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International Women's Day 2023: Immigrant women in Canada's workforce

Vimal Sivakumar - 08 March, 2023

PGWP holders can now apply for a new open work permit
PGWP holders can now apply for a new open work permit

Annually, March 8th marks International Women's Day, a day dedicated to recognizing and highlighting the contributions of women all over the world while also shedding light on the ongoing struggles they face today.

In Canada, women have all the same rights and freedoms as men but continue to face challenges such as in areas like workforce representation. This is especially true of immigrant/newcomer women in this country. 

Workforce representation

Since 1976, the participation rate among women in Canada's workforce has ballooned over 30%, now standing at 83%. According to Statistics Canada (StatsCan) data, this figure is still roughly eight percent lower than Canada's male labour market participation rate (91.5%).

There were also, according to StatsCan, over 4.2 million immigrant women in Canada's labour market in 2022. Between January and June 2021, 7.2% more recent immigrant women were unemployed (15.2%) compared to Canadian-born women (8.0%).

Even among women in positions on the same level of the corporate ladder, discrepancies existed that disadvantaged women who were immigrants. Of the one in four executives that were women, roughly one in seven were immigrant women. Further, in a broad comparison of immigrant and Canadian-born executives, immigrant women earned the lowest median employment income ($241,900) and encountered the greatest gender pay gap (29%).

Wage gaps

According to 2022 data from StatsCan, reported by the Canadian Women's Foundation, women in this country make 89 cents for every dollar men make. In fact, an assessment of income bracket data from the 2021 Canadian Census indicates that beyond the $60,000/year income bracket, there is a significant decrease in women earning such wages (and a significant increase among men). 

Note: According to the data, more than 1.1 million Canadian men reported after-tax incomes of over $100,000. Only slightly more than 487,000 women reported such earnings.  

For immigrant women, this gap is further exacerbated, according to StatsCan data from 2019. According to this data, "new and recent" immigrant women made over 20% less per week than Canadian-born women.  

Change for the better across Canada

Measures to ensure equal pay for women are in place across Canada, including the prohibition of pay discrimination on the grounds of gender in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. Similarly, employers in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Yukon, Newfoundland and Labrador and the Northwest Territories are required by employment standards legislation to provide equal pay to all employees for the same or similar work. 

More recently, the following two actions have been taken in an effort to reduce the pay gap between Canadian men and women. 

1. In August 2021, Canada implemented the Pay Equity Act to ensure fair compensation for women (in federally regulated workplaces)

2. In late 2022, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) announced the commitment of nearly $6 million of additional funding towards the Racialized Newcomer Women Pilot Program

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