Exploring the challenges experienced by professional female immigrants

People often study for years to achieve the degree of professional experience they need to excel in their careers. However, all this effort can seem wasted when a person immigrates to a new country, only to find their credentials and experience are not recognized or not enough for the host country.

Even in a place as open as Canada, some immigrants have described encountering ongoing barriers.

Deemed skilled from afar

Originally from Romania, Laura Brass came to Canada in 2008 and holds an MEd in Teaching English as a Second Language in Local and Global Contexts from the University of Calgary, Alberta. While working on her master’s degree, she became increasingly familiar with the struggles and successes of female immigrant teachers in Canada.

Laura Brass. | Photo courtesy of Laura Brass

Brass received the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) doctoral fellowship which supported her in fulfilling her dream of completing a PhD at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

“Feminism and new materialism are the theoretical frameworks informing my research,” she explains. “My interest in new materialism was also inspired by my rescue dog Max and my love for animals – big and small.”

Currently in the data collection stage, Brass is interviewing female language teachers across Canada. Observations made at this early stage indicate that although these women came to Canada as skilled immigrants, they are struggling to find employment in their field and are having to work menial jobs, which they are overqualified for, in order to support themselves.

Language, country of origin, age and even on occasion religion, were reported as some of the grounds on which these skilled female immigrants have felt discriminated against.

“During the pandemic, the unemployment rate of immigrant female language teachers was double that of their Canadian-born counterparts,” explains Brass.

Despite having a PhD in English, these women are still struggling to secure a job, which they were deemed qualified for by the skilled immigrant program. A barrier, often reported by many, is lack of ‘Canadian experience,’ but, as a newcomer, their experience is global, not local.

Language literacy and education crossing paths with technology

Professor Jennifer Jenson has considerable experience working with teachers in relation to technology, pedagogy and curriculum. Jenson has identified a lot of gatekeeping behaviours around technology, especially in relation to women, who, she says, are often actively kept out of technological sectors and STEM related professions.

Jennifer Jenson. | Photo courtesy of Jennifer Jenson

“Games are the creative medium of the 21st century,” she says.

Jenson believes people are understanding and experiencing things through this creative medium which is having a profound effect on other industries such as movies, publishing, pedagogy and many more.

“The dangers of being socially and culturally excluded from this medium, as many women and girls are, have an impact on societal development,” she reflects.

There are changes to technology policies that can be implemented to allow for more equitable opportunities in education across all schools, be they in more rural or city central locations.

The overlap between the areas of interest the two scholars hold, comes from the intersection between Jenson’s focus on women and technology, and Brass’s female immigrant language teachers who are also overlooked and underpaid. Both scholars share the goal of supporting women through affordable dissemination avenues.

A more linguistically versatile future

“Being a public scholar can also afford me the opportunity to make my voice heard in various public contexts,” Brass reflects.

She hopes to give back to the local and larger community of immigrant women and language teachers. Her work may even have the potential to suggest guidelines for Canadian citizenship and immigration agencies and integration service providers to help address the challenges faced by skilled immigrants as they arrive in Canada.

“It’s not easy, but, if you work hard and persevere, you can really make it happen,” she says.

Brass also hopes to help motivate other immigrant women to pursue their dreams.

In addition to her PhD, Brass was also awarded the Public Scholars Initiative fellowship which is an additional project she hopes to run over the summer months, in her home country of Romania.

For more information visit: www.grad.ubc.ca/campus-community/meet-our-students/brass-laura