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3 entries from February 2022

Moving the Needle - a Conversation with Melba Da Silva about her Inclusion and Diversity Journey

Over the last couple of years on PumpTalk, it's been a great privilege for me to speak with a number of people across the Petro-Canada family who have shared their stories, particularly around inclusion and diversity: Chris Forward who speaks about the importance of 2SLGBTQ+ people being able to bring their authentic selves to work, Melissa Tacan who encourages us to be "heart in" around Truth and Reconciliation, and Andrea Decore who reminds us that diversity in the workplace is an economic issue, not just a social one.

As a result of these interviews, I've spent a lot of time thinking about how to be an ally - as an 2SLGBTQ+ person, I have a bit of perspective on what good allyship looks like, but as a white person, I know that I have a long way to go in supporting colleagues who are Black and Persons of Colour. So, in not-so-coincidental timing with Black History Month, I connected with Melba Da Silva. Melba is a 20-year employee of Petro-Canada in Downstream Operations plus she is a founding member of Mosaic at Suncor (proud parent of Petro-Canada); Mosaic is a network of Black employees, advocates and allies that is empowered, informed and positioned to positively influence Suncor’s people & cultural journey.

Melba Da Silva

I spoke with Melba about her perspective on diversity, being Black at work and how colleagues can be supportive and true allies.

PT: Thanks for talking with me, Melba! I’d like to start by chatting about Black History Month. Admittedly, I was a little hesitant to do this interview because I didn't want to just be "checking a box".

MD: Let me ask you a question: since we started talking (Editor’s Note: we’ve had three meetings to discuss this article), have you spoken with other people about the issues we’ve been discussing? If yes, then this is not just a check box. Being an ally is repetitive behaviour; it’s all about persistence.

Just by having our conversations we’ve moved the needle on inclusion, diversity and understanding. A small move, but a move nonetheless. I work in agile development and I think about I&D in those terms: make a small change, assess and, if it works, repeat.

PT: What's been your experience of being Black in Canada?

MD: I never really thought of myself as different until I experienced some discrimination because I’m Black and a woman. An example… when you have great leaders (at work), you tend to pick up on their qualities, try to emulate what has made them successful. I learned, however, that I couldn’t emulate a white male leader’s qualities because I would be labeled as aggressive. I felt like I didn’t have a voice.

Being Black, I have to be aware that everyone has their own unconscious biases that they bring to interactions with me. It’s extra work I have to do to be successful.

But what really highlights the problem of systemic racism in Canada is seeing how my son is treated. Every time he drives my car, he is stopped by the police. Once, he was riding the TTC (the subway system in Toronto) and exited the station through the wrong door; he was aggressively confronted by TTC security. If he puts on a hoodie, he’s considered dangerous. And this has nothing to do with his character. A white colleague once said to me that we don’t have racism here in Canada. I reminded him how differently our sons are treated if the police stop them. It gave him a moment of pause.

A very timely example of systemic racism in Canada – the truck convoy protest against vaccine mandates. They are allowed to build forts, bring propane to the sites where they are protesting. If that were a Black Lives Matter protest, none of that would have been allowed and they would have been shut down with force immediately. (Editors note: Since this story was written, the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time ever, which ended the convoy protest after three weeks in Ottawa.)

PT: Do you have any recommendations for people who want to strengthen their allyship? Resources, attitudes, etc.?

MD: Allyship is not just talking about things, but actually doing things. That can be a range of things. First, we all need to have more uncomfortable conversations. And we have to be comfortable having uncomfortable conversations. We have to unlearn and relearn some of our basic attitudes about Black people.

Corporate leaders, in particular, have a responsibility. We need advocacy in the boardroom, particularly when making hiring and promotion decisions. Note your language when describing someone – are they truly aggressive or simply assertive and you label them as such because they are Black? True allyship is when one leader calls out another on their own biases.

In terms of education, do your own homework. There are so many books, movies, stories on YouTube. And remember, you can learn about Black excellence and Black history outside the month of February. A colleague mentioned to me recently that she watched Women of the Movement. I have a lot of respect for someone who does that on their own, to enhance their understanding of Black history.

If there is something you don’t know, then ask. It’s okay to ask, to acknowledge that you don’t know or understand a Black person’s experience. It’s important to approach sensitive topics with humility. And be willing to apologize if you’ve made a mistake. In a meeting, I once made a comment about being “at the bottom of the totem pole.” After the meeting someone pointed out to me how racist that idiom is. I apologized to the group immediately. This is hard work. And we all have the opportunity to learn from each other.

PT: What has your work in the Inclusion and Diversity space taught you?

MD: I have never felt so fulfilled until I came into the I&D space. It’s taught me the power of connection and how people can be so much more productive and reach limits beyond their imagination. I’ve learned about the importance of finding those connections; when people learn they have shared interests, there is a moment of excitement, a moment of belonging.

For example, I once worked with a young new grad of Asian descent. She told me about a time she went into an upscale store and wanted to buy an expensive handbag. The store staff treated her poorly and she felt like she was being discriminated against, that they thought she couldn’t afford the handbag because she is Asian. We tried to have a conversation about discrimination, but we weren’t really connecting.

So, I flipped the script. There is a root vegetable called cassava that my family cooks. She’d mentioned that her mom cooks yucca, which is the same vegetable, just a different name. When I told her this, she opened up about her mom and the different recipes she used to make. And that was the conversation we bonded over, not necessarily the one about discrimination.

That’s really the secret to the success of inclusion and diversity – it lets people form bonds over common interests. Yes, bonding over struggles are the deepest connections, but for someone who hasn’t experienced those struggles, bonding over common interests works as well.

Sharing these common interests among people who don’t have the same life-experiences is what will help break through systemic racism. For example, in a group of leaders making hiring decisions, someone might say “Let’s hire Johnny.” When asked why, he might say “Because he reminds me of me when I was young.” This is another example of systemic racism; someone who looks like me doesn’t have a chance because there isn’t anyone at the table who can say the same thing. People tend to hire people that look like them. This is one of the barriers we have to try to break through – and one of the benefits of having an employee network like Mosaic at Suncor.

PT: You've been involved in establishing the Mosaic Network at Suncor. What's that been like? What's surprised you about the experience?

MD: Mosaic is a body of people who are there to uplift each other, to drive change, to mentor and sponsor each other. It includes people who can guide us through our corporate careers. It’s important to work with people who look like you and work with people who share your same pain and struggles. This has been very uplifting. It's like family - you may not always agree but you're working toward the same goal.

Being a part of Mosaic has created opportunities for unexpected conversations, perhaps most surprisingly about hair. As a Black woman, my hair is often a topic of conversation. Wearing my hair in its natural state has been deemed “unprofessional” at times, not considered “acceptable” in the workplace. I also regularly experience the microaggressions of people wanting to touch my hair. I talked about this at a Mosaic meeting and made a couple of unexpected connections. First, colleagues with mixed race children talked about their challenges. And then an older white colleague told me about his child who dyed his hair blue; learning about the importance of my hair to me, to my identity, helped him understand how to relate to his child.

Having a network that supports you and your career as well as your culture is a beautiful thing. It brings me so much joy when I log into a meeting and I see so many Black and brown faces on the screen, to see so many talented and accomplished Black people working together. All the degrees held and languages spoken by this group of people. We truly have Black excellence working at Suncor.

~|~

Melba, thank you so much for sharing your experiences along with your insights about how to make connections to foster understanding and how we can be strong allies. I have found our conversations powerful and humbling, and a good reminder that, as a white person, I have benefited from systemic racism.

As part of my personal education, I try to make sure that the books I’m reading and the shows I’m watching include content by Black creators. One of my recent favourite reads was You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism written by Amber Ruffin (an American comedy writer and TV host) and her sister Lacey Lamar. Her book documents modern day racism and microaggressions against Black people with both humour and disbelief. It was a real eye-opener to me and helped me strengthen my own resolve to be a good ally.

Are there resources you recommend or stories you’d like to share? Leave a comment below.

~ Kate T.


Every day is Family Day for these Petro-Canada associates

When I was growing up, my parents owned a catering business. And like every other kid whose parents owned a business, I was pressed into service. I spent a lot of afternoons decorating vegetable trays and mini-cheesecakes and a lot of evenings replenishing empty food platters and washing up in a various clients’ kitchens. At the time, I resented it a little; I would have much rather been hanging out with friends. But as an adult, I am so grateful for the experience! I learned so many lessons about customer service, entrepreneurship and event planning that I couldn’t have learned anywhere else.

Consequently, I have a special place in my heart for family-run businesses. This Family Day, I thought it would be fun to profile a few of the family-run Petro-Canada locations.

The Johnson Family
The Johnson Family

First up, meet Steve and Leaha Johnson. Steve and Leaha operate a Petro-Canada branded fuel station that also includes an A&W restaurant in the small village of Valemount, BC - a village with the population of just over 1,000 people.

Located in the traditional territory of the Simpcw First Nation, part of the Secwepemc, or Shuswap, Valemount is located between Edmonton and Vancouver in the North Thompson Valley and is approximately 320 kms north of Kamloops. Located on Highway 5, Valemount is a wonderland for outdoor enthusiasts of all types. Mount Robinson, the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies, sits in Valemount's backyard.

Steve and Leaha have been Petro-Canada Associates for the last 4 years as operators of the Valemount Petro Canada. Previous to that, Steve worked at the Kamloops Travel Centre as an A&W manager for 4 years. They are both active members supporting the community of Valemount, and have been gold-level supporters of VARDA (Valemount & Area Recreation Development Association) for the last 4 years.

Steve and Leaha Johnson
Leaha and Steve Johnson

PT: Thanks for sharing a bit about your family business! What's your favourite thing about Valemount?

SJ: I love how close the community is: you can walk anywhere and bump into someone you know.
LJ: I love how close I have become with so many people that we see every day at work, or that we work with through our kids’ school PAC and other groups we are a part of.

PT: What's the most popular item in your convenience store?

SJ: We work with a group here in the village that do catering and smoked meats. They provide all of our fresh in-house sandwiches - they are very popular!

PT: Do you have a favourite customer? 

LJ: Everyone has a favourite customer, but we love them all. I think the favourites (and they are many) are the ones who come in to share how their families are doing and talk with us about ours.

PT: What does your family like to do for fun?

LJ: Our kids love Pokemon, so Steve collects cards and teaches them all things Pokemon. We enjoy movies, walks with the dogs, trips to the lake to collect tadpoles, roasting marshmallows. Really we just like being together. 

PT: Describe your family member co-worker in one word.

SJ: Leaha is inspiring
LJ: Steve is incredibly kind.

Thank you, Leaha and Steve!

Next up, we checked in with Barb and Mike Futros.

Barb and Mike own and operate MTT Service, a Petro-Canada branded fuel station that also includes a sit-down restaurant, lounge and motel. Their business is a gathering place for the people in the small community of St. Laurent, MB.

Located in the traditional territory of the Ojibwa Saulteaux First Nation and the Metis People, St. Laurent is approximately 75 kms north of Winnipeg. The station is on Manitoba’s only major highway headed to Northern Manitoba. MTT Service is a natural stopping point for people traveling between the northern and southern regions of the province for commercial or recreational purposes.

Barb and Mike have proudly been Petro-Canada Associates for almost 20 years. Their kids, Emma and Donald, are also a key part of the business.

I caught up with Barb to ask her some questions about the business:

PT: Your business is a real family affair! Who all is involved?

BF: Mike, my husband, and I make sure the day-to-day operation of the station is handled. Mike maintains all the equipment, and I am the "accountant". Emma, our daughter, works multiple positions. She is a great GSA (guest service attendant), always polite and friendly, and she also waitresses in our restaurant. She loves interacting with the guests. Donald is our "maintenance" guy; he stocks and rotates all the coolers, cleans the yard and runs all the equipment for snow clearing.

PT: How did your family get involved with Petro-Canada?

BF: Many years ago a Petro-Canada territory manager named John Fenn would stop in and always say that this would be the perfect place for a Petro-Canada. After many years under another brand, we thought it was time for a change, and we made the decision to join the Petro-Canada family. The decision was one of the best we have ever made.

PT: What's the best thing about running the Petro-Canada in your community?

BF: St. Laurent is a small community and Petro-Canada fits in perfectly. Not only are we able to help our community directly, our customers are able to see how Petro-Canada supports other programs nationally.

PT: What are the pros and cons about working with your family?

BF: Oh boy, that's a loaded question! Every working relationship has its ups and downs, but I genuinely appreciate working not only with my spouse, but also my kids. For Mike and I, teaching the next generation what has taken us years to learn is priceless.

As an extra treat, Barb and her family recorded a short video for our readers with some of the answers to our questions. Thanks, Barb! You can really see why your location is such a beloved part of the community!

Finally, we check in with Leesa Bakker. Leesa is located in Edmonton, Alberta. She operates 11 Petro-Canada sites in Edmonton and the surrounding area.

PT: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me, Leesa. Tell me about your family business.

I am surrounded by close family members who are focused on our success. They are supportive in the daily challenges of operating 11 locations and 70 team members. I can count on my family to adapt and excel at the ever-changing retail landscape. Our leadership team includes my big brother, Darren Morgan and his wife, Sharon. Plus my niece, J’Nayia is working part-time while attending the University of Alberta.

Darren is someone I can count on to be there when needed. He has worked with the team since 2008 in many different roles: starting out as a GSA, moving up to managing a location, and not long after, managing multiple teams. Staff and managers look up to him for his leadership and experience.

Sharon is our financial operations manager. Her amount of experience and passion for the business cannot be measured. We started our Petro-Canada career at the same time, and I was lucky enough to have her join my team in 2010. Her support and dedication to our business and team is immense; she is always training and encouraging managers to excel. She is very focused on processes and efficiencies that make the team stronger.

The Bakker & Morgan Families
Sharon, Leesa and Darren (left) | Jenna Bakker (top right) | J’nayia Morgan (bottom right)

As the family quickly grows up, we will soon have the opportunity to work with five more young adults, ranging in age from junior high to university, in the near future. They are all patiently waiting for their opportunity to be part of the team. It is exciting to share our passion for the business with the next generation!

Working with close family is not without challenges, but operating a team 24 hours a day, 365 days a year does not mean we allow ourselves to be consumed by work. We avoid “shop talk” when we get together as a family, as we value and respect the role that we each play in the success of the business. It is a journey we are very proud of.

The Bakker & Morgan Families
The Bakker and Morgan Families

PT: What does your family do for fun - to help blow off some steam?

LB: Our family loves sports: hockey night at the arena and anything outdoors. We also love road trips!

Sharon and Leesa
Sharon and Leesa

PT: What’s one of your favourite moments working with your family?

LB: The Amazing Race Canada came to one of our stores and filmed a challenge: they had to spend Petro-Points for snacks in order to get the next clue. Great memory.

~|~

A big “thank you” to Barb, Mike, Leaha, Steve and Leesa who shared their stories with me! And Happy Family Day to all of you and to our readers!

~ Kate T.


We’re Rooting for our FACE™ Athletes in Beijing!

One of my highlights of 2021 was watching the Canada vs Sweden Women’s Soccer Gold Medal Final at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games. I may have been alone on my couch, but I felt connected to everyone across the country as we held our breath during that tense penalty kick-off, and cried out together with relief and elation at that final winning goal. What a rush! I felt so proud to be Canadian, and so proud of Team Canada. (I’m not gonna lie, there were some tears.) These days especially, the efforts of our athletes can bring us all together.

And now, only a few short months later, we get the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games, starting February 4. I mean WINTER, right? That’s our SPECIALTY. Bring it on.

This year, 215 Canadian athletes and their coaches are making the journey to Beijing to compete with the world’s best in 14 different sports. For them, it’s the culmination of years of determination, hard work and sacrifice. A few of these athlete/coach pairs share their experience below:

If you follow us on Facebook and Instagram (and if you don’t - now is the time!) then you already know that we love cheering on Canadian athletes at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Petro-Canada is a long-time sponsor of the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) and the Coaching Association of Canada (CAC). Each year, through our Fuelling Athlete and Coaching Excellence (FACE™) program, 55 athletes and their coaches are selected to receive direct funding. These special grants come at a crucial time for athletes, when they’ve started training for the Olympic or Paralympic Games, but are not yet eligible for government funding. Since 1988, Petro-Canada has given over $12 million in financial support to 3,000+ Canadian athletes and coaches.

 This is a big year for the program, with 30 FACE™ athletes in 12 different sport disciplines competing in Beijing. We’re proud to see so many FACE™ alumni on the team!

If ordinary folks like me get so worked up during the Olympic Games (sitting on our couches, weeping with joy), I can’t imagine how the families of Canadian athletes must feel. Since 2010, Petro-Canada’s Canadian Athlete Family Program has supported the families of Team Canada by providing them with two complimentary tickets to their athlete’s event. This year, since they won’t be able to attend, we’re sending each family a limited edition cheer box. This specially designed box is filled with items to help show support, make a little noise from afar, and send positive vibes all the way to Beijing.

Petro-Canada Family Program Cheer Box

If you were following us for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games, then you saw some of the Team Canada families sharing stories and pictures of these cheer boxes - they were a huge hit! This time there are a few extra boxes to give away to lucky fans so stay tuned to our Facebook and Instagram for details. Also on our Facebook page, we’ll be giving away limited edition Petro-Canada Olympic or Paralympic pins each time a Team Canada athlete wins a medal.

Beijing Olympic Stickers

If you want to add a little Olympic spirit to your own social stories, you can download our Petro-Canada Giphy stickers! There’s a wavy foam finger, a “Go Canada” animation, and an awesome selection of “visual cheers”. They’re easy-to-use, fun, and will show our athletes that you’ve got their backs. You can find them here or search for “petrocanada” in the GIF toolbar of your favourite social app.

Bobsleigh Bolt Game

And for those in-between moments as you’re waiting for the next Canadian to compete, Petro-Canada and Team Canada have a special treat in store: a fast-paced mobile game called Bobsleigh Bolt! Download the Team Canada app to play (available on iOS or Android) and start bragging to your friends about your high score – plus, you’ll be able to win some great prizes.

Enjoy the Winter Games, everyone and good luck to our 30 FACE™ athletes and to all of Team Canada!

Like my fellow Canadians, I’ll be cheering from my couch: Go, Canada, Go! 

~Paul D.