Think it’s tough finding work as a mum? Try being a refugee

It’s hard enough finding a job if you’re a mother. But, as we have discovered, add in a foreign name, overseas qualification and no UK experience and it’s virtually impossible. 

A few weeks ago I met a lovely lady. She was the same age as me, with a son born one week earlier than my son. She even went to university at the same time as me – gaining a BA in French.

But there the similarities end.

Because this woman is an Iraqi Kurd who arrived in Europe as a refugee. And because of this, our life experiences are drastically different.

Doors open for me

I can apply for jobs I am suitably qualified for and experienced in and have a reasonable expectation of being asked for interview.

I can expect my qualifications to be respected, to open doors for me and enable me to pursue a career in an area I love and have studied for.

And I can expect to raise my family without relying on state benefits.

This lady can do none of these things. And it’s not like she hasn’t tried. She arrived in Holland in the mid-90s and taught herself Dutch (she speaks a total of five languages). She even studied for (and gained) an MA in Art History at a university in Amsterdam.

She applied for programmes designed to help asylum seekers find work, and worked in both voluntary and paid roles to gain valuable experience.

She can’t even get an interview

Today she lives in the UK (she followed her now ex-husband here), and things are tough. Despite being highly motivated, and even working in two voluntary roles in the modest field she wants to find work in (administration in education) she cannot secure a paid role.

She can’t even get an interview.

How do I know this woman? A few weeks ago, after I appeared on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour, a psychologist got in touch with me. He sees a number of women like this lady. All talented women – many of them mothers – who have overcome huge odds (including sex trafficking) and now find themselves in the UK, but unable to find work.

Doors close if your name is foreign

They’re legally able to work. Many of them extremely well-qualified (and have experience). And are all keen to work. But none of them can get a foot in the door.

Why not? Well, surveys and anecdotal stories indicate that you are up to 40% less likely to get a call back on your CV if your name sounds foreign (even my own mixed-race son has changed his name to fit in).

Add in female, mother, refugee, foreign qualifications and no UK experience and that number drops to zero.

Because that’s the number of call backs the lady I met has received. And this is despite my writing her CV, LinkedIn profile and job applications for her.

Employers are missing out on huge talent

I’m very good at getting jobs. I have never been out of work. I have talked my way into amazing positions I had no experience or qualifications for. I even run courses in how to find jobs. And I can’t help this lady get an interview for roles she is, on paper, a perfect fit for.

So what’s the point of this article? It’s not just to vent my frustrations. I’d like to make employers aware of the huge talent they are missing out on.

Because this lady is the tip of the iceberg. Since I met her, the psychologist has referred a dozen ladies with similar stories to me. Women who have managed chains of chemists in their countries of origin (an amazing feat in itself for a woman in some of the countries they come from) and similar career achievements.

And I alone can’t help them. Yes I can inspire them to look for work. I can show them how to write their CVs and LinkedIn profiles. I can even apply for jobs for them. But if employers won’t look beyond their (foreign) names then all my help is worthless.

So if you’re an employer and a CV lands on your desk or in your inbox from someone who isn’t British, someone who doesn’t have UK qualifications or experience, just give them a chance. Ask them for interview and meet them.

Are you local to Brighton – and can you help?

More immediately, if you are an employer in Brighton, UK, could you give a woman work experience in your company? Or, if you are a local professional woman, would you be prepared to mentor one of these ladies?

Because believe me, to just have an opportunity or someone on your side would make a world of difference to them (they’d also be an amazing asset for any business). And quite frankly, I am struggling to help them right now.

And these are women, mothers, just like us. Women who want to feed their children, give them a secure home and feel fulfilled. Just like us.

So if you can help, or know anyone who can please email me. Thank you.