Navigating Canadian STEM Workforce as an Immigrant Woman

Are you an immigrant woman trying to navigate the new waters of Canadian STEM landscape? Our members from 6 Canadian cities virtually gathered and brainstormed the common struggles and challenges of IWS. This started a fruitful, honest, critical discussion about how to overcome the barriers that immigrant women in STEM face when they come to Canada searching for a bright future and fulfilling career. 

You are not alone!

Women face various challenges throughout their careers in STEM, leading to a “leaky pipeline”.In simpler terms, many qualified women eventually leave the workforce to tend to other responsibilities such as being mothers, partners, or caregivers. Other factors are due to gender bias, as well as cultural practices. As a testimony to some of it, we have already seen how the pandemic has affected women and men in the STEM work force disproportionately. All these challenges are aggravated when you are a woman, trotting the globe in search of a deserving career or due to personal obligations. 

So, believe us when we tell you that even though your challenges are unique, you are not alone in facing them. Chances are that somewhere some other immigrant woman is facing similar challenges. 

The good news is that all this is changing. Canada started implementing more inclusive policies in place. For instance, CIHR, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, has a requirement in place for sex/gender inclusion in their grants.

The bad news is that the change is not fast or steady enough.

At IWS, we provide a safe, judgment-free, and inclusive platform for our members to let their hair down and share their stories while just being themselves. In this article, we have put together some takeaways on how to navigate Canadian workforce, particularly that in the STEM fields.  

1- You have applied to so many jobs and either had no callbacks or received rejections. What now?

We have all been there. Receiving so many rejections after spending hours crafting your resume and cover letter can shatter your confidence. Chances are that your degree is not recognized by the Canadian accreditation councils and you are left to hunt for jobs that you are ‘overqualified’ for. In other cases, you may be adequately qualified and experienced, but as an immigrant, you are deemed lacking Canadian experience resulting in these outcomes. There still are a few strategies you can apply to change the tide in your favor.

Explore. Analyze. Assimilate. This might sound surprising but Canadian job markets are more dynamic than conventions would dictate. Job titles and responsibilities are updated frequently, which means that your research using the repetitive or conventional keywords may not be giving you the most accurate picture of the job market. Time to change the old strategies! Conduct proper research of the job scenario and strategize wisely.

Key takeaway: To bag the right opportunities, make sure you are looking in the right places. Be strategic and realistic.

Rebrand yourself. Learn to estimate your skills and strengths appropriately, then get to the business! Often, immigrants do not get a chance despite being qualified because the recruiters may doubt their capabilities to be able to assimilate into the Canadian work culture. It is important that you build your pitch to be able to convince your prospective employers of your capabilities. Develop the skill of soft persuasion. Remember, there is always a better way to state your point. Having the confidence in your education and experience and being able to convincingly convey it through your resume or during interviews is the key to land that job you have been eying! 

Key takeaway: Build your pitch and lookout for opportunities. Do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it. You have nothing to lose by trying, so why not try?

Transferable skills – know them, use them. Know your transferable skills and learn how to skillfully incorporate them in your resume/interview. As an international woman, you already embody many international skillsets and experiences that can make you immensely resourceful. Use the transferable skills in your scientific and academic background as well. In our IWS family, we have instances where one of our members was selected for a job because she was fluent in an international language. Rebrand yourself by matching your career aspirations to the Canadian job market and go for it!

Key takeaway: Use your international experience to your benefit. 

2- So you got a job. What next?

Congratulations! You steered through the first step. But this is not enough. To keep growing, you will need some skillsets apart from you already have. 

Never stop learning. Most of the workplaces provide many opportunities for their employees to constantly grow. These include certifications, training programs, conferences, and workshops. Never hesitate to grab such opportunities, even if those might not seem too relevant for the moment.

Network! Network! Network! We cannot stress how imperative this is. While your first job might not be what you wanted, but it is an entry job into the Canadian workforce, and that is what you need. 

Key takeaway: Keep looking for more opportunities. Being in the right place at the right time can be a game-changer. 

3- Stuck in the wrong job? 

So, you worked hard to land a job in a new country and work culture, but soon you realized that either the job profile or the workplace environment was not right for you or your growth. What do you do now? 

Learn from it.This is in no way a failure, but there is something you can take from that experience. Leave when you realize that you are not growing. With this new experience, you will be able to choose your next gig carefully and ask wiser questions during interviews for the new job. When trying for a new job, highlight the positive aspects of the job in your resume. It is also OK to completely omit the experience.

Do not put up with Toxic work cultures. Even though Canada thrives on the principles of equity diversity and inclusion, it is not immune to toxicity in some work cultures. If you realize that your workplace is hindering your growth in any way, shun your comfort zone; it’s time for a new job! 

If you are the boss, set a good precedent, not a toxic one.

Do not tolerate harassment. Period. We have said enough. 

Be aware of your rights as an employee: Do not make the mistake of not educating yourself regarding your rights as an employee. This will help you avoid exploitation and legal implications at work.

Key takeaway: Select your next job by researching the organization and knowing your rights with your employer. Lastly, set up boundaries.

4. Do not let Imposter syndrome get to you. 

‘Karen has been growing swiftly in her career; getting accolades and quick promotions. But deep down within her, there is a voice that always tells her that she doesn’t deserve this. She dreads the day others too will discover her incompetence and fraudulence…’ 

This might strike a chord with many women in STEM. Imposter syndrome is real, it sneaks up on you and can affect every aspect of your career. Unsurprisingly, statistics show that women suffer from imposter syndrome more than men. Could it be because women do not have many role models to look up to and realize that their competence is not unprecedented? We can only hope to find out in the future, with more women role models around. 

Know your strengths and focus on them. You have got this far with your hard work and perseverance, remember that and be kind to yourself. 

Find women role models who have achieved a similar career trajectory. If there are no female role models in your career path, try to become one! Look up to the women who have achieved what you aim to and achieve and set a new precedent! 

Find mentors who have your best interests in mind and learn from them.

Celebrate your accomplishments: Women traditionally shy away from sharing professional awards for the fear of being perceived as braggarts. Indeed, it is a fine line, so tread carefully. But share your accomplishments! This is another way to network more and attract collaborations. 

Key takeaway: Believe in yourself. Your achievements are not fluke or happy accidents.

5- Avoid developing Queen-Bee syndrome: 

We know what a struggle it has been to get to where you are and that you deserve to be recognized for your work. However, that does not mean that there is a scarcity of space on the stage. 

Take the lead when needed and give others the opportunity at other times. Be there to support.

Key takeaway: Share the successes of your female peers, because their success is yours as well! 


You are in for a long bumpy road, filled with closed doors, frustrations, achievements and as many highs as there are lows. To be able to survive, surround yourself with likeminded people who have been where you are. It takes a village to grow, and that with the international and immigrant woman in the Canadian STEM sector is small. Hold on and hold on tight! 

Was there anything in here that you never heard of before? 

Equal contributions by Aniesha, Muna and Pooja Shree.