May 21, 2024

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Newcomer women often struggle to pursue their careers in Canada. These programs are helping them succeed

5 min read
Newcomer women often struggle to pursue their careers in Canada. These programs are helping them succeed
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Victoria Film Festival marketing and communications coordinator Rikhita Nair, photographed near her office in Victoria.Chad Hipolito

When Rikhita Nair moved from India to Victoria, B.C., she had nearly a decade of experience as a PR and communications specialist working with startups in tech, e-commerce and higher education. Eager for a job, Ms. Nair says she applied “like crazy to just about anything that remotely matched my abilities,” focusing on marketing and communications roles. But her efforts didn’t result in any opportunities.

“I quickly realized that this approach wasn’t working out so well,” she says.

Ms. Nair says she was “mentally prepared” for a long job search, taking into account the state of the economy and layoffs in the tech industry. “But it became particularly challenging after eight months. The constant rejections in job interviews began to take a toll on my confidence. Sometimes, I believed I had performed well having reached the final stage of the interview, only to be turned down, which was demoralizing.”

While browsing LinkedIn for job postings, Ms. Nair came across a program that piqued her interest. Called Lumen, this skills training program helps folks from Indigenous populations, visible minorities and newcomers find their first jobs in Canada, at no cost to the participants.

Anahita Thukral, founder of Lumen and media organization Hear Her Stories, says that skilled professional newcomers, like Ms. Nair, face “structural inequalities” when it comes to securing employment after arriving in Canada. For example, their international credentials may not be recognized, employers may pass them over due to a lack of “Canadian experience” and there may be language barriers.

“Networking, as a valuable mechanism to build connections and seek opportunities, is not prevalent in countries where most people are coming to Canada from, and is another skill that people need to acquire and be comfortable with,” Ms. Thukral says. “Lastly, juggling family responsibilities with a new career can be a complex task, especially due to the shortage of affordable and accessible child care options.”

These barriers can result in diminished opportunity for newcomer women. A 2022 Statistics Canada report showed that 62 per cent of recent immigrant women with a bachelor’s degree or higher were employed full-time in 2021, compared with 80 per cent of Canadian-born women with equivalent education.

Restoring confidence

Ms. Thukral says she started Lumen as a way to provide support for visible minority immigrant women in tech and tech-adjacent fields. “It enhances employability and prepares them to succeed.”

The first Lumen cohort (which included Ms. Nair) launched in May 2023 with 12 women, mostly from China, India and Latin America, with backgrounds in tech-adjacent fields like project management and communications. Ms. Thukral and a team of advisers conducted training sessions and analyzed digital media and communications job postings to help program participants get hired. The next cohort, which launched in September 2023, focuses on women in robotics and AI.

Lumen participants attend virtual bi-weekly group sessions to share their progress, gain tips on skills like interviewing and brainstorm ideas for job hunting, in addition to one-on-one sessions with Ms. Thukral and her team of advisers.

Ms. Nair says these sessions were invaluable in her job search.

“The resumé reviews, interview prep and mentoring sessions helped me throughout my job search. [My] mentor offered suggestions to enhance my resumé, [such as] considering the context of each job role,” she says. “With a few tweaks, I noticed an increase in interview callbacks.” One of those callbacks led to Ms. Nair securing a position in June 2023 as the marketing and communications coordinator for the Victoria Film Festival.

“I’m part of an amazing team, and it has played a vital role in restoring the confidence I had started to lose,” she says.

Ms. Thukral notes that Lumen addresses both the hard and soft skills that are required to succeed. For Lumen’s first cohort of digital media professionals, the team identified top skills required in media and communications roles, such as creating social media posts, writing articles and proficiency in Adobe Photoshop 5. Then, participants indicated which skills they already had and which skills they were interested in gaining for a personalized experience.

While Lumen has received and will continue to seek government funding, Ms. Thukral says that they are also in the process of partnering with employers to train participants and equip them with in-demand skills.

“We’ll provide them with hands-on, employer-led training projects to enhance their skills and bridge the gap between education and employment,” she says. For example, experiential learning platform Riipen has joined Lumen as a project partner to provide internship opportunities to program participants.

Longer outlooks for more impact

Rahila Ansari is well familiar with the challenges faced by newcomer women in finding employment in Canada. She has been working as a case manager and employment counsellor for the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. (ISSofBC) for over a decade. She says that settlement agencies like the ISSofBC can help professional women navigate their local job landscapes.

“We have a career paths program for skilled immigrants where a career practitioner sits with them and goes through their resumé,” Ms. Ansari says. The practitioner helps the newcomer identify what skills they’re lacking and recommend institutions that provide the courses or qualifications they need. ISSofBC also hosts skills-specific training, such as the Gateway to Tourism and Hospitality program, she adds.

Ms. Ansari hopes that governments at all levels will continue to fund skills training programs for newcomers with longer outlooks to create more impact, not just short-term solutions.

“Ensure [that] program funding spans between two to three years,” Ms. Ansari says. “You cannot see results right away.” She also encourages governments to provide newcomer women with pre-arrival information like labour market conditions, costs of living in each city and province and access to career planning programs.

With the right connections and assistance, career experts like Ms. Ansari and Ms. Thukral are hopeful that every newcomer woman can find a job that suits their interests and experience. Ms. Thukral says her goal with Lumen is to help participants find employment within six months of starting the program. So far, results have been promising.

“We’ve been able to help women secure mid- to senior-level positions at technology, finance, consulting and telecommunications companies in Canada,” she says.

Employment aside, Ms. Thukral also says it’s rewarding to foster connections between newcomer women. “They can see they’re not alone in this journey,” she says.

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Interested in more perspectives about women in the workplace? Find all stories on The Globe Women’s Collective hub here, and subscribe to the new Women and Work newsletter here. Have feedback? E-mail us at [email protected].

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