For Us, By Us: Immigrant women share their STEM career success tips
Published February 1, 2022.
Windmill Microlending connected with skilled immigrant women, who also happen to be professionals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields across Canada, to offer their best advice for newcomers looking to overcome barriers and reach their full career potential
When women secure full-time career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), the results are financially significant.
According to TD Economics, they can earn approximately 30 per cent more than women working full-time in some other fields, including majority-female professions. Despite this, research shows skilled immigrant and refugee women seeking careers in Canadian STEM occupations, institutions and organizations can still experience unique challenges and unforeseen barriers to entry, advancement, and even lesser earning power in these careers.
There has been progress towards equity and inclusion in the STEM occupations for women but it has been painfully slow. Women have accounted for 30 per cent of STEM job growth since 2010 but represent “less than one-quarter of employment in these occupations.” Meanwhile, Statistics Canada projects STEM labour shortages until 2024.
This makes the advice of newcomer women who have achieved career success in the Canadian STEM workforce quite valuable. Some of their insights and tips are summarized to benefit all skilled newcomers aspiring to reach new heights in STEM.
SUCCESS TIP #1: Seek credential equivalence
Cecilia Odonkor, a biomedical engineer from Ghana, immigrated to Canada in 2011. She works as a Systems Design Engineer at Zimmer Biomet, where she contributes to cutting-edge orthopedic biomedical devices research and design. Odonkor says newcomers ought to consider seeking out the Canadian equivalence to their education credentials from their countries of origin.
“One of the important first steps is to translate one’s education, your STEM professional credentials, such as a Professional Engineer designation, STEM Doctoral degrees, etc., from their home countries, into Canadian equivalents,” says Odonkor. “This is important as Canada does not recognize certain professional credentials, licenses and training as equivalent, depending on which country they originate from. Once the Canadian equivalent of a newcomer’s training has been established, they are empowered with the knowledge of whether additional training is needed if they would like to continue in the same STEM career path. This may also be an opportunity where one can decide on an alternative STEM career to pursue in Canada,” she adds.
SUCCESS TIP #2: Build your professional network – in-person or not
Anna Gkalimani, a structural engineer at Westinghouse Canada and Board Director, Ontario Society of Professional Engineers, immigrated to this country in 2013 from Greece. She stresses the importance of building your professional network, both in-person and virtually.
“Networking is key to finding a job,” says Gkalimani. “To meet other professionals and other newcomers who can help you and share their journey with you. You can discuss your challenges with people who understand and have been there. This isn’t easy in the COVID context but join online events and don’t be shy to talk. Turn on your camera and meet people. It’s very important and it has helped me a lot,” she adds.
BONUS TIP: Anna discusses the importance of strengthening your English-language proficiency.
SUCCESS TIP #3: Always be learning
Clarisse Baudot, an IT professional and consultant based in British Columbia, and part of the national board of Immigrant and International Women in Science (IWS Network), immigrated to Canada in 2002 from France. Originally arriving in Quebec, she moved to British Columbia in 2009. Baudot believes STEM professionals are naturally curious and they must continue to apply a learning mindset, from the start and throughout their careers.
“As a newcomer, I want to learn new things and get recognized for it. I want to do it fast. More and more people are focusing on taking online courses, then listing this work on their LinkedIn profiles. This doesn’t give you experience but it does give you knowledge. In information technology (IT), for example, Microsoft, Oracle or Amazon Web Services offer certifications that can be more accessible than spending two years studying in a university. Some companies are even providing boot camps for certifications in as little as 12 weeks.”
While there are certainly more actions newcomers, male or female, can take to grow in their STEM careers, these tips are a strong start toward more of these professionals reaching their fullest potential.
Windmill Microlending’s affordable loans can be used to help skilled newcomers fund a range of different education and training programs. To learn more, click here.