Introduction to GBA Plus

Assumptions at work

Let’s briefly examine the design and implementation of an immigrant integration program that focuses on integrating refugees into the workforce. This program employs the same approach for all refugees, regardless of gender, culture or religion.

Consider a family that immigrates to Canada as government-sponsored refugees. Before arriving to Canada as a refugee family, the father/husband was the “breadwinner” and provider for the family, and the mother/wife was the primary caregiver and stayed home with their children. He has had difficulty finding work in Canada, while she has started a successful business and is now the primary financial provider and supporter for the family.

The situation may create tension in the family, as the role reversal creates financial independence for the woman, which may be quite different for the family. This may affect the male members of the family, both positively and negatively, depending on the family-context. Some may become isolated, sad, depressed, and lonely, while others may embrace new roles, and see opportunities for their daughters. Some may experience a combination of both reactions.

What assumptions do we have about the roles of men and women in relation to their participation in the workforce? Have the potential cultural implications of role reversal been considered in the design and implementation of the integration program? Have refugee communities been consulted about the government’s approach? Could the potential negative impacts and tensions be mitigated? What might be done to help diminish the tension in the family, and to ensure increased workforce participation.

The assumptions we make as individuals can affect both our work and the policies we develop as public servants by unintentionally privileging or disadvantaging different groups.

In developing policies and programs, it is critical that we not only recognize our biases and assumptions but also understand and challenge them.