches than immigrant men and the Canadian-born population.
Employers could also incorporate work-integrated learning programs. Many Canadian examples exist for post-secondary students, including co-op and internship placements run by universities. An example from outside the university system is Career Edge, which uses a paid internship model to support employment opportunities for newcomers, people with disabilities, and members of the Canadian Armed Forces, in addition to recent university graduates.
Social and professional networks lead to job opportunities. Helping immigrant women build their networks is critical to maximizing their potential in the labour force.
Networking opportunities facilitated by local chambers of commerce, business councils, and professional organizations would provide greater opportunity for women to connect with employers. One example is the Immigrating Women in Science program run by the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology in Vancouver. In addition to running networking events, the program also provides skill development workshops and mentorship opportunities.
Immigrant women number over 3.5 million but they are underrepresented and undervalued in Canada’s labour market. Better employment outcomes would improve their household situation and also contribute significantly to our economy.