Empowering Newcomer Women in the Workforce: Four Strategies for Career Exploration

Newcomer women possess valuable skills to contribute to the workforce. Service providers have the unique opportunity to leverage these capabilities and empower newcomer women to actively engage in the workplace. This blog post addresses employment barriers that women face and explores strategies for supporting newcomer women in their career development.  

Understanding the Participation Gap 

Recent data from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) highlights a pre-pandemic workforce participation rate of 53% for immigrant-origin women, compared to 76% for men. This gap underscores specific barriers for women, ranging from structural and systemic issues such as educational inequalities and workplace discrimination to socio-cultural challenges like insufficient family support and difficulties maintaining a work-life balance.   

Consider using the following strategies to support newcomer women in their career exploration:

1. Take a Holistic Approach

  • When communicating an employment program’s overarching goal, emphasize career exploration over immediate employment. The push for rapid employment often amplifies anxiety and aversion to work among newcomer women. Dedicate time for program participants to gradually shift their perceptions and worldviews about gendered labor divisions without the undue pressures of immediate placement. This can reduce anxiety and give participants the opportunity to build confidence and skills while focusing on their personal growth. Work with women clients to help them understand the employment program’s expectations and participation requirements.  
  • Connect clients with additional services: Consider collaborating across programs and with community partners to integrate vocational English as a Second Language (ESL), digital literacy, and behavioral health support into the employment program to foster a comprehensive and holistic learning environment.  

Program Spotlight: Women in Action  

The Women in Action Program, developed by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in New Jersey, helps newcomer women with career exploration in a supportive environment. The program is structured in small cohorts of 5–10 women who meet for 12 consecutive weeks. The participants receive in-person instruction, learn from guest speakers, and take field trips to job sites. Ninety percent of women engaged in this program reported a high motivation to learn English. Sixty percent of participants are now employed, and 20% are enrolled in college.  

2. Prioritize Accessibility

  • Offer flexible scheduling: Help women prioritize home and family responsibilities by scheduling short, intensive meetings or part-time sessions. This will allow for consistent attendance and help women balance the many responsibilities they may have.  
  • Explore options for onsite child care to reduce barriers to participation for people with young children.  
  • Provide consistent interpretation and transportation services so that every client can engage in the learning experience.  
  • Advertise the program broadly in targeted languages and locations to engage a wider audience of newcomer women.  
  • Collaborate with local community centers focused on empowering women to obtain additional support and resources for the program. 
  • Engage the family: Family plays an integral role in bolstering program participation and creating a supportive environment for women to engage in career exploration. Consider arranging a meeting with all decision makers in the family system to proactively address logistical concerns related to the distribution of family obligations. 

3. Cultivate Confidence

  • Set realistic expectations for career exploration to foster adaptability and growth among newcomer women and to help them navigate the process with resilience, confidence, and purpose. Convey that the first job they take doesn’t have to be a definitive, lifelong commitment. Rather, it serves as a stepping stone. 
  • Facilitate peer mentorship: Organize participants into small cohorts of 5–10 women to generate a platform for open dialogue about workforce entry and to help members build self-assurance, encourage one another, and strengthen their sense of community. 

4. Chart Next Steps to Employment

  • Facilitate goal articulation to enable women to define and express their career objectives.  
  • Guide participants through self-reflection and identification of the skills they already possess that directly apply to their desired roles.  
  • Assist in linking transferable skills to suitable employment opportunities using tools like skills assessments and talent showcases.  
  • Help participants set professional development goals, such as training and language objectives that align with their desired career pathway. Explain how to set SMART goals that incorporate these training and language milestones.  
  • Broaden job exposure to help newcomer women discover new industry opportunities. Consider activities that introduce participants to varied career pathways, including guest speakers from various industries, company tours, job shadowing opportunities, and career panels featuring professionals from diverse fields. 


The following resources from Switchboard offer additional information on employment programs tailored for women: 

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