She is trilingual, has a doctorate and a lot of work experience. So why was finding a job in Canada an ordeal?

With a doctorate and eight years of experience in project management, Hala El Ouarrak did not expect finding a job to be so difficult in Canada.

Prior to the Moroccan woman arriving in Toronto in 2019, she participated in all pre-arrival settlement and employment counseling services that were offered to prospective newcomers. He was assured that his skills and experience were in demand in the Canadian job market.

“I did everything to the letter to make sure I didn’t miss anything when I got here. The feedback was that I would have no problem finding a job, and all I would need was a Canadian phone number so employers could reach me,” said El Ouarrak, who holds a doctorate in mathematics. applied and automatic control engineering.

Instead, the 31-year-old worked as a sales account manager at a shoe store and taught statistics as a private tutor, while ‘upgrading’ her resume by earning four more Canadian credentials in project management. (Some of El Ouarrak’s struggles came during the disruptions of the pandemic, but she says the number of job openings has not been affected.)

“It actually took me two years to get back into my field,” said El Ouarrak, now an IT consultant and part-time lecturer in project management and data analytics at Northeastern University’s Toronto campus. .

A new study suggests that this type of problem has been a problem for years – that many highly skilled and educated immigrant women in Canada face huge disparities in employment outcomes due to employer biases, barriers based on gender and other factors.

“Immigrant women face distinct challenges in entering and advancing in the Canadian labor market. They face downward professional mobility and underemployment in relation to their training and career path,” says the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council study (TRIEC).

“The data also shows that the incomes of immigrant women, especially those who are racialized, are lower than those of immigrant men and Canadian-born women, and their unemployment rate is higher.

Based on an online survey of 365 immigrant women in the GTA — two-thirds of whom hold at least a master’s degree — and subsequent interviews, the researchers found that 83.8% of respondents had taken at least a master’s degree. one of the following measures to “adapt” to the culture or expectations of Canadian employers:

  • 57.5% had downgraded their declared academic results and/or experience so as not to appear overqualified for a position;
  • 43% had accepted unpaid work or internships in a role related to their area of ​​expertise to gain “Canadian experience”;
  • 21.9% said they had changed or shortened their name to make it sound “more Canadian”;
  • 15.3% requested training to help them change their accent;
  • 13.7% of respondents changed their appearance to make it more acceptable to “Canadian culture”.

“The trade-offs some immigrant women have to make to start their careers in Canada contrasts with the high value that Canada’s points-based immigration system places on their skills,” said report author Sugi Vasavithasan, Director research and evaluation of TRIEC.

“Having to downplay their qualifications or change aspects of themselves to enter the Canadian labor market can be demoralizing for immigrant women. It harms their dignity and self-esteem.

The unemployment rate for immigrant women, at 12.2%, is much higher than that of their Canadian-born counterparts (4.9%) and immigrant men (6.4%), the report said. Among principal applicants admitted in 2009 through various skilled immigration programs, women earned $17,400 less than their male counterparts after 10 years.

Maysam Fadel moved to Toronto in 2019 after working for the United Nations Refugee Agency as a Community Services Coordinator and for UNICEF as a Syria Disaster Officer for a decade.

The 36-year-old applied for more than 500 job postings in the non-profit sector but did not receive a single response. She eventually found a survival job as a retail sales associate while volunteering with different organizations including the Canadian Red Cross.

“Employers all ask for Canadian experience and don’t consider any of the experiences you had back home,” said Fadel, who holds an undergraduate degree in English literature from the University of Damascus.

“I was very depressed and lost all hope of finding a suitable job that matched my experience.”

A friend’s friend’s husband helped her polish her CV and she dropped her surname, Allah, on her CV to avoid any potential bias she might face from employers potentials. Then the response started coming in and she was eventually hired as a volunteer coordinator at a community service agency.

While she needed to learn more about the organization’s operations and work culture, she said she was simply applying the same skills she learned back home to her new job in Canada.

“I didn’t learn a new skill that I didn’t have before. It’s just transferring my skills from one context to another. You have to learn and adapt every time you change jobs, even in Canada. It’s normal,” said Fadel, who last year was promoted to director at the same agency.

El Ouarrak, who is fluent in Arabic, English and French, said immigrant women shouldn’t have to downplay their credentials just to get their foot in the door.

Instead, she said, Canadian employers should adopt blind hiring practices to focus on finding candidates with the right skills and block out personal information that could bias a hiring decision. hiring.

“Recruiters are looking for unique profiles of candidates who qualify, but to get to recruiters, you have to go through recruiters, the gatekeepers who tick the boxes. If you don’t check 80% of the boxes, they don’t even look at your profile,” El Ouarrak said. “I think that’s where the disconnect is.”

The study calls for the improvement of generic employment support programs to reflect the unique needs of highly skilled immigrant women, as well as the ongoing training of hiring managers and recruiters to exceed stereotypes and recognize the value of foreign credentials brought by immigrant women.

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based journalist who covers immigration for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung


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Maria D. Ervin