This Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) report provides insights on barriers to immigrant women’s employment and offers recommendations on how to better support their career entry and growth in the GTA.
In the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), immigrant women face underemployment, wage gaps and underrepresentation in executive positions. To shed light on their job search and workplace experiences, the TRIEC collected data from 365 immigrant women immigrant women professionals who arrived in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) between 2011 and 2020. The data collected on through surveys and interviews. They also surveyed 608 hiring managers and decision makers in the region who were involved in hiring and strategic decision making.
Regardless of their backgrounds, the search for a job in their field in the GTA was challenging. Close to nine in 10 respondents characterized their job search as difficult. The most common driver for coming to Canada was to find better employment and nearly three quarters of respondents started their job search on arrival. Among those who delayed their job search, childcare responsibilities or pregnancy was the main reason. For 48.2% of respondents, it took more than six months to land their first job in the GTA.
About half of the respondents (51.2%) identified a lack of Canadian work experience as a major barrier to finding a job in their field, making it a more common impediment than a lack of professional references (44.1%) and networks (42.2%) in Canada. Largely due to the “Canadian experience” requirement, respondents struggled to find commensurate employment and, as a result, 57.5% opted to downgrade their educational achievements and/or experience to get their foot in the door at lower positions than they were qualified for.
Respondents also took on unpaid work to gain experience in their fields (43.0%), changed or shortened their names (21.9%), altered their accents (15.3%) and changed their appearances (13.7 %) to “fit” perceived employer expectations. Additionally, possibly as a way to compensate for Canadian experience , about two thirds (64.4%) of respondents pursued or are pursuing further education since arrival.
To help find work, nearly all respondents used some type of employment related service or program. Satisfaction with these supports was mixed. Several respondents said that the supports helped them to build job search skills, understand Canadian culture and cultivate personal connections with other newcomers. However, respondents also felt that services and programs sometimes did not reflect their needs. They also recognized that the capacity of these programs and services to improve employment outcomes for immigrant women depends on the priorities set by funders and the openness of employers to diverse talent.
Despite a common belief that networking is important, more respondents (34.0%) secured their first job in the GTA by applying for an advertised vacancy, than by relying on social connections (21.1%), job fairs (4.5%) or networking events (6.6%) 6.6%). Similarly, more hiring managers said their organizations relied on online recruitment platforms, social media and their website than employee referrals, internal hiring or networking/industry specific events.
At the time of the survey, 82.7% of respondents were employed. Two in five respondents were in lower level jobs than they last held before immigrating , cancelling the gains they made in their previous countries. One in five employed respondents held senior management, executive or C level positions before immigrating to Canada, but just 7.6% held positions at these levels at the time of the survey. Even so, many respondents remained optimistic. About half of respondents believed they were on track to achieve the career aspirations they had before arriving in Canada.
Employers have strategies to attract immigrants but fewer help immigrants grow their careers . Two thirds (66.7%) of hiring managers at large organizations, 48.6% at mid sized organizations and 55.3% at small organizations said they have a strategy or deliberate actions to attract immigrants. However, when it came to helping immigrants advance in the workplace, only about one third of hiring managers surveyed said their organizations have clear communications on pathways to career advancement, recognize international training and experience for promotion, and/or provide coaching for leadership opportunities.
Gaps in employer practices show in the overall results on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI).