TD is proud to support and celebrate Pan-Asian colleagues and customers across Canada. This Asian Heritage Month, we're sharing stories from TD colleagues like Sona Mehta, the Senior Vice President of Canadian Personal Banking. Read on to learn about her family's history and how she found a sense of community and belonging in Canada.
Sona Mehta's parents immigrated to Canada from their home country of India in the late 1970s to start a new life.
Sona's father came first, to look for a job and a place to live. Hope and struggle went hand in hand, in what may be a familiar experience for many immigrants. An engineer, Sona's father struggled initially to find work in his field because prospective employers sought Canadian education and work experience.
"So, instead of listing his engineering degree and experience on his resume, he put down that he had a Grade 10 education, so that he would be considered for factory jobs, instead of being viewed as overqualified," Sona said.
Soon after her father found a job and an apartment to live in, Sona – who was then just two years old – and her mother made their way over to Canada.
"My mother had never been on a plane, and now she was getting on a plane going to a foreign country with a toddler in tow and leaving all of our extended family and life behind," Sona said.
"I can barely imagine what that was like…but they were driven by the hope of a better life in Canada."
While her mother had a master's degree in Psychology, she too initially worked in a factory, sewing, to help make ends meet after arriving in Canada. As the years went by, Sona's father landed an engineering job, and the family was able to buy their first home.
Sona never forgot what her parents went through to establish the family in Canada, an experience that has followed her through her entire career. Today, Sona is Senior Vice President of Canadian Personal Banking at TD, where she draws on her life experience to help make banking products and services better for TD customers – including those new to the country.
"There's this common value set here at TD," Sona said. "The Bank deeply cares about diversity and inclusivity. The Bank's culture is what brought me here, and it's what has kept me here."
Sona continues to contribute to the TD culture of diversity and inclusion through the Bank's Pan-Asian Employee Resource Group (ERG) – ERGs are colleague-led groups usually organized around a shared identity or affinity – which is one of many throughout the organization.
Questions about belonging
Growing up in Brantford, Sona had what she describes as a wonderful, secure childhood. She had a great childhood friend who lived next door, and they would play outside from dawn to dusk. While she didn't grow up with material luxuries, she had things even more special – like the bean bag stuffies and handmade dresses her mother made for her. She felt lucky. But at the same time, each day she went to school, she felt something was missing.
“I didn’t belong,” Sona said. “At the time, I wasn't sure why – was it because I was shy or was it because I was only one of two South Asians at my school? All I knew was that I didn't fit in. In hindsight, what I've learned is regardless of what's keeping you from feeling included -- you almost can't correct for not belonging until you truly belong."
"Nothing replaces feeling included. I think that's been one of my life's lessons."
Eventually her family had to move. The agricultural company where her father worked was likely to close, and so he took a job in the automotive industry in Bramalea, a suburb located northwest of Toronto. However, with that move, Sona would have to change schools.
When she walked through the doors of her local school for the first time, what she found in her new classroom was something that she hadn't experienced before.
"The classroom was totally diverse," Sona said. "There was no culture more present than another."
Her experience in a school and community that embraced diversity, that encouraged inclusion, and actively fostered an equitable environment to grow, helped give her the foundation she needed to become the person she is today.
Acutely aware of how environment and culture are catalysts for her development, those were two of the factors that attracted her to TD.
"I applied to a leadership program at TD," Sona said. "The Bank brought us to Toronto, where I met with four different executives, and I was so impressed. These individuals all had very different backgrounds and accomplishments, but they had an unspoken common set of values, and most importantly, they just felt like good people."
Paying it forward, helping make banking accessible
Fast forward to today, Sona and her team help lead the Bank's efforts to support newcomers to Canada through accessible advice, products, tools and resources.
"Having grown up as a first-generation immigrant, I'm incredibly grateful for being shaped by my family's struggle, sacrifice, hard work, and success," Sona said.
"Understanding the journey, I want to pay it forward."
Helping make banking easier for New Canadians takes many forms, Sona said. It includes launching specialized banking packages for newcomers to Canada and international students, and helping newcomers feel comfortable and confident when making banking decisions through in-language advice and resources.
Most recently her team helped launch the Bank's strategic relationship with CanadaVisa, one of the leading sources of Canadian immigration information, which, according to CanadaVisa, has a readership of more than 2 million monthly readers.
As a mother of two children – ages seven and four – Sona said she is delighted that her children are proud of their heritage – asking for Bollywood songs in the car, wearing South Asian clothes to school on special days without a second thought, and putting a heaping spoonful of her husband's delicious mint chutney on South Asian and non-South Asian food alike.
"I love that they feel free to just be themselves," Sona said. "That's a beautiful gift that I celebrate. When I found belonging, I found my voice. When I found my voice, I found my confidence. I hope this generation can start with that feeling of confidence as a given."
Click here to learn more about how the TD Ready Commitment helps celebrate and support communities across Canada.