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Toronto takes great pride in broadcasting its status of being one of the most diverse cities in the world, a big pillar in what helps Canada rank second in the world for largest per-capita immigration rates, meaning one out of every five Canadians is foreign-born. We’ve had this immigrant-fuelled-economy strategy as an essential driver for many decades now, a strategy which ensures Canada’s immigration stream incentivizes highly-skilled workers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (aka STEM).

While Canada has been great at attracting this highly skilled talent pool, we have substantially failed at benefitting from their expertise because Canada has yet to do the work of treating its newcomers as more than just units of (cheap) labour. The glare through this lens is especially jarring when it comes to highly-skilled immigrant women skilled in STEM.

Consider that in 2011, more than one-half (51%) of all STEM degrees were held by immigrants, and among university graduates aged 25 to 34, immigrant women were twice as likely to have a STEM degree as Canadian-born women (23% versus 13%). If Canada’s gender diversity in STEM, and especially women’s subsequent labour participation in these sectors, has been steadily discouraging for the last 30 years, it is in large part because we have not focused on addressing the issues around integrating the skills of a staggering number of highly-skilled newcomer women into the specific workforces where they belong, many of them experts in jobs desperately required to address growing community needs across the country.

Here are three policy options that should be prioritized to fairly welcome immigrant women in STEM into our labour market - a focus that would have the benefit of positively impacting all workers in the long run:

Invest in child-care

The absence of a non-subsidy-based, comprehensive national child care and early education program in Canada is a hurdle that is particularly onerous for immigrant women. Newcomer women often don’t have intergenerational support (example: having the option of relying on grandparents as regular or emergency care providers) that serves as a remedy for so many Canadian families in the absence of a comprehensive national program.

Address the fragmented credentialing landscape

Skilled immigrants are required to get their education, work experience and professional credentials assessed if they received them outside of Canada. The process of accreditation is not standardized for most fields, resulting in a frustrating, exhausting, costly, unreliable and counter-productive landscape to manoeuvre for most immigrants, especially those belonging to racialized and visible-minority groups, compared to their non-visible-minority counterparts. Even successfully wrangling results from this fragmented system of accreditation does little to address the catch-22 that most immigrants face while looking for work in Canada. Employers deny immigrants work because of a lack of “Canadian work experience”, pushing them into a self-fulfilling vicious cycle that often masks an insidious power dynamic keeping racialized and visible minorities marginalized, and therefore forced to work in substandard conditions.

Equal pay

In 2016, the gender pay gap in STEM sectors (7.5%) was half of what it was two decades earlier. But precarious employment in STEM sectors is on the rise. The vast majority of those precariously employed are ones with non-permanent citizenship status, those waiting for their permanent residency to take effect, and particularly visible-minority women.

Women’s lower earning power doesn’t just mean there is a reduced incentive for them to stay and contribute to STEM sectors, it also means they are at a high risk of falling into poverty if they have children and then become separated, divorced or widowed.

For a country trying to steer the national GDP away from its dependence on natural resources and toward the innovations of the future, we cannot afford not to be doing more to integrate our highly-talented, highly-educated immigrant women into STEM sectors, and to keep our word when it comes to who really gets to make their Canadian dream a reality.

This is an excerpt from Bait-and-Switch of the Canadian Dream - full piece.