Blog Post

We Were Here All Along - Canada's failed promise to immigrant women in STEM

By: Marco Campana
October 6, 2022

TechGirls Canada (TGC), in collaboration with Prof. Nadia Caidi from the University of Toronto, conducted a two-year, Canada-wide analysis of the unique challenges visible minority and immigrant women face in finding employment in science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations. Their report Workfinding and Immigrant Women’s Prosperity in STEM is based on the stories of 74 immigrant women across 13 provinces and territories. This video presents their stories in a poignant and direct way.

The video's message is something important to watch and listen to. But also to read. As the project authors write: "Maia’s story evokes the myriad emotions and costs of immigrating to a new place and discovering that rules and rights don’t apply to everyone in the same way. We Were Here All Along offers an unapologetic reflection on the collective responsibility of building a Canada where all of us get to be ‘glorious and free’."

Here is a transcript of the video, which stands alone as an article and something that should be shared, read, reflected on.

Transcript

I am a STEM professional, and I can't get the job I'm trained for and experienced in. My career was well established when I immigrated here. I was ready for a new challenge. And I'd done my research. Canada needs skilled workers. Canada welcomes my expertise. I checked off all the boxes.

But once I got here, where were the opportunities I was promised? It's as if Canada no longer cared about my success.

When I landed, a settlement agency took over my file. My caseworker was going to help me get a job.

And she tried.

I soon discovered that meant any job. When I didn't get any callbacks, she told me to make my profile more friendly to employers, and crossed off the PhD from my CV. Where were those employers? I sent out so many CVS. Most of the time, all I got was silence. No feedback. No reason given.

How do I make sense of this cold shoulder after the warm welcome?

The first months were isolating. I stopped believing in myself. I began to think I'd done something wrong.

Turns out I'm not alone. There are STEM trained immigrant women all over Canada who have had the same job seeking experience as me. No one will hire you if you don't have the right connections, or the right background. We're expected to conform. To smooth out our accents to hide our countries of origin. One woman told me, her settlement worker encouraged her to remove her hijab to better her chances of landing a job.

Why must we pretend to be someone we're not to get a foot in the door?

Employers say "we want to hire more women." But they don't know what to do with us. As women, if we express confidence, we're too aggressive. If we're not assertive enough, we're not go getters. I just want to show people how good I am at my job.

And then there's "Canadian experience." You don't have it. You need more of it. This is what we hear when we follow up. When we don't land an interview. When, despite having all the required skills, we're passed over for the job. Sometimes "Canadian experience" feels like a code that employers hide behind. Some of us have taken on survival jobs to get by, working in warehouses or customer service. By the time we get home, we are exhausted. We're too tired to apply for more jobs to network or upgrade our skills.

I am a professional. Why did I invest all these years? Why am I being treated like this wherever I go in Canada?

It's not just the employer standing in our way. Professional associations won't license us because we trained outside of Canada. I've learned that credential recognition has been a rallying cry for decades to no avail. "We can't validate your education," they say our hands are tied. You must wait. You must retrain.

And then the COVID 19 pandemic happened. Hospitals were full. There were shortages of nurses and technicians. The politicians only took action when the country began to panic. They demanded permission for foreign trained professionals to help out in hospitals for 30 Day licenses to take on the highest risk jobs. Now there's talk of recruiting personnel from outside Canada and employing people with international credentials.

Turns out it is possible.

But we were here all along. We could have been helping.

This experience has changed me. We can't wait for another crisis to propel policy change. Government needs to act now. We can't wait for employers to recognize their own biases. They need training now. We need settlement agencies to stand behind us as the experts we really are and not just case numbers. They must be resourced to help us find the right jobs now.

Women in STEM, don't give up. Don't let other people push you down. We are STEM professionals in Canada. Let's get the employment we deserve.

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