South Asian women have faced some of the biggest job challenges during the pandemic in Canada, and a new study looks more deeply at this group and offers insights into their experiences in the workplace.
More than half of South Asian women respondents to a survey by CulturaliQ and the Pink Attitude Evolution said they are planning to leave their jobs for other opportunities.
This share is higher than any other group of women in Canada, and 19 per cent more than the average of all women surveyed.
CulturaliQ is a Toronto-based cultural market research company. Founded in 2015, Pink Attitude Evolution is a Canadian non-profit organization that supports South Asian women across several industries.
Among South Asian women’s motivations for leaving their current role, 48 per cent identified unsatisfying work as a major reason, compared to 35 per cent of all women and 32 per cent of all men. The second most-cited reason for leaving their job was poor management, at 37 per cent.
“For this to change, it’s not just the work of South Asian women or women. This is everybody’s work,” said Puneet Maan, who is in the midst of a job switch, starting a new position as a vice-president for Laurentian Bank next week.
Maan said Wednesday that a big force in achieving her own career success was receiving workplace support and sponsorship. Sponsorship refers to a relationship between a protégé and someone of higher authority in the company who can help advocate for career opportunities.
When she returned from maternity leave, Maan said she noticed that those she relied on for support had left the company.
“I’ve had road bumps where I haven’t had sponsorship, I’ve had periods where I’ve had sponsorship, and those two times in my career felt very different,” she said.
Conducted from September to December 2021, the survey included responses from 2,200 women and men of various backgrounds, of which 700 were South Asian women, 400 were white women, and 158 were South Asian men compared to 300 white men.
The survey cannot be assigned a margin of error because online panels are not considered truly random samples.
Sixty-five per cent of South Asian women said they are considering going into business themselves, compared to 46 per cent of all women saying so.
Nita Tandon, CEO and founder of Ottawa-based containers and kitchenware company Dalcini Stainless, said Wednesday that this figure spoke to her own experience as an entrepreneur.
“You can only go through so many employers where you just don’t feel like you are valued,” Tandon said, adding that a part of the push for starting her own business was learning of a significant pay gap between her and other people of colour compared to their white counterparts.
“You start to feel this unfairness,” she said.
The ability to have control over her work was an attractive feature of the entrepreneurial path, said Tandon. “Let me create the environment that I want to work in, and also who I want to work with.”
The study also suggested that the pandemic has created more challenges for South Asian women.
Almost half surveyed said they plan to quit their jobs due to the pandemic, a higher proportion reporting so than all other groups of women.
Sixty-five per cent said the workload in their household has increased since the pandemic began, more than any other group of women surveyed.
South Asian women were most likely to say they lowered their salary expectations in the last few years, with 64 per cent saying so compared to the 50 per cent average of all women, and 45 per cent of all men.
Ruby Dhillon, CEO and founder of Pink Attitude, said on Wednesday that paying attention to this group is especially important as the Canadian labour force continues to shift and the country relies almost entirely on immigration for population growth.
“To have one of your largest, highly qualified workforce on the fence of leaving, I think that is something that should be alarming all of us,” she said.
Statistics Canada said South Asians make up the largest visible minority group in Canada, representing one-quarter of all working-age visible minorities.
South Asian women are also one of the highest educated groups compared to other visible minorities, according to the 2016 census.
In April 2021, the employment rate for South Asian women sat at 59.7 per cent, 15 percentage points lower than the rate of their male counterparts at 75.5 per cent. This is triple the gap between non-visible minority men and women, according to Statistics Canada.
Statistics Canada showed in July 2020 that South Asian women claimed the highest unemployment rate among other groups at 20.4 per cent.
The office of Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said in a statement Wednesday that the federal government believes ensuring more women can enter and stay in the workforce is essential to a strong economy.
Qualtrough’s office said that $50 million in funding was earmarked in the 2020 Fall Economic Statement over two fiscal years for a women’s employment readiness pilot program. This program supports organizations to provide pre-employment and skills development support for women facing multiple barriers, and projects to help racialized women were one of the key priorities of the program, the office said.
“I think I, like many people of colour, have kept this to ourselves for a very long time,” said Tandon, referring to the working conditions laid out in the study.
“We’ve known there have been differences, but we’ve never wanted to say anything. And I think the only way things get you know there’s a shift is if we do speak up and let people know.”
Erika Ibrahim/The Canadian Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2022.