Margaret Eaton has been the executive director of TRIEC for the past 7 years. The organization has thrived under her leadership since 2012, where she has led a wide range of initiatives and been a vital voice on the value immigrants make to the economy and culture of Canada. Under her directorship, TRIEC’s flagship mentoring program has flourished and a new pilot National Mentoring Partnership has begun.
She has been a key supporter of increased collaboration between TRIEC’s Professional Immigrant Networks (PINs) and has guided the growth of the organization’s research and knowledge mobilization initiatives. Margaret has been instrumental in growing TRIEC’S network of employers and other champions to help build more diverse, inclusive workplaces.
When sitting down with Margaret to discuss what she learned from the sector and what she’ll take away from the experience, it became clear she’ll miss the people the most.
“I have loved working with immigrants, and for immigrants,” Margaret says about what drew her to the job. She went on to describe an early mentoring experience with a young immigrant from India who made her say to herself, “I want to do more to support immigrants.” So she applied to work for TRIEC.
Margaret herself has mentored four newcomer professionals, contributing to TRIEC’s mentoring program aimed at reducing underemployment by helping professionals new to Canada grow their network in their field. While we all want to think the proverbial “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” isn’t true, Margaret acknowledges that the most frustrating part about working in the immigrant employment sector has been seeing qualified people turned away.
“I’m really still shocked by employers who press this requirement for “Canadian experience”, who are set on this idea that there’s something so special about Canada, and that experience from elsewhere is inferior. In reality, international experience is incredibly valuable and will bring an organization a unique perspective, and sometimes even an edge over the competition,” she says.
She adds that seeing “just how intractable some of these attitudes are around newcomers, that idea about fear of the other” has been galling but motivating. It has encouraged her to think about the systematic ways employers can exclude and conversely, what’s needed to build an inclusive workplace.
That’s important for Margaret as she moves on to head up the national office of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
“I really grew in my understanding of inclusion and equity, and I will bring that lens everywhere I go. The notion that diversity creates the best teams has certainly been true here and I want to recreate that,” she states.
What brought her to the job at TRIEC was a big part of what kept her here. She asserts it was “to work with people from all around the world. And to hear people’s stories and see the unique experiences that they bring.” And that’s her advice for whoever takes up the helm next: “A big part of the job is the stewardship of the people and the relationships – please take good care of the people.”
She encourages her successor to “look freshly on the issues and concerns around immigrant employment. It’s a time of real change right now – in the job market, and the broader economy – and these things will have an impact on newcomers and their opportunities for success. I look forward to seeing what a creative new approach will look like for TRIEC.”
One part of the organization’s approach she doesn’t want to see change is the sense of collaboration. She describes TRIEC as “steeped in an ethos of partnership” which is particularly important because, as a small organization “we couldn’t do what we do without our partners. That’s true of mentorship, of professional immigrant networks, of our funders.”
In the end, it’s the people central to TRIEC’s mission that will stick with Margaret, who says “what impresses me most about immigrants is how resilient they are, how courageous they are to leave everything behind and come to Canada, how ambitious they are for themselves and for their families and how much they want to give back once they’ve had success.”
She recalls a great quote from the mayor of Dawson City in Yukon: “Canadians are born all around the world, sometimes it just takes them a bit of time to get here.’” Margaret pauses, smiling ear to ear, “I just love that.”