Gender among Employed Immigrants – Foundational Data #4

This blog post describes the gender distribution of immigrants who are employed or self-employed in various regions of Ontario. Drawing on a newly-released report on immigrant entrepreneurship, it also points to some of the reasons behind gender differences.

Data not shown here indicates that there are more female than male immigrants to Canada, but that immigrant men have higher labour force participation rates. In looking at the gender division of immigrant employees, it is almost evenly split between men and women. There is some regional variation, but only by 3 percentage points.


Among self-employed immigrants, the gender division is considerably greater, with men more than two times more likely to be self-employed than women in some regions (Table 5)Even in the region with the narrowest gap, Stratford-Bruce Peninsula, 59% of self-employed immigrants are male, compared to 41% being female. In Northwest Ontario, just under 70% of self-employed immigrants are male.

In Ontario as a whole, 50% of employed immigrants are Male, while 65% of self-employed immigrants are Male. Thus, self-employed immigrants are more likely to be male than female.

Large Group of Business People Holding BoardTable 5. Percent distribution by sex for immigrants who are employees and who are self-employed, Ontario, 2011.   [click on title for full-sized version of Table 5] 

FD #4 Table-5

Table 6 shows the percent of immigrants who are self-employed, if the individual is in fact employed. This presentation points to several interesting findings. In the second column in the bottom panel, we see that employed male immigrants are 5 to 9 percentage points more likely to be self-employed than employed female immigrants. This “difference” is less for immigrants who have recently arrived in Canada. Why would this be the case? One possible explanation is that most immigrants who arrived before 1981 would have already retired from their “first/ main” job.

Table 6. Percent self-employed, for those who were employed, Ontario, 2011                                                                 [click on title for full-sized version of Table 6] 

FD #4 Table-6


Why the gender differences?

In the Canadian labour market overall, recent immigrant women are paid lower wages and have less job security than both recent immigrant men and Canadian-born women. They are also less likely to start their own businesses and, when they do, their businesses tend to generate less revenue than male-owned businesses. Many factors contribute to these differences, including women’s role as primary caregivers within families and workplace “glass ceilings” that are difficult to break for many women. Woman face workplace discrimination, encounter different expectations, and may lack influential allies in their places of work and in the business world.

The impact of gender on self-employment and entrepreneurship has been examined in various studies. The November 2014 report The Economy And Resilience of Newcomers (EARN): Exploring Newcomer Entrepreneurship discusses the impact of gender, noting that many newcomer women look to entrepreneurship as an alternative means of accessing the labour market:

“For some newcomer women entry into self-employment can be a result of frustration with lack of child care, family care-giving responsibilities, pay inequity, the instability of precarious work, and not having their credentials/work experience recognized.” (pp 34-35)

On the plus side, women interviewed for the EARN report stated that business ownership gave them opportunities in terms of self-direction, self-sufficiency, expression, and creativity. They developed more leadership skills and were more financially independent. On the minus side, their business endeavors often failed to raise their incomes above poverty levels.


Among the various recommendations outlined in the report, several focused specifically on women, including a recommendation

  • to apply a critical gender lens when developing policies and services for newcomer women
  • to focus on increasing access to child care so that women are better able to pursue self-employment, and
  • to explore industry-specific co-operative models (p. 37).

Building on existing co-operative models, immigrant women could boost their collective entrepreneurial power.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why are gender imbalances far greater among self-employed immigrants than among immigrant employees?
  2. How does gender intersect with other variables such as age, time in country, skin colour, education, and profession to shape employment and self-employment outcomes?

As always, please consider sharing your thoughts in the comments section below.

Sarah V Wayland
Sarah Wayland, Principal Investigator

Tables created by Ray Bollman


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