Voices of Experiences: People Of Colour

by guest blogger Nickza Dalas, Campus Engagement Ambassador of Faculty of Community Services, Ryerson University  

As a first generation Sri Lankan female, I often wonder how I am going to get my foot in the door when I enter the “real world”. This is why I spent my Thursday evening before the Easter long weekend at the Voices of Experiences panel, focused on visible minorities in the workplace.

The event started off beautifully with an introduction from Ryerson’s own Career Centre and a respectful indigenous land acknowledgement. There were many pieces of valuable advice that I took away from this event but this is what stuck with me the most:

Work Twice As Hard

Do not get me wrong – I am incredibly proud to be Canadian. We live in a country that, in many ways, stands for being welcoming and accepting towards people of colour. We are seen as a very multicultural society. However, minorities are still being treated unjustly. Discrimination is experienced among groups of differing race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. It is no surprise that the majority of higher-level professionals in corporations are caucasian middle-aged men. Now, how do you navigate through this system as someone who does not fit neatly within this category? George De La Rosa, the Chief Executive Officer of Luminus Financial, says that you have to work twice as hard to show off your skills. He has worked in the Credit Union system for over 20 years now and has held various positions along the way to attain his current standing. People viewed George as inexperienced, being one of the youngest Credit Union CEOs. Accordingly, he went the extra mile to prove that his age does not bring him down. Hard work will pay off as along as you genuinely put in the work.


Good Karma Follows You

Kathy Cheng is President of WS & Co., one of Canada’s leading full-service apparel manufacturers. This is the company that her father started when he first arrived in Canada. It was a tiny company that has continued to grow as Kathy is now her father’s business partner. She was able to “westernize” the business to make it more appealing to a bigger demographic. Kathy sits on several school program advisory councils, including Ryerson’s School of Fashion, to inspire students to fulfill their career goals. Her family’s business prioritizes giving back to their community through various sponsorships. In addition, the majority of their staff are from immigrant families because they understand how difficult it can be to navigate through a new country. Kathy believes in the green cycle effect. You must consistently take part in good deeds and good karma will follow you.

Be Authentic

Sandeep Tatla brought a lot to the table as a lawyer, advisor, strategist, educator, and mediator who takes a multidisciplinary approach to the practice of diversity and inclusion. Her journey was the furthest from a smooth sail, as she did not know what she wanted to do with her career when she was in school. She began the discussion by emphasizing that she sat in the same position where the students were sitting in, and that she never thought that she would be where she is today. After receiving her law degree and working in the private sector, she realized that she was not paying enough attention to her key passion for social justice. All of her experiences led her to an epiphany. She would attend to her calling in her current position as a senior diversity and inclusion leader, where she advises both private and public sector employers. Her parents wanted her to remain within the industry of law because it is a field that is highly respected within their culture. However, she took the chance to change her career path because she wanted to define her true, authentic self. Always attend to your burning desires because you will be your best self when your passion is a part of your profession. Even if you take a longer path to get to your calling, do not regret the opportunities that you experience along the way. They are all valuable, even if it does not seem that way in the present moment.Voices of experience POC

You’ll Face Cultural Clashes

Karlene Clarke Williams, Manager of Direct Services at 519 Community Centre, originates from Jamaica. Karlene described how the culture there was not very open to homosexuality, and Canada seemed like an appropriate choice of living due to her desire to advocate for the LGBTQ community.  She took the risk to move to Canada, despite her steady income in the investment sector in Jamaica. Karlene’s refugee status in 2009 had her feeling completely floored. It was as if her world turned upside down since she had been established in her home country but she was judged as a second-class citizen here. This made it extremely difficult to attain a job but she was determined to battle through all her challenges. Karlene utilized her resources by volunteering at 519 Community Centre, then applying for a contract position as soon as it became available. Currently, she oversees several departments within the agency. The mindset to keep going and the belief that there is no time to dwell was her motivator. Adapting to a new culture takes time but never lose sight of your end goal.

There is no doubt that these well-established professionals went above and beyond to get to this point, setting aside all the obstacles that they and their families faced. These four brilliant individuals exposed the attendees to a dose of inspiration as well as a look into the challenges of career development. The event initiated a much-needed dialogue on campus. At the end of the panel, the students were given the opportunity to speak one-on-one with the panelists. Let me tell you, I took advantage of it!


Farewell, Voices of Experiences events. A huge round of applause to Ryerson’s Career Centre, the department of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and the Launch Zone for making this happen. I am looking forward to attending more of these events next academic year.