Supporting Economic Opportunities for Refugee Women this International Women’s Day
This International Women’s Day, She Matters and Refugee Pathways are coming together to #ChoosetoChallenge the barriers refugee women (hereinafter ‘female newcomers’) face within the labor market, and advocate for their access to equal opportunities to share their wealth of knowledge, talent, and innovation in pursuit of their livelihoods.
She Matters is a Dutch social enterprise recruitment agency with a mission to simultaneously empower companies with diverse talent and female newcomers with employment. In partnership with the public and private sector, we offer a gender-specific career readiness program (our signature Lotus Flower Programme), mentorships and employment opportunities for female newcomers that aim to increase sustainable livelihoods, promote social cohesion, and enhance women’s economic empowerment.
Empowerment Through Employment
The women that She Matters works with have overcome tremendous odds. Employment provides new skills, an increased network and newfound confidence, enabling these courageous and resilient women to contribute to their host countries in important ways, bringing new energy, innovation and cultural diversity.
As municipalities have the responsibility to integrate newcomers into the labour market, the employment of female newcomers will carry less financial burden with fewer newcomers dependent on social benefits and other indirect costs due to unemployment. For businesses, female newcomers bring cultural diversity, valuable perspectives and technological advances into their workplace, which benefits their employer’s bottom-line and ultimately uplifts the economy. Finally, when female newcomers are mobilized with employment it provides for a more enriched and cohesive society.
The COVID-19 crisis is now widely viewed as ‘The Great Recession’ by economists and finance professionals worldwide. Government-mandated lockdowns of businesses and any non-essential activities has set off a wave of unemployment not seen since the Great Depression in the 1930s. If past pandemics are any indication of the future outlook, the poorer and vulnerable individuals of society will be impacted much more severely. Indeed, a recent poll of top economists found that the vast majority anticipate that the COVID-19 pandemic will worsen inequality, in part through its disproportionate impact on marginalized workers. Still, there is hope in our economic recovery, and even more so because the source of our recovery could be found in the untapped talent pool of highly skilled refugee women.
The Future of Work
The global crisis resulting from the spread of COVID-19 has forced businesses worldwide to adjust and adapt. With a growing number of travel restrictions, furloughs and hiring freezes, companies have been forced to modify their practices of talent acquisition.
Post-COVID-19, companies are fast-tracking their Future of Work agendas, mindful that their work from home employee base will likely remain somewhat more significant than pre-COVID-19. There shows optimism for companies to recover, and some will do so quickly in terms of maintaining their pre-COVID-19 staffing levels. Some companies will rehire furloughed employees, and some will hire more robustly as the economy bounces back. Additionally, there is renewed focus on diversity within organisations, which has been fueled by the pandemic’s exposure of deeply rooted societal inequalities and the igniting of social unrest. Human resources leaders are now increasing their efforts to commit to further diversifying their workforce.
She Matters approach is to be proactive and plan for the future. With the assumption that the Netherlands will remain in partial lockdown for the remainder of the year, and perhaps early next year, the Lotus Flower Programme is implemented using a hybrid format — mixing in-person instruction and digital online learning at home. While research has shown that newcomers are expected to face socioeconomic inequalities during the digital transformation, She Matters sees the new format of programming as one that will only empower the candidates with the necessary digital skills needed to prepare them for the future of work in the post-COVID-19 world.
Looking ahead, companies should focus on the following benefits when considering female newcomers in the post-COVID-19 world:
- Female newcomers are strong job candidates — both in terms of diversity through their nationality, their strong skill sets and education, but also through their grit and determination — all of which will matter much more in moving forward.
- For companies, there’s opportunity to benefit from the Halo Effect of doing good, which is both a win-win for their revenue and for the female newcomers themselves.
- Finally, in these tumultuous times where the new normal has yet to emerge, companies’ corporate culture will evolve. Companies will need employees who are eager to be included in the path forward and perhaps even more suited for the changes to come versus the traditional cohort of employees.
Why This Matters for Female Newcomers
For the more than 192,000 registered newcomers in the Netherlands, finding durable solutions for labour market integration is central to securing a livelihood to support themselves and their families. Yet despite research confirming their eagerness to enter the labour market, female newcomers in particular face significant barriers in accessing employment opportunities. Of the total number of registered newcomers who received a residence permit in 2015, only 11% of adult newcomers are employed or self-employed. For women this is just 4%.
Further, since the outbreak of COVID-19, emerging data and reports have shown that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified. The problem may be especially acute for women who face both discrimination and marginalisation, such as refugee women The isolation they already experience is worsened by the negative psychological and emotional impact during times of lockdown. Furthermore, the impact of the employment crisis under COVID-19 may create greater inequalities for people who are in vulnerable positions. This places an even greater importance on their ability to find gainful employment.
The benefits of integrating female newcomers into the economy transcend beyond solely financial impact into supporting basic protection concerns guaranteed to refugees. Access to employment can have a positive impact on the psychosocial wellbeing of the women and their families, as job security can decrease stress levels upon migration. Reliable employment can also increase access to housing and essential services, protecting refugee families while settling into new homes and communities. Employment opportunities signify an opportunity for refugees to integrate further into the host community and provide a message of acceptance. Host communities are then able to reap the benefit from an enriched and diverse community. Therefore, supporting the employment of women refugees is not only for economic prosperity, but also for strengthening the female newcomers themselves and their host and refugee communities.
Refugee Pathways supports She Matters as a flagship woman-owned company providing social entrepreneurship opportunities for refugee women in the Netherlands through their career readiness and placement programming. We must encourage the inclusion of female newcomers into the labor markets in their host communities, in order to support both their and their families’ livelihoods, but also as a means of integration and acceptance into their new communities. In our call for complementary pathways, Refugee Pathways recognizes that upon reaching their new homes, refugees face immense challenges in securing employment opportunities which threaten their ability for safety and protection in their relocation. Therefore, it is vital that refugees, and in particular refugee women are able to have fair access to the labor market. Discrimination based on their gender, immigration status, or ethnicity should be rejected by all. This International Women’s Day, Refugee Pathways and She Matters join efforts to #ChoosetoChallenge these barriers within the labor market, and advocate for refugee women to have equal opportunities to share their wealth of knowledge, talent, and innovation in pursuit of their livelihoods.
Christina Moreno and Nadia Kramarenko, She Matters
Emily Ervin & Julie Meier, Refugee Pathways