Ann Diab can still remember the day her grandmother took her to a farm to show her how to pick tomatoes. It was hard work. It was hot. It was boring. And before she had picked half of a bushel, she was crying with frustration and asking her grandmother to take her home. Her grandmother had helped provide for ten children through sheer effort as a manual farm labourer; hand picking bushels of tomatoes day in and day out. She had come from Lebanon to Canada facing unknown challenges. She could not read or write, and had raised her family from an apartment above a movie theater. Transferring every small gain into a successful, stable life. All of her children were educated and married.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but her life story and my role in it, would leave a mark on my life,” shares Ann. “My purpose and my belief in supporting newcomer women so that they would also see the fruits of their risks, trials and labours was shaped by my experiences with my grandmother.”
Like many newcomers at that time, Ann’s grandmother didn’t have the English literacy skills needed to sign her own name. Instead she would write the symbol of a cross inside of a circle, which she used to represent her signature when she needed to sign documents at the bank.
“Perhaps it was a reference to her strong faith,” explains Ann.
“I was just a child who could only speak Arabic slightly and was sent to the bank with her to help her cash her cheques or to the doctor’s to translate. I found myself in that awkward space between knowing a little of each language, dealing with my anxiety in those moments, and trying to help her.” recalls Ann.
Out of that space, Ann’s calling has come to her. Throughout her own work life. she now sees how that struggle of having to reach out and help others, even when she felt uncomfortable and didn’t always know what to say or have have a ton of confidence led her to a rewarding career with two of Canada’s major banks. She had to listen to her own wisdom at a point in life when many woman feel pressured to put all of their energy into family life.
Ann had married and had two children when she felt a nudge from within: “My inner voice spoke to me, telling me that I needed not to be a “stay at home mom. I loved my children but there was a void in me.”
It was Ann’s husband that listened with compassion and recommended She apply to a bank nearby. Her first steps were encouraged with two words explains Ann, “He said, “Just try.”
With the recommendation of a friend who sent in her resume, Ann soon found herself pursuing new roles. She had never imagined herself doing nor succeeding at more demanding positions. Yet she managed the unknowns with sheer perseverance and the support of other women she worked with. Later, her husband noticed a new bank opening closer to home, and with his support she put in an application and was promoted to an Assistant Manager position where she helped open the branch and connections with many people in her community.
The often repeated image of a woman easily rising through the ranks toward her goals is not what Ann experienced when vying for new positions. She had to keep affirming herself .
“During this time, I spoke my truth aloud to myself.I voiced what I wanted in my life and I found other women who supported me even when I was not sure of my self.”
She preserved and found herself able to go beyond helping herself when a Settlement Officer from a newcomer organization called Women’s Enterprise Skills Training, Inc. (WEST) called her and asked if she could getting the bank involved with a placement program to give women a chance at gaining skills. Later, the same Settlement Officer asked Ann to commit more of her time to WEST by becoming a board member. Being on the board was intimidating for Ann at first but became easier once she started helping with fundraisers and learning more about the challenges of those newcomers coming to Canada.
“I met board members who had struggled as women from racialized and newcomer communities and managed to gain success academically and professionally and together we supported the organization in being advocates and trainers for hundreds of local women who have gained employment and self-confidence.”
Ten years have come and gone since Anne began serving on WEST’s board. Nowadays, Ann often speaks up for the cause of gender equality , better opportunities for women as the president of WEST’s board.As a mother of a child with Autism she is a woman who uses her power to advocate.
“Today, more than ever, I stand as a supporter of uplifting women and celebrating as they manage to take down the barriers and obstacles in their own lives and meet new opportunities. To me, success means living authentically, giving and receiving support, getting through awkward phases, and not giving up.”
Ann is also the first to admit that her life doesn’t always feel like a perfect vision of success at all. She is a working mother trying to manage multiple relationships, help bank’s clients succeed, advocating for her child to access learning and achievement on his terms, and advocating for women who are pursuing their futures with the support of WEST. Not to mention finding time to take care of her own health and wellbeing.
In the end, Ann is the author of her own story of feeling vulnerable yet strong. A woman with a link to the determination of her immigrant ancestry.
“I am thankful to all who have supported me on my journey, most especially, the woman who helped me find a way to bridge language and difficulties to foster new opportunities: my grandmother. She always let her faith guide her through adversities and struggles.”
This project is supported by the Pilot Fund for Gender Equality, a collaboration between Community Foundations of Canada and the Equality Fund, with support from the Government of Canada. We thank the Windsor Essex Community Foundation for this opportunity.