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When womxn represent


  • Rosella Chibambo

  • Seyi Okuribido-Malcolm

  • Rekha Sharma


Event Summary

Last Wednesday, we held our first virtual #AWA panel of 2021 with a trio of absolute powerhouses. We were incredibly lucky to witness the magic that happens when thoughtful, dynamic and wise experts come together to discuss all things representation.

Our speakers Seyi, Rekha and Rosella examined the nuances of increased representation, the importance of intersectionality, questions of leadership and more, leaving the audience moved, inspired and energized. What a way to begin our year!


Rekha Sharma is a director in a software company in Ottawa and one of few women in leadership positions in the IT sector. As an Indo-Canadian who immigrated 21 years ago, she seeks to make the hiring process and work environment inclusive of diversity and open to innovation and different views. As a leader, she strives to increase the number of women employees in t hat field, specifically hire more women of colour. She believes that BIPOC representation makes her company more successful and moves society forward.


Seyi Okuribido-Malcolm is a proud Black Canadian woman of Jamaican and Nigerian heritage. She believes that we are living through a moment of reckoning on racial equity leading to more excellent representation. Seyi considers the present moment as an inflection point where institutions in society need to work collectively for better representation. She is the Director of the newly formed Anti-Racism Secretariat at the Department of National Defence. Her work involves shining a black light to illuminate and remove invisible barriers for people of colour who experience intersecting identities.


Rosella is a communications strategist in the nonprofit sector. As a queer, biracial woman with a backround in journalism, she is interested in power and complexity of representation as it relates to movements for social justice. Specifically, she considers creativity to be central to advancing social movements and sustaining the people who drive them. In her role as a non-profit communications professional and Board member for the Ten Oaks Project, she works to strengthen her communities through storytelling and advocacy.


1. Recently we have seen BIPOC women breaking barriers and becoming the first women of colour to occupy high leadership positions. While these achievements are positive, are we erasing anything with this language? What is the impact of this language?


We need to acknowledge accomplishments in the face of systemic barriers that still exist today. We need to create a system where inclusion and representation are mainstream.

There is a lack of depth in coverage of accomplishments or challenges that female leaders face. There is a lack of nuance, which also reduces the responsibility and is a barrier to having representative female leadership.


Both women leaders' accomplishments and the barriers they face in the workplace need to be addressed. Inclusive hiring practices are one way to create a positive work environment.

Panelists also mentioned that it is stifling to be the first woman of colour in leadership roles, and there is a lot of pressure on individual BIPOC women to change the culture.


2. Do you think of yourself as representing the Ottawa community? Who do you represent? Is this representation burdensome or not? How do you want to be represented?


Leadership in social justice movements is complicated. For Rosella, leadership means influencing people to become supporters of social justice causes and amplifying what other people are doing.


The IT sector has few women and fewer women of colour in leadership positions. Leadership means increased power - and with this power - one should hire people inclusively and prevent discrimination in hiring.


Different identities that intersect means that one has to get support for the part of their identity that is challenged the most. Leadership is context-specific, dependent on the social reality and needs to consider the multilayered aspect of identity.


3. What are key characteristics of leadership?


Respecting individual differences while fostering an environment that ensures team success. Empathy and understanding, human connection and respect, but also fairness and equity are all necessary to prevent discrimination and create a healthy working environment.


HOT leadership stands for honesty, openness and transparency and requires humility, intercultural intelligence and self-education on racial equity in order to initiate action. Transparency involves removing barriers and challenging systemic injustice.


4. Given the systemic barriers that BIPOC women face, how do we keep ourselves energized and focused in our fight for increased representation?


Change needs to be for everyone, but it is also a slow process.

In exchange, change will necessarily involve creativity to imagine different ways of being and alternate systems; this imagining needs to happen collectively.


There is optimism and hope, progress over time, but we need to acknowledge the problems and have open discussions as to what the barriers are and how to remove them via an action plan.


5. How did you become a leader?


Leadership involves training people to be leaders at every level. True leadership starts with standing up for oneself and supporting others who are facing injustice.


People who are new to leadership positions can learn from others' expertise and share information.


Leadership also involves mentoring other people to become leaders and establishing partnerships with individuals and the government to advance equity in hiring practices.


6. Are there downsides to being visible in the mainstream?


Yes, members of marginalized groups are more visible which is good for representation, but with visibility comes the possibility of backlash (e.g. violence against transgender people).


There is a fine line between representation and tokenism so we must focus on what we can do with the space we are given to lift other people who may be facing barriers.


7. Can men be effective allies? What do they need to do or not do to achieve this?


The first part of allyship is consulting women and people from other marginalized gender identities. Also, it is important to educate oneself and recognize that as men, they have easier access to resources and spaces.


An immense thank you to our phenomenal panel for sharing with us. We also could not do any of this without our team of volunteers as well as the Ottawa community.


As always, thank you for tuning in and supporting this space!

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