Immigrant Women's Advisory Committee Profile
Meaningful Employment is an Avenue for Accelerated Integration
Immigrant Women's Advisory Committee | Meet SONIA D'AMBRA
Sonia is grateful to live work and play on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish People.
MEET SONIA D'AMBRA
Sonia came to Canada from Italy as a single woman knowing very little English. Today she celebrates opening her own engineering consulting company and becoming a Canadian citizen. Her biggest challenge as a new immigrant was getting her basic needs met. Something Canadians take for granted, the process of renting an apartment and getting a bank account is very different than it is in Europe. When she arrived, Sonia didn’t know which neighbourhood was preferable to live in, she had no previous landlord references and she didn’t know how to get the utilities hooked up. Two weeks after her arrival, Sonia was sent to work in the Northwest Territories near the arctic circle where the temperature was -30 celsius. The temperature in Rome, barely drops below zero! With the help of a colleague, another more experienced immigrant, she learned about 'long johns'!
Sonia is grateful that she came to Canada with employment. “Having a meaningful job helped me learn English and feel integrated in the society much faster.” Employment in her field gave Sonia the opportunity to meet Canadians and ask about the habits and customs that were different from her own. “I learned to explicitly ask what certain things meant or how they worked.”
WHAT IS THE GREATNESS THE LEARNING JOURNEYS PROJECT HAS HELPED YOU TO BEGIN TO UNPACK?
When Sonia joined Learning Journeys she had already been in Canada for a decade. She got involved in the childcare project. "Many women leave the workforce because the cost of childcare makes it not worthwhile. And these are trained professionals with salaries! If the current trend continues, by 2030, 1 million immigrant women with degrees will not be working in their fields. This is a human resource waste!" Sonia cites figures she sourced for LJ's childcare advocacy video (embedded below) describing the scope of the problem Canadian society and economy is facing. Then she brings another lens. "If women stay home with their children they don't have an avenue to integrate. They can be here for years and not feel at home in Canada. But when women use their skills and passions to their full extent, they experience positive mental health, their families thrive and they are successful in their careers which brings economic benefit to Canada, stimulating employment, as well as increasing tax revenues and contributing to the public welfare."
Sonia joined the mentorship project, another LJ project, because she sees it as something that can be done to facilitate women immigrants finding meaningful employment. "If we can engage with companies to put meaningful Canadian experience on their resume, then it will help them to find work that more fully utilizes their capabilities."
She uses her biggest learning from her own settlement experience to coach and mentor other immigrant women:
“Focus on my strengths and what makes me unique instead of trying to conform and become a bad copy of what I believed a Canadian looked like.”
"Sonia’s strong leadership and mentorship skills are humbling. Sonia is a fierce advocate, who gave us the courage to remind the world that immigrant women deserve access to a more inclusive workplace and fairer conditions of work. Through her insights and her analytical skills, Sonia can reveal the weaknesses of a system and address these flaws wisely. While working on her side we became more daring and confident women, aware of our potential."
- Sandrine Espié, Women’s Leadership & Development Coordinator
WHAT IS THE LEARNING - BOTH FOR YOU AND FOR ALL OF US - TO BE AWARE OF AT THIS TIME?
Having a meaningful job or project will help HER feel grounded and integrated in HER new homeland. Sonia cautions: “That what [Canadians] consider a safe place can be scary and challenging for immigrants. Having a meaningful job really helps settling in a new culture.” Sonia advocates for more inclusive workplaces that will allow immigrant women to find meaningful employment in Canada to ease the settlement process and contribute their skills and passions. She coaches and mentors immigrant women on how to interview and conduct themselves in the Canadian workplace to increase their ability to secure meaningful employment. So many times women are apologetic about their language skills or what they can’t do in an interview. She advocates for them to focus on the strengths they bring.
“There’s so many times in an interview, I just want to stop the interview, take the woman out of the room, coach her and bring her back in.” We need to have more of us at the hiring table to make a real difference and the only way to get there, is to make it past the interview!
WHERE DO YOU FEEL YOUR JOURNEY IS TAKING YOU NEXT AND WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE US TO KNOW ABOUT THAT?
Through her experience as an immigrant and as a hiring manager, Sonia understands the challenges newcomers face trying to secure their first job in Canada and the business need to hire the most qualified for the position. “I want to foster a solution that poise the needs of immigrant women, who require an opportunity to gather relevant experience in the Canadian workplace, and of employers who are looking for experienced staff. I want to support newcomers in building self-confidence, focusing on their strengths and employers in revising their existing hiring practices and procedures to champion a truly inclusive work environment."
“With the appropriate coaching of both parties to understand cultural barriers, there is a 'million women' opportunity for a win-win situation.”