Yet Another Degree?

Sep 24, 2020

Migrant Women Self-Exclusion from Leadership Opportunities through over-qualification.

I recently encountered a fascinating woman who migrated to the UK via another European country as a highly-skilled migrant (van den Bergh and Du Plessis, 2012; Grigoleit-Richter, 2017). Let me tell you about Tada, not her real name of course for anonymity. With her permission, I share her story which will sound somewhat familiar if you are a migrant woman and you are highly qualified, highly skilled and in a low paid job or stuck in middle management.

Tada is in her late 40’s, she has had the opportunity of living in two European countries, she has two Master’s degrees and she enrolled on a third master’s course in something totally different from the first two. As a researcher and fellow migrant woman, I was intrigued.  I wanted to find out why yet another master’s degree, and also what she did for a living. Her response was not that shocking as I have heard it before.  She is tired of working in her admin job and thinks this master’s degree will be the one to move her up in her career. I went on to have an hour-long chat with her, to find out why the other two did not help and what had stopped her previously from applying for better jobs with her three degrees; bachelors and two masters and her work and life experience just to put this into perspective. Again, the response is common, she worked very hard in her previous job and was doing the work of a supervisor but they went and employed a young person to become her boss, so she got frustrated and left the job. She then tried to start a business and spent a lot of money on loans and ended up not making any money out of the business, so she resorted to getting another master’s degree with not so much of a plan or advice on how best to proceed.

Caged in

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

What is interesting about this woman is that how come she is so highly qualified, highly skilled, with a lot of life experience and she is multilingual, yet she still works in the low-paid jobs?

Many highly skilled women are stuck in similar low paid positions and they give up (Grigoleit-Richter, 2017). Many migrant women approach me for advice. Most of them feel that they need to add more qualifications in order to get the job they want the problem is ladies; it doesn’t matter how many qualifications you have, if you do not have the work experience, you will still start at the bottom. Moreover, when you start at the bottom of the queue, if you do not push yourself and self-include in projects that will make you more visible and competitive you will stay there and get frustrated.  ‘No one is coming to rescue you’.  For as long as you do not persistently ask for that promotion if you do not go out and seek other higher jobs, you will stay in the same position. The fact is that no amount of qualifications will help you to move forward if you do not get rid of the fear, get used to rejection and keep trying. Be relentless.

Getting qualifications is important, however, it has to be accompanied by a plan that will move you towards a higher purpose. I am an advocate for education and leadership for women and girls, but I do not agree with people using qualifications as an excuse for their fear. Yes, the qualification will teach you something and make you feel great for a moment but then what next.

Research shows that migrant women often poses more one than qualification, nonetheless they find themselves in low paid jobs. While I agree that there are many systemic barriers, we need to develop a different mindset and start looking closer within ourselves and learn to critically self-reflect on the careers we crave.  Then appreciating what we have achieved, yet keep pushing to advance ourselves.

Racism, discrimination and old boys’ networks and so forth are not disappearing soon, However, we can make an impact by saturating job openings with our applications. We can use our intersectionality to our advantage.

The experience I have observed with many migrant women in the UK is that when they arrive in this country from their home country, they are limited in what they can do because they are under-immigration control of some sort or they are a dependent parent. It can take five years or more for people to obtain their indefinite leave to remain in the country. In that time the conditioning is survival. They become so caged in such that once that period has elapsed and they obtain their indefinite leave to remain or citizenship, they go back to University to obtain another qualification totally disregarding their previous qualifications and work experience gained before arriving in the UK. Most will go and start their first degree, others will obtain a Master’s degree. However, what is shocking about that exercise is they will stay right where they are in a lower-paid job even after completion. There is a strong fear of going to get a better job.

There is a Way

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

If this resonated with you, not to worry I have a bit of advice to you to consider; most importantly Change your mindset, ditch the fear or push through it. Over the last decades, there have been a great number of studies aiming to address lack of gender diversity in senior management e.g. (McDonagh et al., 2014; Davies Review, 2015; European Commission, 2016; Beckwith, Carter and Peters, 2016; Parker Review, 2017) There is a conscious effort for host nations to increase the numbers of women in leadership roles. If you do not have a plan, it will be difficult the get part of the cake. Qualifications coupled with the right work experience is what will get you there, so time to start planning. Here are a few things that you can do to help yourself:

  1. Move on: Apply to other companies that will appreciate a new face. You will not have the opportunity, if you stay in the same organisation, they want their job done and you being there you are fulfilling their role. Why would they change it when they can bring in new blood? The days of staying in the same job for 30 years is long gone. The problem is the fear of moving somewhere new, move anyway.
  2. Be Persistent: I am aware that there are situations that will stop somebody from getting the job that they want such as the systemic barriers I mentioned above, however, you know what those barriers are not going anywhere soon so work with them. Be tenacious, you deserve to be daring.
  3. Revisit your CV regularly: keep updating your CV basing it on the type of job you want. Tailor it to the company or position. Remember, do not lie on your CV. Do not discount it either. By updating it, you are affirming to yourself what you have achieved and the exercise alone will boost your morale.
  4. Seek a mentor and become a mentor: In both cases, you will gain confidence and learn more. Research has shown that having a mentor one of the keys to navigating and climbing the career ladder. Mentoring someone teaches you leadership skills and boosts your self-esteem. Ask people you know who are in leadership, chances are; they have mentors. Within our communities that is not something that we know well and leverage. Be the difference.

My challenge to you is that look around you, who do you look up to? Who can help you climb that ladder? At the same time look around you. Who can you help to climb the ladder? The more we hold each other the more we move forward.

If you have enjoyed this post or if you think somebody can benefit from my message, please share it with them. Sharing is caring. Let us raise awareness. Let us all move forward together.

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Beckwith, A.L., Carter, D.R. and Peters, T. (2016) The Underrepresentation of African American Women in Executive Leadership: What’s Getting in the Way? Journal of Business Studies Quarterly, 7(4), pp. 115–134.

van den Bergh, R. and Du Plessis, Y. (2012) Highly skilled migrant women: a career development framework Al Ariss, A. (ed.). Journal of Management Development, 31(2), pp. 142–158.

Davies Review (2015) Women on boards Davies Review Annual Report 2014. (March), p. 80.

European Commission (2016) Gender balance on corporate boards: Europe is cracking the glass ceiling – Fact Sheet. European Commission, Database on women and men in decision-making, (July), [Online] Available from:

Grigoleit-Richter, G. (2017) Highly skilled and highly mobile? Examining gendered and ethnicised labour market conditions for migrant women in STEM-professions in Germany. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 43(16), pp. 2738–2755.

McDonagh, Kathryn J et al. (2014) The Leadership Gap: Ensuring Effective Healthcare Leadership Requires Inclusion of Women at the Top. Open Journal of Leadership, 3, pp. 20–29.

Parker Review (2017) A Report into the Ethnic Diversity of UK Boards. London.

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