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When I was a kid, one of the teachers at my primary school in Nigeria started teaching us about motors. My entire class would look on in confusion at chalk-dawn jumbles of lines and circles on the board. We didn’t understand how a motor worked, or why we should care. Worse, we were bored out of our minds.

After the class, I complained to my dad about the lesson. He had an idea. “Let’s build one at home,” he said. We put together this little contraption with batteries, tape, magnets and wires. Once we got it working, I remember seeing the little circle move. What a miracle that was! I got it. I totally, totally,  totally got it. I soon became the go-to person in class when anyone wanted a quick lesson on motors. Me?!

I think of that moment often. In one class, a teacher told me and my girlfriends that we, the girls, were not allowed to do tech drawings. And in this other science room, I soon became the defacto kid tutor. The confidence that came after and love of science has opened so many doors for me.

As a refugee to Canada, a career in technology has meant meaningful employment and paid bills.  I want others, including young people in disadvantaged situations, to have the same opportunities in life. This isn’t just about STEM jobs. Now more than ever, we need Canadians to be science-savvy to wrestle with the big dilemmas we face through this pandemic and after.

My experience as a refugee to Canada and the role of science and technology in getting me to where I am, drive the volunteer work I do, as co-founder of Tamil Women Rising and board member of Jumpstart Refugee Talent and Scientists in School.

What would you like to see more of in the workplace?

I want workplaces to go back to first principles in redesigning how they work. This gives them the opportunity to examine if the systems, practices and rituals they have long observed actually work to produce the best ideas, achieve sustainable productivity and provide opportunities to a diverse set of people.

What characteristics and/or qualities do you admire in the women you work with?

Actively mentor and sponsor diverse women, are visionaries who can look beyond immediate barriers, have a growth mindset for themselves and others, are authentic and deeply connected to who they are.

What advice did you wish you were given earlier in your career?

Form a personal board of directors, people who are senior to you with varied experiences who can help you define your10-year goals and refine your approach to getting there, with frank, informed and insightful guidance. Consult them. Keep renewing the membership on that board as your career changes.

How do you think COVID will change the future of work for women?

It already has, economist Armine Yalnizyan has coined a term for the impact it has had on women in the workforce, the she-cession. In the K-shaped post-pandemic recovery we are likely to see, wealthy women will see their opportunities soar – with remote working trends opening more doors for them, perhaps even bringing more balance to their personal lives. That recovery will leave lower-wage workers, with disproportionately higher numbers in marginalized communities behind, further widening the wealth gap.

How do you think we can increase diversity in the workplace?

ERGs, structured multi-year mentorship programs at many levels, a understanding at the executive levels that there is a business and social cost to little diversity with the company

What is one example of a positive, memorable experience you’ve had in your career?

In my first few years in journalism, I was given an award for my work by a local Chamber of Commerce. They wanted to recognize my effort to have stories in the Tamil Canadian community get mainstream coverage. I let my manager know, just so she could be happy for me. And was she happy for me! She mentioned it to a few people and it spread. CBC’s Metro Morning congratulated me on air before the organization could announce it, Matt Galloway interviewed me about it and another colleague wrote up a glowing piece about it. Lesson: Work for people who want the work you do, work for people who celebrate when you are being celebrated,

What was one belief you had that you later realized was a myth?

The “you need to just keep your head down and work hard”, someone will notice. Nope. You need to contribute in other ways, connect with people and learn to ask for what you want.

Why are you fabulous?

Because I love hearing stories and I tell/retell great ones.

Do you have a mantra or quote that inspires you? If so, please share it below.

‘Instead of looking at the past, I put myself ahead 20 years and try to look at what I need to do now in order to get there then.’ – Diana Ross

Where can people find you online?