The Journey Towards Inclusion and Diversity in Canada’s Life Sciences Sector
A few weeks ago, Life Sciences Ontario (LSO) released an eye-opening report titled “Status of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) in Canada’s Life Science Sector.” This comprehensive report provides a clear glimpse into the efforts being made to promote IDEA throughout the life sciences sector, while also shedding light on the existing barriers that impede progress and opportunities to drive real change.
The report highlights that the representation of women, Indigenous People, people with disabilities, and visible minorities in the life sciences workforce is lower compared to the general labour market, indicating a pressing need for action. However, the report also uncovers an encouraging fact – the number of recent immigrants within the life sciences sector has doubled that of the immigrant workforce in the general population. This achievement is certainly cause for celebration, demonstrating the industry’s progress in welcoming diverse talent.
However, the life sciences industry still has a long way to go to become fully inclusive. A recent article in the Toronto Star (Jun 11, 2023) titled ‘I respect myself too much to stay in Canada’: Why so many new immigrants are leaving, brings up important points that make us realize that even though we’ve made some progress, it’s too early to be satisfied. We need to keep working on creating a welcoming environment where everyone, no matter their background, feels valued and supported to succeed.
Navigating the Challenge of “Deskilling”
The article delves into a highly significant social issue that strikes a personal chord with me – the phenomenon of “deskilling” among highly skilled immigrants who migrate to Canada. These talented individuals face immense challenges in securing jobs that match their education and experience, primarily due to the lack of Canadian work experience.
Despite qualifying to immigrate to Canada through a stringent program for skilled professionals, many find themselves deprived of opportunities that align with their skill sets. It’s disheartening to witness engineers and doctors pushed into retail positions. Personally, after arriving in Canada with a Ph.D. and over a decade of work experience, I found myself repeatedly confronted with the phrase, “We decided to pursue a candidate with experience in Canadian corporate setup,” which made me consider working at a grocery shop. Thus, when I come across the poignant question posed by one of the interviewed newcomer scientists and researchers – “Is there a problem with me, or is it Canada?” – I deeply relate to their frustration.
Dispelling the Myth of “Canadian Experience”
Many newcomers seeking employment encounter a challenging hurdle – employers’ insistence on having “Canadian experience.” This requirement is not only unjust but also in violation of the law.
Ontario’s Human Rights Code explicitly prohibits employers from seeking information about “prohibited grounds of discrimination” during the application process, including asking about the origins of a candidate’s work experience. The Ontario Human Rights Commission firmly believes that insisting on the Canadian experience can lead to discrimination against skilled individuals. The notion of “Canadian experience” is not an adequate measure of a candidate’s suitability or expertise for a job, and employers must be able to justify the necessity of Canadian experience for any position they advertise.
Canada’s Immigration Landscape
As per Canada’s Immigration Levels Plan, the country is set to welcome an unprecedented number of permanent residents – 465,000 in 2023, 485,000 in 2024, and 500,000 in 2025. Over 50% of those new immigrants will be selected under the economic category for their higher education and skills. These individuals arrive with great potential to contribute significantly to the country’s economic growth. However, it’s dismaying to discover that around 34% of them might end up in lower-skilled jobs, according to Statistics Canada. Even among economic immigrants residing in Canada for over a decade, 31% remain stuck in these so-called “survival jobs.” This group, consisting of the most educated and economically motivated individuals, is also the least likely to stay in Canada.
In this landscape, the life sciences sector plays a pivotal role in retaining and nurturing such valuable talents. To truly embrace the principles of IDEA, the life sciences industry must actively ensure that newcomers are provided with high-quality opportunities and the necessary support to thrive, cultivating an environment where their fresh ideas and innovations can flourish.
While stories like the one described in Toronto Star continue to highlight the challenges newcomers in life sciences professions face while trying to find suitable jobs, we must acknowledge that our sector has made notable progress compared to the general workforce. This accomplishment is undoubtedly a source of pride for the life sciences community. The recent report on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility marks a pivotal milestone in raising awareness about the critical issue of discrimination. By shedding light on this matter, it has the power to drive positive change and further improve the sector’s statistics, making it an essential step forward.
For companies within the life sciences industry, promoting diversity should be a top priority. As Ambassador to Canada, David L. Cohen aptly stated during his speech on the presentation of the IDEA report, “Not committing to diversity is a business malpractice.”
Anna Kaminska, PhD, is an HR professional with over 15 years of experience in law and business consulting. She currently serves as the HR & Legal Affairs Manager at dicentra, a leading CRO & Regulatory Consulting company. Anna also engages as a volunteer on the Policy & Government Relations Committee at the LSO.