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header-How reconnecting with my Filipino heritage helped me become a better leader
• Apr. 26, 2024

As told to TD Stories.

TD is proud to celebrate and support Pan-Asian colleagues and customers across Canada. Throughout the year, we're sharing stories from TD colleagues like Margarita de Guzman, an Associate Vice-President and Executive Product Owner, Finance and Risk Platform at TD. Read on to learn about her history and how she found a sense of community and belonging in Canada.

One of my earliest memories of life in Canada fills me with mixed emotions.

I’m 12 years old and it's my first day at a new school in Mississauga, Ont. My family has just moved to Canada from my home of Manila in the Philippines, and I’m incredibly nervous. I’m self-conscious of my accent and I’m worried I won’t fit in with my peers.

My new teacher meets me in the principal’s office and walks me down the hallway to my new classroom. I’m shy and quiet. When the teacher asks me how I am feeling, I answer in English since I learned how to speak the language back home in my previous school.

She opens the classroom door, and all my new classmates are waiting there for me. She announces to the students: “Good news, guys — she speaks English!”

A part of me sunk and thought, were they expecting that I wouldn’t speak English, and that they would have to deal with somebody who couldn’t speak the same language?

But the other part of me thought this announcement was a good thing, because maybe it meant I could belong in my new environment. Maybe I didn’t need to be the outsider, or the different kid.

That day sparked conflicting emotions, and soon after, I started to diminish my Filipino identity. I wanted to appear like I was just like everyone else.

Leaving home and embracing a new one

Growing up in Manila I had a happy life. My parents both worked hard, and we had a middle-class lifestyle. I did well academically and was the vice president of my school’s student council. I had a group of friends and was part of all these extracurricular activities, such as taekwondo and the school newspaper. So, when my parents talked to me and my brother about leaving Manila and moving to Canada, I wasn’t excited. The idea of starting a new life felt daunting, and I avoided talking about it.

But in 1998, we packed up our lives and headed to Canada. At the time, I didn’t appreciate why we were moving. It was not an easy decision for my parents as both my mom and dad had good jobs in the Philippines, and we didn't have any family in Canada. They knew they would be making a new life for us here alone.

I don't want to generalize, but you'll hear from many immigrants that their decision to move their family to Canada was so that their children could have opportunities they might not be able to have in their home country.

At the time, I had a hard time seeing that. But my parents decided that Canada would offer a better future for me and my family outside of the Philippines.

As I settled into my new life in Canada, I tried to assimilate as best as I could. I avoided joining Filipino groups or cultural clubs in high school because I didn’t want to be associated with only other Filipinos, and I already knew my own culture. I figured I didn’t need to join a cultural group I was already a part of.

I'm embarrassed to admit this now, but I took it as a compliment when people would tell me they didn't think I was Filipino. When people would comment that they couldn’t hear any accent, or that I didn’t look Filipino because I had lighter hair, I was flattered. I’m not sure what they meant by those remarks exactly, but it signaled to me that maybe being Filipino meant being “less than” others.

My identity in the workplace

It wasn’t until I was ostracized for being different because of my gender that I began questioning my identity. One of my earlier roles in my career was at a consulting firm where I was the only woman on a small team with four men.

One day I overheard my colleagues having a conversation about an upcoming “boys' trip” that I wasn’t invited to. I had been left out simply because I was a woman.

This feeling of exclusion marked a turning point for me. I started to think about my identity as a woman in the workforce, and how it was affecting my experience. I didn’t want others to feel that way. Even though I’d done everything I could to fit in, I realized that there would always be those who would see my differences first.

Things really changed a few years after I joined TD, when I attended an event where the Bank was showcasing all the various Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) — colleague-led groups usually organized around a shared identity or affinity. It was there that I learned about the Filipino ERG called the Filipino Colleague Network.

Not only did I start to connect more with my culture at work, but outside of it, too. I joined the external organization Ascend Canada, which is a non-profit founded in 2012 with a mission to increase the presence and visibility of Pan-Asian leaders in business.

This was important to me because I realized that Filipinos are underrepresented in business — even compared to other Asian cultures — especially in the executive ranks. Around this time in 2019, I started to work in leadership positions at the Bank. My job was an Associate Vice President in Internal Audit, overseeing audits for Fraud Management, Payments, and Projects.

I decided to join the Bank’s Filipino Colleague Network in 2021. I started to lean more into my identity not only as a woman, but as a Filipino woman, and as an immigrant. I saw how diversity was something to be celebrated, and how different lived experiences and perspectives were seen as an asset at work — including in leadership.

Embracing who I am

I realized I owed it to myself to be proud of my background and lean in. I spent so long trying to downplay my identity, but I realized that I cannot change these parts of me. I am a woman, a Filipino, and an immigrant.

And there's absolutely nothing wrong with any of that.

When I became a people leader at TD, I realized that my lived experiences and cultural background instilled in me certain values that I carried with me from my upbringing. I was raised to be hospitable, compassionate, approachable, and positive. I believe I embody all these traits because I grew up in the Philippines and those are cultural values that I learned at a young age.

That’s part of the reason why I decided to get involved in the TD Filipino ERG as an Executive Co-Sponsor. Our ERG now consists of about 700 colleagues across the Bank. Part of my role, apart from oversight of our strategy and how we want to provide a platform to help Filipino colleagues shine, is to connect with others and act as a role model. During moments like Asian Heritage Month in May, or Filipino Heritage Month in June, I feel like my work with the ERG takes on even more importance. These moments offer all of us a time to reflect on our identities, be proud of who we are, and work together for an even brighter future.

Coincidentally, May was the month that my family landed in Canada all those years ago. Each year I think about what my life would have been like if we didn’t immigrate to Canada, and how different my life has been because my parents made that brave choice to start a new chapter. I am forever grateful for their decision.

I’ve come a long way from that 12-year-old girl standing in front of a class of strangers, nervous about others judging her for being “different.” If I could go back in time and tell her anything, it would be: "Be yourself, know that you're enough, and you belong."

I have come to realize how my Filipino culture and values can coexist with being Canadian — especially in a corporate setting. I know when to draw on my strength as a Filipino, showing my hospitable, warm, and compassionate nature so my colleagues feel safe and supported.

But I am also more confident now and able to speak up for myself and others and not be afraid. I encourage others to lean into who they are and bring their whole selves to work.

To me, that is true leadership.

Click here to learn more about how TD helps celebrate and support diverse communities across Canada. It's part of our commitment to a more inclusive and sustainable tomorrow.

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