Conversation with Tomiwa Olukiyesi, Facilities Manager, 3M Canada, Co-founding Executive Director, Black Engineers of Canada.

The origin of Black Engineers of Canada: Lessons for immigrants

“I came from humble beginnings. 20 years ago, I was a struggling newcomer to Canada, unable to secure a job. 30 years ago, I was the only female engineering student at my University in Nigeria.

Today, I am a successful engineer and was recently promoted to Facilities Manager for 3M Canada. In this role, I am able to utilize my engineering background to help 3M protect our facilities and deliver on sustainability goals.

But my road to success has been filled with hard lessons and I have encountered much discrimination along the way- probably because of the way I look, the way I talk, and where I was born.

Blacks in Canada

The origin of Black Engineers of Canada: Lessons for immigrants

Black Canadians in the 25-54 age group are more likely to hold a university degree (42.8%) than non-visible minorities (33.6%). However, this same group of Black Canadians have a lower employment rate and are also underrepresented in management roles, with Black men 40% less likely to work in management than non-visible minority men.

That is why in August 2020, I co-founded the Black Engineers of Canada; a community of Canada’s Black engineers, engineering interns and professionals connected for networking, mentoring, training, opportunities, and growth.

Back to my beginning

My mother was a physics and math teacher, and my father was a Radio Technologist who helped build the first broadcasting station in Nigeria.

When I decided I wanted to be an engineer, I got a lot of opposition from every direction. In University, I was the only girl in my mechanical engineering class, where my classmates made it very clear that I was not welcome. I was frequently told things like “you should be a nurse” or “you should be in the kitchen.” Every time I wanted to quit, my family helped to pull me through.

When I was hired into my first role for a major global company, when people learned they had hired a female engineer, when I walked into a meeting, they would ask “What are you doing here? Why are you here?”  I had to prove myself all over again.

Immigrating to Canada and lessons for immigrants

I remember coming across an article in The Economist that talked about the need for skilled immigrants in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. My spouse and I talked it over, excited about the possibilities of a new adventure in Canada.

The experience for a newcomer is nothing like they describe it on websites. You’re on your own to find a job and your foreign credentials don’t mean that much.

I uploaded my resume to job sites and in the first two weeks, my phone was ringing off the hook. Everyone wanted to hire me. But once I spoke to them on the phone and they heard my accent, the tone changed.

They would ask, “Was the plant you worked at in Hamilton?” I would say, “No, it was in Nigeria.” Immediately their attitude would shift, and I knew the interview was over.

After several years, I finally found an employer who was willing to take a chance on me. I was hired by 3M Canada in October 2005 as an Engineering Supervisor in one of our manufacturing facilities.

One thing you must never stop doing is believing. Then you can keep persevering no matter the setbacks.

Black Engineers of Canada

Black Engineers of Canada

Black immigrants in Canada are more likely to have their foreign-acquired engineering degrees go unrecognized by potential employers, resulting in over-qualification. The need for mentorship in the Black community is significant.

That’s why, in 2020, I helped to launch the Black Engineers of Canada. We are providing that essential network of support by connecting Black talent with a mentor they can talk to, who can give them guidance, advice, and emotional support.

We are all on a journey of change together.  I invite you to be our ally and join the journey.”

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