The Face of Inequity in Employment and EntrepreneurshipMarch 25, 2021
By Andrea Pierce
COVID 19 has severely impacted the lives of immigrants and racialized Canadians not just in health but in employment and entrepreneurship pushing more people in poverty. COVID-19 job losses were greatest in areas where women were the majority of the work force and the virus significantly increased the burden of unpaid care on women. This has an even greater impact on racialized and immigrant women, as they are more likely to be physical and emotional caretakers, and frontline workers overseeing the well-being of their families and communities. Almost one-third of employed Black Women (31.7%) worked in health care and social assistance in January 2021, and over four-fifths (81.2%) of these were immigrant women as compared to one-fifth (22.9%) of non-visible minority women worked in this industry, according to Statistics Canada. Many of whom are single parents falling below the poverty line. These intersecting identities intensify the disadvantages.
This is not a new problem; it was spotlighted and exacerbated by the pandemic. In 2017, immigrant employment rate was 78.9%, largely attributed to immigrants in the country for more than 10 years versus 84% for Canadian-born. When examined with an intersectional lens by race, African-born immigrants had the lowest employment rate of all immigrant groups, and rates’ differentials were much higher for the African-born in Canada for 5 years or less. The challenge continues even when employed. One in five Canadians indicates racism is an issue at work. The incidence is higher among Black Canadians where the majority (62%) ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that racial discrimination is a problem in their own workforce, as reported in a 2019 Morneau Shepell study.
In a society where more than one-third of the population will come from immigration by 2031, investments must be holistic in addressing the effects of multiple interactive factors to appropriately address the employment challenges faced by immigrants and racialized residents particularly women.
Immigrant and racialized people who often run small businesses also face challenges in accessing finance and access to business networks despite the fact that they have a similar business profile as the typical small businesses in Canada. Without financing, cash flow usually becomes a problem for small businesses, and prevents them from growing. This is troubling considering that immigrant and visible-minority owners are more likely to start firms than non-immigrant and non-visible-minority owners, according to a 2018 Innovation Science and Economic Development report. To grow Canada’s economy especially during these times, we must leverage and support this innate entrepreneurship asset and provide support to grow its impact.
It is also worth mentioning that small businesses represent over 50% of Canada’s GDP and are the lifeblood of the Canadian economy. Of the total 1.23 businesses in Canada, 1.2 million are small businesses, representing 97.9% of Canada’s businesses, with 8.4 million employees.
We cannot just “build back better”, we must change the systemic barriers that led to disproportionate impact of the pandemic on immigrant and racialized people. One critical change is for all levels of governments and corporations to properly implement supplier diversity and social procurement to be inclusive of immigrant and racialized people. Leveraging social procurements is an economic multi-play, increasing immigrant and racialized business’ economic participation, employment and community wealth building while addressing equity. This is particularly important for Black immigrant women who have experienced the worst effects of the pandemic.
Andrea Pierce is the Lead for Equity Ottawa Initiative at OLIP.