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Why skilled immigrant women continue to be shut out of B.C.’s booming tech sector

March 8, 2021

“You can’t imagine how much immigrants are suffering,” said Shaimma Yehia, a software engineer who migrated to Canada in 2015 through the Federal Skilled Worker Program.

For many women who immigrate ready to break into the Canadian tech industry, the path to gainful employment proves more difficult than they expected.

“I found it very hard with no family support and four children who depend on me – all while I’m trying to catch up and find work in the tech industry. It seriously drained my mental health,” the Lower Mainland resident said.

Even with a degree in electronics and communications engineering and a decade of experience, the 40-year-old has only found work in B.C. as a caregiver.

Yehia applied for immigration alongside her husband, Amr, during the tumultuous Egyptian revolution of 2011.

“We were looking for a better life and better education for our children.”

Software designers and engineers remain the top occupation of those accepted invited to apply for permanent residency through the Federal Skilled Worker Program, according to the latest government data. In 2019, 871 were invited to Canada. Most were men.

Though Yehia’s family was granted a new life due to her expertise, the software engineer said she’s been shut out of the tech market due to a lack of Canadian job experience.

In Egypt, things were more stable, Yehia said – both her and Amr were employed at big companies. Yehia worked as a team leader at IBM, overseeing IT projects worth millions.

“When we arrived in Canada we had to start everything from scratch,” she said.

The mother-of-four said she’s been stuck in a “vicious cycle” of IT job rejections, resulting in a six-year employment gap on her resume.

By 2017, time spent looking for work had depleted her family’s entire savings.

“I had aspirations to come to Canada and join the economy but it’s not absorbing immigrants like me,” said Yehia, who received her citizenship in September.

“All this experience, why can’t Canada make use of it?”

The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated Yehia’s effort to reboot her career. While many B.C. businesses shuttered, Yehia decided to upskill.

She enrolled in a program with MOSAIC, one of Canada’s largest settlement and employment services organizations, in partnership with Vancouver-based tech company Traction on Demand.

It’s providing immigrants like Yehia with the hands-on experience needed to break into B.C.’s tech ecosystem.

“I’m one of those people who had always had big dreams and big plans for myself,” Yehia said.

“Getting the job is the first step of it.”

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