Despite her background in marketing from her home country, India, Sweety Rajpal did not immediately find work in her field when she immigrated to Canada in May of 2018. However, thanks to community resources like Work BC and Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), she managed to build a new career path that eventually led her to a meaningful job.
It all started when Sweety sought out her local Work BC in North Vancouver, not long after she settled in. There, she was assigned to case manager, Frances Yee, who referred her to a free three-month Admin Essentials program at YWCA. “The idea was to start somewhere, and not just wait to find a job in marketing,” explains Sweety.
Once approved, she took full advantage of the program’s practicum tools, including interviews and work experience. After succeeding on her second attempt at her interviews, Sweety did her practicum at a real estate firm. “It definitely helped me, just to see how people talk. Even that’s a thing to understand: How do people communicate with each other here?”
After finishing the Admin Essentials program in September 2018, Sweety was referred to a job opening by her YWCA case manager. She was then hired in October 2018 as the Membership and Certification Coordinator with BC Career Development Association (BCCDA), by executive director Lubica Keighery.
Lubica understood that finding Canadian work experiences can be a bit of a catch-22. “You can’t get it, because you don’t have it, and you don’t have it, because you can’t get it.” As an immigrant herself, Lubica has faced this hurdle before, so she makes sure others benefit from the lessons she had to learn the hard way. She decided to focus on Sweety’s potential, instead of her lack of work experience in this country. “She was willing to accept whatever came her way and to make the most of it. Overall, I was really impressed by how quickly Sweety was able to pick up on things.”
After securing her position as the Membership and Certification Coordinator, Sweety had the opportunity to advance her career further. “I started slow, but once I learned more, and with Lubica’s help, I completely took over all the responsibilities.” Sweety still works at BCCDA, but her current title is Marketing and Certification Manager.
Despite her success, she recognizes barriers that women of colour face while looking for work in Canada: “It’s not all pretty. I think I was in the right place at the right time. I didn’t go through a lot–I did, but not a lot–compared to many who are still struggling. One of the participants in our [YWCA] program, a scientist from Iran, was not able to score an interview, because sometimes people say ‘you don’t have Canadian experience’ or ‘you are overqualified for this job, we cannot hire you’.”
Moreover, racialized women are at a 9.6% rate of unemployment, compared to non-racialized women at 6.4% (“Canada’s Colour Coded Income Inequality” – The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives).
“Among newcomer job applicants, the most frustrating thing is that we are not even able to get an interview. We never know what happened to our resume. I learned to make a resume a certain way, to catch the recruiter’s attention in two seconds, but who knows what they are looking at? If they see your name and don’t see any Canadian organisations, do they even look at it?”, criticises Sweety.
“I already see some positive changes. Recruiters and employers are becoming more open-minded about immigrants and women.” Sweety also hopes that transferable skills become key and get priority over work experience. “It’s not about IQ, and it’s becoming more about EQ now: your emotional quotient. You can always train people, just give them a chance. If they have done so much work in their home country, they are not dumb. They will learn, and they have come here to do something for themselves, and they might even have more energy and passion to do it.”
Sweety’s best advice for immigrant women looking to build a career in Canada is to come with an open mind. “Try not to be rigid and be ready to learn”, she urges. “Start somewhere. Volunteering is so big here, so volunteer in an organisation that is near your trajectory of work. And keep updating yourself. There is always going to be a good recruiter that will recognize your skills. Networking, LinkedIn, you should be up on them.”
As for Lubica, she encourages newcomers to confront rejection. “Accept it as a possibility and do it anyway, give yourself that gift of chance. The more interviews you do, the higher are your chances for a lucky breakthrough.”
The story is a project of the Immigrant Women’s Advisory Committee (IWAC) supported by PIRS (Pacific Immigrant Resources Society) and funded by the Fund for Gender Equality which is supported by a collaboration between Community Foundations of Canada and the Equality Fund, with support from the Government of Canada.