Why immigrant women are struggling to get work in Vancouver's tech hub
'It's a very vast cultural divide that many of them face,' says diversity and inclusion expert
Women who are new immigrants in B.C. have an especially difficult time finding jobs in the tech sector, according to a Vancouver-based diversity and inclusion expert.
Vancouver is the third-largest tech hub in Canada. But only 18 per cent of tech workers there are women, according to a report by Commercial Real Estate Services Canada.
Jobs in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) industries are predicted to grow over the next decade. But only 50 per cent of immigrants found jobs in their field of study in B.C. last year, according to a 2019 Vancity report.
The organization Immigrant and International Women in Science runs workshops to help immigrant women better integrate themselves into the Canadian tech industry.
Sweta Rajan, co-founder of Immigrant and International Women in Science, works with immigrant women in tech to prepare them for the Canadian job market and help them close the gender gap.
"The workplaces haven't quite adapted to what our needs are. There's a lot of unconscious bias and networking challenges ... mentorship and sponsorship challenges that women face on a regular basis," said Rajan.
Rajan went to the U.S. from India in 2000 on a work visa and then immigrated to Vancouver in 2009. She is now a Canadian citizen. Rajan has worked within the tech sector under various research roles over the years and knows first-hand the struggles of immigrant women in tech.
Rajan says one of the biggest challenges facing women who come into Canada is that they do not know what resources are available to them.
"It's a very vast cultural divide that many of them face," Rajan told Stephen Quinn, host of The Early Edition.
"Often, immigrant women who come in don't have the self-confidence or even the mindset to approach people that they don't know at all and form that first connection."
Access to networks
Gwen Pawlikowski, communication consultant for Immigrant Services Society of BC, says the Vancouver tech scene is flourishing.
"But because Vancouver is so small, most people look into their [own] networks to hire. And these women do not have access to their networks," said Pawlikowski.
Immigrant and International Women in Science works with newcomers to help them share more about their past experience in STEM industries, to increase their assertiveness and help them find the networking circles that will help them advance in their field, says Rajan.
Both Pawlikowski and Rajan say tone and English pronunciation is a big concern for immigrant women in the tech sector.
"It can be an issue, particularly if you're having a phone interview ... if someone can't hear you, or you're pronouncing key words in a different way, the interviewer can't understand you. And that might jeopardize getting to meet that person face to face," Pawlikowski said.
Pawlikowski does voice and assurance training for immigrant women wanting to move into the Vancouver tech industry.
"They learn to go to meet-ups.... They learn to be more assertive with their personal style and do elevator pitches."
Pawlikowski says she believes the Vancouver tech hub will get to where it should be in terms of employing immigrant women.
"I think that both sides in the equation are moving toward each other," Pawlikowski said.
Unbounce, a Vancouver-based landing page marketing platform, reached 50 per cent gender parity with its nearly 200 employees in November.
Traction on Demand, a Burnaby-based Salesforce consulting partner and app development firm, is making significant strides in employing immigrants that are coming into Canada, according to Rajan.
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With files from The Early Edition