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Burnaby, Coquitlam duo create community for immigrant women to navigate professional spaces

Prachi Jatania and Tina Balachandran co-founded Immigrant Women Initiative (IWI) to help immigrant women with their career journey in Canada.

For immigrants Prachi Jatania and Tina Balachandran, rewriting their professional journeys in a new country was meant to be a breezy task — after all, they had years of experience and a strong skillset backing them up.

But those rose-tinted glasses wore off.

With many workplaces looking at expertise and skills from a "Canadian professional experience" lens, they found themselves having to be creative with the narratives to overcome those barriers.

Jatania, of Burnaby, and Balachandran, of Coquitlam, soon realized they were not alone — and many immigrants like them, especially women, have been told to "completely erase or rewrite their professional narratives" despite their long careers and experience from their home country to find jobs in this new country.

To help and support these immigrant women professionals propel their careers, they co-founded a collective, Immigrant Women Initiative (IWI), where women can come together to network, collaborate and advance their professional journeys in an inclusive, empowering environment.

"We realized that we need to navigate this [professional] system — get creative and intentional about owning our stories as professional women and some of the learning and lessons in that process have inspired us to create this community," said Jatania, a strategic communications specialist.

Immigrant Women Initiative (IWI)

As storytellers and creative sector leaders, both women have experienced first-hand the barriers to thrive and grown in the Canadian professional landscape, Jatania said.

"This is what inspired us to build an inclusive community that can proactively unlock opportunities and inspire every woman to steer/navigate their new pathways with confidence and conviction," she added.

Even before Jatania immigrated to Canada, she had the desire to work in capacity building for women in the workplace as she tried to struggled to return as a working mom at a full-time capacity in the corporate sector in 2018.

In 2022, Jatania and Balachandran, who pivoted from a career in television production, began surveying the need for creating this space, which addresses gaps in the Canadian labour market.

"We recognize that we are all at varying stages of our immigration and integration journey here," Jatania said. "And we do believe that skilled immigrant women like us who come from across the globe are at times triply disadvantaged because of our gender, immigration status, and racial backgrounds."

Soon, with their shared passion to support upskilling for radicalized immigrant women and meet them where they are at their careers, they launched IWI in 2023 — with the first workshop held in July.

IWI has held two workshops till date, attracting more than 50 participants coming from different walks of life — recent graduates, career pivots and more.

"This community meets you where you are at in your journey," added Balachandran, who now works in the employment and resettlement sector.

"For example matching you to professionals in your job search, from your sector and equipping you with professional development tools that are specific to your career pathways."

The goal is to create a vibrant community and a circular hub of professional development where all immigrant women who receive mentorship eventually also become mentors themselves.

They said more IWI workshops with career development experts and other engagement activities are in the works, which professionals from all walks of life can benefit from — including a session on financial literacy for immigrant women professionals, something that the duo believe is essential would be scheduled in the upcoming months.

'Owning your story'

For Balachandran, the collective is not about "rewriting" one's story. In fact, the early advice to rewrite her story was one of the harshest pieces of advice she has ever received, she noted.

Having a 20-year media career prior to coming to Canada was one she was proud of — and with courage and perseverance weaved herself into the landscape of Canadian professionalism. She is a strong advocate for immigrant women to embrace their stories wholeheartedly and unapologetically.

"Reinventing ourselves as immigrant women doesn’t mean we have to rewrite our stories,” she said.

Jatania added, it is fulfilling to play a role in addressing gaps faced by immigrant women’s participation in the Canadian economy.

"Our passion lies in empowering equity denied immigrant groups, to provide them a safe community that they can lean into and allies who will share their knowledge and expertise," she said.

"We are creating a community of working professionals that Tina and Prachi didn't have as newcomer women."