PEIF Fund CEO Speaks on Gender, Career & Mentoring

On March 7, UAlberta Law Visiting Assistant Professor Ireh Iyioha was one of four panellists who participated in Gender in the Workplace, an on-campus speaker series organized by the University of Alberta Career Centre intended to teach students and alumni about the complex relationship between gender and career. Iyioha was joined by Lynne-Marie Postovit, Associate Professor of Oncology with the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, Keith King, Accreditation Advisor with Alberta Health Services, and Claire Edwards, fYrefly Program Coordinator for Edmonton. Though each panellist brought a unique background and diverse perspective to the event, some major themes arose during the conversation, including: mentorship, advocacy in the workplace, work-life balance, knowing one’s values, and finally, the belief that change in regards to gender equity can start with just one person. The event was organized in a question-and-answer format, inclusive of a networking session. Here are some of what Iyioha had to say.

In one minute or less, introduce yourself.

I am a Visiting Assistant Professor at UAlberta Law and an Assistant Adjunct Professor at the John Dossetor Health Ethics Centre at the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry. I have held the latter position since July 2012. I have an LL.B., a BL., an LL.M. from the University of Toronto and a PhD from the University of British Columbia (UBC). I completed a Post-doctoral Fellowship at Western University. I have held teaching positions at Western University and UBC, as well as policy positions with the governments of Ontario and Alberta. My current role involves teaching and research. I teach a first-year course (Tort Law 1 and 2), as well as a combined seminar and lecture course on women’s health and the law. Outside the university environment, I do professional creative writing and have been published by several publishing bodies and institutions, including by Harvard University’s Transition Magazine at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research. I earned a special mention from the 2016 judges of the prestigious Caine Prize in London for a creative work that appeared in Harvard’s Transition. The work addresses an aspect of Canada’s immigration policy and provides an insight into how bureaucratic decisions borne out of societal definitions of self and other can have profound ramifications on people’s lives. When not writing, teaching, or researching, I mentor undergraduates and graduate students, as well as those starting new professions. I realize the goals of mentorship through an international initiative I established to mentor socially-conscious individuals who are themselves supporting vulnerable children in their communities.

How has gender impacted you both professionally and personally? Do you feel that gender has played a significant role in your career journey (e.g., caused barriers, etc.)? …

Gender definitely has an impact on a woman’s career and in different ways. I have personally been impacted by it. … Being a woman has implications for decision making in our professions. Being a mother, with the attendant maternity leave, has an impact on career. Academic positions are not 9-5 jobs. The workload is significant and the expectations are high. Kids also have high expectations and are a lot of (delightful though tasking) work. Place the family and professional responsibilities together and it’s like always being on call. And working women who choose to have families must juggle these different, but very important responsibilities. Being a woman/mother in the workplace means that you have two full-time jobs and are constantly thinking of these responsibilities/expectations. At another level, women are susceptible to discriminatory practices because of their gender, and I have in a number of occasions over the course of my work life been impacted by that … The fact that women are rights-holding members of society and should not be subjected to discriminatory practices based on their gender is often of little significance when faced with the probable consequences of speaking out. So, yes, being a woman has implications for our careers.

With regards to career selection, what advice do you have for students? How do you see values come into play?

It is important to figure out your passion and values when making a decision on where to work. Being passionate about what you do and choosing a career path that reflects your values would help lighten the burdens as you progress along your professional journey. Look at who you will be working for or with, and know what values they have. If the opportunities aren’t there as a young graduate fresh out of college, you may be compelled to take what you can get even if it’s not 100% something you want to do. But it’s always crucial, when you can, to address your passion and values.

What kind of experiences do you suggest for students to make the transition into the workplace easier?

As a woman, it is important to realize the implications and consequences and burdens that are associated with your career choice. This will help avoid surprises and navigate difficulties. Being aware is important – prepare yourself for the barriers, especially those that affect women in that particular field or area of work. Know your rights, values, what matters to you, and who you are as a person. Foster self-confidence. All of these can help keep you grounded when it matters most.

Have you ever found that you always had to say yes when starting your career to prove yourself, be there, etc.?

We often assume that if we take on all the extra responsibility, it might be beneficial to us at some point in our careers, etc. But, when warranted, we need to learn to say no for our health and in order to meet deadlines – in the interest of completing the work to which we’ve already committed ourselves.

What is your opinion on joining groups that promote equality/work with gender, and what place do these have on your CV?

Social justice work around gender issues is critical, very important work. I now include such information in my CV. While it can be difficult to judge with certainty the value a prospective employer would put on it, because it is a personal passion, my social justice initiatives now have a place in my CV. These initiatives are a critical part of how I define my diverse and integrated work life and what a successful work life is for me at a personal level. For example, I am truly happy to see advancement in my mentees and every achievement of a mentee is an occasion to celebrate. And in the particular case of the mentorship that I am involved with, for every mentee my team and I work with, a child whose life is disrupted by war or poverty or bereavement/abandonment is fed, clothed, or educated at some level. So, if it is fulfilling, it should find its way into your CV.

What guidance do you have on how to develop mentorship roles/relationships?

Talk to people, meet with them. Have coffee or lunch with those who might be great mentors for you. It takes time to find the right mentor. In the case of being a mentor, mentoring others allows you meet outstanding human beings. Even as a mentor, you meet people you learn from. Find someone you connect with and can work with. If you find it is not a good fit between mentor-mentee, then find someone who is a good fit, because you want to have a good match. Time is sometimes a factor for people – both in terms of finding the right mentor and in the context of the work involved in mentorship, but you work hard to bridge the gap.

Can you provide some insight into future sustainable plans to address gender inequality in the workplace?

Understanding intersectional disadvantages is important. As a woman – depending on a number of factors (social/sexual/racial) – you may be at the intersection of different biases. Having a leader who understands this, as well as the subtle ways that gender discrimination can manifest, is crucial. Effective leadership in your chosen workplace matters and can ensure a safe space for work. Having legislation that has teeth and that is actually effective in protecting women from being penalized when they speak up about oppressive situations is crucial.

Any final words of advice?

Look at courageous pioneers. Be inspired by them. Courage is required to bring change. Be confident about the value you bring to your job and workplace. Know that you are an important member of the team.

This interview first appeared HERE.