Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility Skip to main content


Gemma featured

Gemma Grey-Hall

By Stories

Gemma Grey-Hall

When she looked around her Gemma Grey-Hall didn’t see other women of colour in positions of power. Yet in the long run that didn’t matter, for the aspirations she held within herself were greater than those that were visible at the time. She didn’t wonder if she would be given an opportunity. She had a belief in herself and her abilities that she felt was possible and instilled by her grandparents and parents who emigrated to Canada from The Caribbean and successfully transitioned into careers in Canada’s public sector.

Gemma began her career in advertising sales and soon moved into the highly competitive world of pharmaceutical sales where she was consistently meeting and achieving greater sales goals and was often asked to reflect and share her future career goals.

“When I was asked where I would like to be in 5 years, I said I would like to be a Project Manager,” explains Gemma. “My supervisor immediately replied: ‘That is two levels above my position.”

It was a pivotal career-changing moment for a woman who is now leading a staff of 9 employees to raise critical education funds as the Director of Advancement at the University of Windsor. Her supervisor’s response revealed that she her need to take steps outside of her field to develop herself into the leader she was determined to become.

One day while dropping off professional clothing for an employment program at Women’s Enterprise Skills Training of Windsor (WEST), Gemma offered to volunteer, never expecting she would be asked to be on the Board of Directors. Saying yes to the opportunity led to whole new spheres of learning about the community, enhancing her leadership and governance skills and opened the door to meeting other women and people in leadership positions from other industries. Needless to say, her supervisor was surprised to learn about the opportunities she had found on her own, in order to develop her professional skills during her next performance review.

As she stepped into new roles in the community service sector as the Manager of Fund Development for the United Way, she was able to use her sales and marketing skills, coupled with customer service and public speaking to enhance meeting facilitation skills developed through on the job training and perfected through her role as first a board member and then Board President at Women’s Enterprise Skills Training of Windsor, Inc. (WEST).

Many success stories revolve around a combination of luck and hard work as the formula for change. However, Gemma is firm in her belief that that it was the less visible elements of her professional life that held the key to leveraging greater economic power. She had paid careful attention to three sources of empowerment: education, the way she used her mind and her money. Pursuing a post secondary education was the first key to open the doors of opportunity.

“I knew from a young age that a university education was the only option. My parents, wouldn’t accept anything less.”

Additionally keeping a clear mind is important for success. Each morning, as she still does, Gemma set intentions for her life, not career goals.

“I ask that I can have the job that will enable me to maintain the simple yet beautiful home and garden I love and an employer that values the work that I perform.

Maintaining a peaceful mindset after a day of striving and meeting work-related goals, also gave Gemma a powerful base to rest within herself. She spends time thinking about what she has not accomplished, jots it down, and puts it aside until the next day.

Yet the single most important factor in achieving her aspirations revolves around finances and proper budgeting. She set a benchmark of wanting to spend no more than 30% of her income on her home even when she could afford to spend more. This strict adherence to following a budget gave her the comfort of knowing that if something happened the family could maintain their lives.

For Gemma, gaining Gender Equality is a combination of internal vision and introspection, community connections, and financial strategy. These elements have combined to make her into the kind of woman she always knew she would be: a leader and an advocate for other women to seek out and strive for their own aspirations.

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.

Shiela Barker Featured

Sheila Barker

By Stories

Sheila Barker

Shiela BarkerSpeaking up for yourself to gain equality at work could be a life transforming
event. It was for Sheila Barker. But when the moment came, she was ready for it. It was at a high point in her ambitious career that she was tested. Sheila had gone from being a nurse and founder of the Ontario Nursing Association to working for the Ontario government as a policing service advisor. Her work involved guiding 72 Police Chiefs and applying the Police Services Act. The new position was a big promotion and, at that time, was usually was filled by men who were former police chiefs. Shortly after her transfer Sheila learned she was being paid a lower salary than her peers. And while her male counterparts had unlimited use of government issued cars, Sheila had to sign out a car for limited time periods. It was a discussion about inequality she would need to handle with tact. She knew if she was to speak too directly to her director, he might not respond positively.

“My grandfather always taught me that using a question to discuss a problem can help open up a more positive discussion so I thought that might be a good approach.”

Sheila requested a meeting with her director and said, “We need to talk.” She told him something was bothering her about her wages and she hoped he could help her and began with her questions.

“Why do I feel unloved? Excluded? Disadvantaged?” Sheila asked him.

As she leaned forward to advocate for herself. Sheila watched him roll backwards slowly until he unknowingly backed his chair into the large potted plant behind him. Sheila could see she had made her point. And on that same day, her economic power grew. She won a salary increase for her knowledge and abilities. Something that might not have happened if she chose not to deal with the situation wisely.

“I would say how you approach a situation and a supervisor will always be unique,” says Sheila. “However, asking these questions helped me. It also showed that I valued myself and I desired to be an equal with my peers.”

The source of her value came from Sheila’s grandfather. Although he dropped out of school and was a farmer he taught himself to play the violin and kept a library of classics that led to Sheila’s life-long love of reading that she credits with helping her gain knowledge and mastery in many areas of study. He reminded Sheila of that every week in Jamaica when he told shopkeepers: to store owners: “Give my grand-daughter whatever she wants because she’s going to be someone one day”.

To this day and throughout her career, she has always kept a clipping file of newspaper articles on topics related to her work.

“Reading deeply and really understanding your field of interest is very helpful for career success no matter what stage you are at,” shares Sheila.

Rigorous study and her own experience of empowerment led Sheila to get involved in making sure other people were treated equally. She’s been invited to the United Nations and has shared expertise on race relations, governance and police services with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Ministries of Labour and Solicitor General. Having past her 80th birthday, she is still relevant and sought after for comment on the issues of gender bias and harassment by the media.

She hasn’t stopped pushing for more gender equality either. Leadership is not defined by age according to Sheila.

“My father always told me leadership is a behavior, not a title,” explains Sheila.

“The idea of gender equality needs to expand to equal access to the same opportunities.We need to help women by identifying and redressing the economic and social power imbalances that still exist for them.”

For Sheila, what started as a conversation about her future has become a never-ending quest to gain equal opportunities for others, too.

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.

Ann Diab

Ann Diab

By Stories

Ann Diab

AnnAnn 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.


Dunia Hafez

By Stories

Dunia Hafez

DuniaThe word “Dunia” in the Arabic language was once used to describe the life closest to us, or the life in this world. It is also Dunia’s name. Her story is about bridging her life between two worlds – one in the Middle East and another, in Canada.

Dunia Hafez had earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature earned in Abu Dahbi, and a master’s degree in Educational Technology in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Yet she was now experiencing life in Canada as a refugee claimant, looking for work and ineligible for a program she thought could really help her family.

“I came from a very good economic status, but this time I needed to support my husband who was going to school,” she explains.

Settlement was a huge barrier for her. She had started looking for work immediately, and it was only her second week in Canada. There were no family or friends to support her. She did not drive and transporting and caring for her kids while looking everywhere for a job was extremely hard on her. Dunia was suffering.

“I was depressed. I had left a whole life to start a completely new one.”

While lonely and afraid Dunia believed her faith in God, and as a mother and wife she would have the power to make some changes and that the dark cloud that enveloped her would pass.

In two months, Dunia found work at a daycare near her home when another turn of events led her in the direction she had wanted to go in the first place. She was laid off after 8 months and was able to access Employment Insurance. She had connected with Women’s Enterprise Skills Training (WEST), and was notified of the Science Engineering Art and Technology program for Youth, known as SEAT, and offered to take part in it as a volunteer.

A shift in her life began to unfold during a conversation with Seita Sadoo-Thomas, a Program Coordinator at WEST.

“I thought I couldn’t do anything or work anywhere, says Dunia. “She told me my teaching experience was a gift and that I could use my personal experience in so many fields.”

As she volunteered with the SEAT program, Dunia learned about the problems people were experiencing in her new community and the opportunity to participate in creating solutions. She took field trips with the group and networked with other women. Her inner thoughts began to mirror her experiences and her thoughts changed.

“I wanted to be more than a participant in a program. I wanted to work to help people and I felt I could make a difference in this world.”

When the opportunity arose for a position, Dunia was able to convince her employer that her educational experience, and her community volunteer experience with the SEAT program would make her a positive fit for a job as a Participant Services Specialist in Employment Services.

“As a newcomer, SEAT gave me the exposure I needed to the other Canadians in my community and the job market,” explains Dunia.

The takeaways for Dunia, are three lessons she hopes others can learn from her life journey so far:

“Stay strong. Never doubt your abilities and look for the right person to support you.”

And these are the same messages she passes on to others to help them overcome barriers and create a world where there are more opportunities for everyone.

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.


Kay (Kyung Eun) Park

By Stories

Kay (Kyung Eun) Park

KayKay (Kyung Eun) Park lifts her hands to shoulder height, opens her chest and says: “Do the Chicken!” with an easy smile. She has just delivered child after child back to the room from diaper changes, washed her hands, set out toys, dodged little ones on their way to playing with each other and is giving me advice about how to keep my back healthy. Park is working as a Registered Early Childhood Educator (RECE) creating engaging activities for children from around the world while their newcomer mother’s learn English and training skills for new opportunities. It is a whole different picture than she thought possible.

If her life were a film you could rewind back to the past, you would have found this South Korean professional graduating with a degree in Mandarin and working in China as a Bank Manager. Not a dream job, but a profitable one. Her life changed when she came to Canada and things rapidly shifted downward. She had gone to school for her dream job working with children and injured her back and quit her first job in Canada.

“I was scared about my future, I was still young and needed to work.” I was asking myself: “If I can’t find a job, how am I going to live in Canada?”

One day, while she was walking down the street she and happened to glance at a sign saying Employment at Women’s Enterprise Skills Training, Inc. (WEST). Opening that door was the beginning of a life shift for Kay.
She says each service moved her towards feel prepared for more success.
“I had a counsellor who was helping me to improve my interview skills and search for jobs.” The same counsellor recommended training in computer courses and Enhanced Language training.
During the graduation ceremony, Kay had a sense she was moving forward. She hoped for a job at WEST in the daycare and was successful when the job was posted.

Kay writes: “I think having a positive way of thinking and meeting people helped me, too.”
For Kay, a more gender equal world is one where she found and used resources and a great attitude to become more powerful economically, and to be a positive force for goodness in the lives of the children and people she works with every day.

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.


Parvinder Kaur

By Stories

Parvinder Kaur

ParvinderIf you ever felt certain you had the right skills but were lost as to how to get a job in your field, you have a sense of how Parvinder Kaur felt when she arrived in Windsor. It was a four hour drive from Toronto and a long way from where she had expected to end up as far as her career was concerned.

She had accepted a full-time job using her strong accounting background and was thrilled to have a solid employment within days of settling in Canada – a place she refers to as “this beautiful country”.

Her husband was also offered a job in Windsor. The couple decided it was a good opportunity. It was also a loss for Parvinder, and although she had no idea how she might reach her goals she was willing to try.

“Regardless of my economic situation, I always wanted to contribute to my family,” she explains.

After spending days going to a variety of private colleges and looking at the cost of educational options it was clear to Parvinder and her husband that there was no way they could afford thousands of dollars to help her enter her sector here. They decided to see if there were any settlement services that offered programs to overcome the obstacles preventing her from accessing the job market, including not having a professional network and Canadian work experience.

At Women’s Enterprise Skills Training (WEST), Parvinder found a menu of services and professional support from settlement counselling to how to get her language skills assessed, a course that provides Enhanced Language Training for Finance, and a volunteer placement working in her field at an esteemed local non-profit organization. It was the placement which proved to be the key element that moved her life towards economic stability.

“I enhanced my skills, along with, my confidence in myself,” says Parvinder.

Working in partnership with the Hospice of Windsor and Essex County, Women’s Enterprise Skills Training (WEST) provided a placement experience in the financial operations office. Parvinder’s crowning moment was still to come. It was the day she offered a full-time position as a Junior Financial Analyst at The Hospice of Windsor and Essex County.

“Dedication and determination can help you achieve your goals,” explains Parvinder and adds that accessing community resources and volunteerism can make the difference between arriving where you want to be or not.

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.

Close Menu