Mapping a Better Path to Employment for Immigrant Women

Immigrants come to Canada to change their lives. For many, however, the changes they find are not what they were expecting; and they may be particularly challenging for professional women.

“What’s really exciting about this project is most research has been on immigrant employment in general, it didn’t consider what particular problems are for women,” said Frédéric Dejean. “But if you’re a Muslim woman from North Africa, the problems you face are going to be different from your husband’s.”

Dejean is a researcher at the Institut de recherche sur l’intégration professionnelle des immigrants at Collège Maisonneuve in Montréal. He’s also director of a Community and College Social Innovation Fund project, “New approaches to the de-qualifying of immigrant professional women.”

In addition to not being gender-specific, most research tends to focus on new arrivals, Dejean said in an interview. He, his colleagues and their community partners on the project (two groups working with immigrant women) know that it’s common for immigrant women to put their job hunt aside for several years, focusing instead on work for their husbands and raising children. That’s why the project looks only at women who have been in Québec three years or more.

They are also talking to immigrants from as many countries as possible, and to women who live in different parts of the city. (Traditionally, Montréal’s immigrants settled downtown, and services for them are clustered there; but today, many live in the suburbs and are effectively cut off from the services that will help them get work).

Because the research institute focuses on economic immigrants, rather than refugees, the people involved in the study have more education than the average Canadian and impressive professional qualifications. But they face a struggle to get a job worthy of their training and abilities.

Some women tell them they have found it easier to get jobs in English companies, even though they speak French. Some feel they have not been able to find jobs because of their appearance. Others feel resentment at the failure to recognize their qualifications and the inability to work and loss of status that entails. “You can feel the distress of the situation they’re experiencing. I think it is the most negative thing they experience.” Many complain agencies that find jobs for immigrants concentrate on doing it fast rather than getting the right kind of work, or that they’re given retraining but there’s no follow-up help to find work.

Dejean, his colleagues and their community partners will not be satisfied with merely producing another list of social agencies. “We want to learn about the path to employment, and what barriers are on it,” Dejean said, explaining that two women with similar qualifications and backgrounds may wind up in very different jobs just because of the agency or even individual they dealt with. “We want to find out where that path splits.”  When they know that, they hope to help develop plans for agencies and policy for government that will help immigrant women thrive.

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