Central Alberta Immigrant Women’s Association program co-ordinator Tabitha Phiri

Breaking down barriers

The Central Alberta Immigrant Women’s Association is steadily marching on with its goal of stronger economic security for local immigrant women.

The Central Alberta Immigrant Women’s Association is steadily marching on with its goal of stronger economic security for local immigrant women.

Stakeholder groups from Lacombe, Olds, Rimbey and Red Deer met on Feb. 10 to develop an action plan for the Women’s Economic Security Project in Central Alberta, first launched by CAIWA in 2012. The project seeks to find and implement a strategy that would help break down barriers for women new to Canada, and foster more successful integration into the work world. Its first phase involved small focus groups with immigrants and employers, as well as community brain-storming sessions to find out what needs to be done.

“The idea for our action plan session was to come up with tangible solutions. It’s now the community taking the program on to make it theirs,” said Tabitha Phiri, the program’s co-ordinator. “We’re identifying who is going to do what needs to be done, such as what the service providers can do. We know what needs to be done. Now it’s about the how.”

Members from the Red Deer Public Library, Westerner Park, the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce, Family Services of Central Alberta, Red Deer Public Schools, Nova Chemicals, Lifelong Learning Council of Red Deer and more organizations all joined the roundtable this month to discuss the action plan.

Kevin Mooney, senior area manager for Red Deer and Lacombe counties with Alberta Works, took part and says the project is “absolutely on the right track.”

“This particular initiative is very action focused. They’re doing more than producing a report that will sit on a shelf somewhere,” he said.

Mooney has worked closely with immigrant clients for numerous years, he said, and they often experience difficulty attaching to the labour market due to barriers such as language and credentials, among other factors.

“One of the action items we discussed was to work more closely with employers to promote the hiring of immigrants and to help employers develop what is called a diversity or an inclusion plan so that they become more aware of their own biases,” he said. “It’s not, I think, that employers are overly racist or discriminatory, but I think a lot of it is inadvertent; you just get comfortable hiring people who knock on your door and look and speak like the majority.”

The project will work with employers to overcome that tendency, Mooney said.

“It’s not just about immigrants either. This applies to people with disabilities, aboriginal clients. Employers, I think, are slowly waking up to the message that they need to diversify their workplace in order to simply be competitive, because that’s where a lot of the workforce is at these days. It helps if you’re competitive internationally.”

Also discussed as part of the action plan was the option of creating a group of human resource professionals who would help match employers with potential immigrant employees, Phiri said.

“This moves away from just addressing job barriers to immigrant women to now providing jobs,” she said.

There would also be the option of encouraging more employers to take on immigrants as volunteers for valuable job experience in Canada.

“If there was a regulated program in place for this type of immigrant-specific volunteering, I think it would be more successful than just suggesting volunteering to our immigrant women, who often don’t see the value in it,” Phiri said.

A steering committee was also selected on Feb. 10, consisting of seven members from the various organizations who will be chiefly responsible for overseeing the project’s implementation.

They will be the main contacts with employers, organizing workshops for them and other workshops for immigrant women, Phiri said.

Anindita Bhattacharya immigrated from Dubai in 2012 and is a second-year social work student at Red Deer College. She, too, had stories to share when it came to developing an action plan.

“This project will bring a lot more awareness to the struggles immigrants undergo,” she said. “Speaking from experience, even just the process of applying for a credit card can be greatly discouraging, especially if you don’t have the language. … I think this could be a big step forward.”

Phiri said she hopes to see some implementation efforts of the action plan by the end of April.

She believes the project could impact at least 500 immigrant women, both unskilled and skilled.

CAIWA received a $300,000 grant from Status of Women Canada for the project two years ago, as part of a $14-million funding blitz for 55 projects for women living in rural and remote communities and small urban centres across the country.

rfrancoeur@bprda.wpengine.com

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