These Venezuelan-born women want to remove employment barriers for immigrants

Ilia Francis and Adriana Romero hope to get more qualified immigrant women doing the jobs they trained for

Posted: December 06, 2018

From left: Ilia Francis and Adriana Romero are engineers, career coaches and founders of Our Little Venice, which helps immigrant women to transition successfully into the Canadian workplace. (Sabrina Castellanos)

When highly skilled immigrant women land jobs, they're paid less and are overqualified, compared to their male counterparts and Canadian-born women, according to an internal report by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Ilia Francis, an industrial engineer, and Adriana Romero, a systems engineer, know first hand what barriers immigrant women face when looking for work in Canada. Both women are highly educated and skilled workers who immigrated to Canada from Venezuela.


After a chance meeting at a mutual friend's baby shower, the two women launched Our Little Venice in March 2017, a company that provides career coaching services and workshops for immigrant and Hispanic women.

Their goal is to help more immigrant women find work that matches their skills. But Francis says the hardest job is often changing women's mindset.

"We went through the same and we know the hurdles," said Francis. "We feel like these women feel very questioned, even by themselves, that they are not capable enough to get to where they want to be or where they were before."

The women also want to end the stereotype that skills obtained outside Canada are not relevant. And, they want to get qualified women doing the jobs they were trained to do.

'We have to do something,' says Immigration Minister

Visible minority newcomer women have the lowest median annual income of all newcomer groups, and they're more likely to be unemployed, says Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.

"As a government, and as a democratic society, we have to do something about that," said Hussen. "Because when people are involved in the economy, and they are all participating, we all win."

For their part, the federal government just announced the launch of a three-year Visible Minority Newcomer Women Pilot.

"They may be facing some other barriers, for example, some of these women face professional licensing barriers," said Hussen. "So it's a way of supporting them throughout that long journey. Of not only getting into the workplace, but getting ahead in the workplace and finally getting into work that actually reflects their true potential."

Insecurity about language skills holding women back

Romero and Francis say they're encouraged by this initiative, but say grassroots organizations like theirs are driving the real change to get highly qualified immigrant women the jobs they are trained to do.

"I'm pretty sure there's a lot of those immigrant women working in a warehouse just packing stuff in a box that are super capable of managing a marketing department, an H.R. department, or a sales department," said Romero.

According to the entrepreneurs, highly educated women often don't put themselves out there because they're insecure about their language skills and fear employers won't take them seriously. They also feel that their resumes aren't appropriate for a Canadian market

Ilia Francis (right) says she and business partner Adriana Romero (left) faced the same hurdles in the workplace when they immigrated to Canada from Venezuela. (Sabrina Castellanos)

Romero adds that not having a network leaves immigrant women behind too.

"You don't know people in Canada … And 80 per cent of the jobs are usually not posted. And usually how you end up landing one of those jobs is when you network with people, and you know about opportunities that have not yet hit the market," said Romero.

They hope that their workshops will help bring together immigrant women from all over the world to meet, swap ideas and work together to breakdown workplace barriers for immigrants in Canada.


Rubina Ahmed-Haq
Business columnist

Rubina is a business columnist who has been covering money matters for more than 10 years. Her career began 20 years ago as a news reporter. After a decade on the news beat she realized her passion was discussing personal finance issues. Now, she weighs in on money and workplace matters on CBC Radio, CBC TV and CBC News Network. Her goal is to get Canadians to take control of their personal finances on their own.